Tips, Rules, and Etiquette of Comedy
Nobody really wants to experience chaos if they can help it. For this reason there are rules that everybody should follow whether you are a comic, venue, or just an audience member.
Having a set of rules or expectations makes for a much more enjoyable experience for everybody involved.
Comics are the bread and butter of the show. These are the people that everybody came to see. Everybody deserves respect. Use the Diamond Rule “Treat everyone better than you want to be treated”.
BE ON TIME
If you want to gain people’s respect with minimal effort, be on time for everything you do. If you can be early even better. Use the extra time to network, run a mic check, or do another run through of your material. We all have a limited amount of time, so many people value it as one of their highest commodities. Don’t waste people’s time making them wait!
PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE
You will not get better without practice. Even then, it needs to be regular practice. Hitting one show a week for a four minute set is not going to produce the results you want. Sure, there might not be live, in-person shows where you are, and although online shows may not hit the same way, it’s still practice. Workshops are a great place to run through material even if it’s not fully fleshed out.
A great resource I have used is The Riff Room hosted by headliner Ashley Gutermuth every day online.
WRITE ALL THE TIME
You never know when you will get that comedy gold. Write down things you observe or think about, constantly. Carry a notebook and a pen or setup a place to store material on your phone. Thinking you have to have to sit down for a hour straight and come up with material in that dedicated time can add extra pressure and leave you with writer’s block.
SET REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
Look, it’s unlikely that you’re going to be the next Robin Williams, Richard Pryor, or Eddie Murphy, so thinking you are going to sell out a stadium is a pretty lofty expectation to set for yourself when you perform less than 4 times a week. I’m not saying you can’t get there someday but be realistic for your expectations based on where you are at in your comedy career.
FIGURE OUT YOUR SHORT TERM AND LONG TERM GOALS
Ask yourself the following questions and WRITE THEM DOWN:
What is my goal for my next performance?
What is my goal for the week?
What is my goal for the month?
What is my goal for the year?
What are my goals for the next 3, 5, 10 years?
Putting your goals out into the universe keeps you accountable and something to refer back to later!
DON’T RUN THE LIGHT
I mentioned earlier about wasting people’s time. The “light” is a set practice indicating that you are running out of time and should finish your thought and that it is also time to stop. Don’t disrespect the audience, the venue, or the other comics by going over. Just cut it and know that you either have to trim up some wording, rearrange your set, or that you have more material to work with to build longer sets.
MOVE THE MIC STAND
The mic stand can be a huge distraction if the comic takes the mic out but doesn’t move the stand out of the way. It’s a reflection of the comic’s comfort level on stage. We all have a lot to remember to do, but if you focus on moving the stand out of the way, it eventually becomes automatic.
DON’T LEAVE THE STAGE EMPTY
Never leave the stage empty, always ensure that the host is nearby. If you are ending your set early, make sure to announce something like “That’s all I have prepared for tonight” or other blanket statement, then reset the stage. This should allow the host to get back to the stage.
RESET THE STAGE
Make sure to leave the stage ready to go for the next comic. If you moved a stool, mic stand, etc, make sure to have it back to how it was for when you started.
PROVIDE THE HOST WITH YOUR INTRO
Unless you are cool with potentially being roasted or embarrassed, provide an intro for your host, preferably typed, for them to introduce you with. Not only will it make you sound as credible or accomplished as you want to come off as, it will also reduce the odds of being thrown off by an on-the-spot intro.
HAVE A FLEXIBLE SET
Be prepared to go right into a closing bit if the light hits earlier than you anticipated. You may have talked slower, paused, got a laugh or applause break, etc. Over time and through additional practice, you’ll probably have your bits down to the second, but as you are working on them, consider that your timing might be more or less than what you planned performing.
The host’s job is to run the show, introduce comics, reset the stage/momentum/audience, and make announcements.
REMIND THE AUDIENCE TO TIP THEIR WAITSTAFF
The servers, bartenders, greeters, and other staff are there to make sure the audience has all their needs met to make sure YOU have a great show. Make sure to remind the audience to tip.
TELL THE AUDIENCE WHAT TO DO
As the host, you are running the show. The audience will almost always listen to what you tell them to do. Tell them to clap, laugh, and make some noise for the comics. Tell them that heckling will not be tolerated.
Venues are the places where you have a show. They can be inside or outside, big or small, fantastic or a dump, and everything in between. Learn to navigate through the scene and find venues that are the best fit for you.
The audience is the whole group of fans, bookers, and fellow comics that are out there watching you perform your set.
As a comic
As a booker
There are a variety of shows that a comic can perform at and you will find over time that some will be better than others. Learn to tell the difference about what a show is for and how it will help develop your career.