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How To Write Your First Stand-up Comedy Routine

A Guide For People Stuck On Comedy

How To Write Your First Comedy Routine

Ideas For Conquering Comedy

Bearly A Few Suggestions

Recently I taught Stand-up Comedy101, a workshop for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festivals. I was happy to meet Ben, a student who took the workshop last year and is now successfully performing stand-up comedy. More than 50 attendees packed the workshop, more than 20 students tried comedy, at least 5 of those students joined us later in the week at the VooDoo Comedy Playhouse for the Open Mic Comedy Show. Ben joined us and I enjoyed his comedy routine. My favorite part of teaching the workshop was a new style that engaged students quickly. We quickly demonstrated student comedy, identified criteria for success then developed a conversation about the art of stand-up comedy. The theme of my new style was to build a workshop formula that coached a variety of abilities, from hardcore comedy nerd to introverts with comedic curiosity.

The goal of the workshop, and this follow-up article, is to coach a wide variety of students with the tools they need to succeed on their first comedy shows. An open mic performance can often last from 1-minute to 5-minutes. If you are a passionate comedy nerd, you’ve already got a minute of stand-up comedy in you. Curious comedians with writer’s block, a blank notebook or other compelling needs for coaching may need some ideas of what to joke about on stage.

Here are some themes to joke about during your first comedy routine.

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • Why?
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Who Are You?

Stock photo of an owl. Caption, "Who Is Telling Us Jokes?

Audiences Want To Know

When I ask students, ‘what makes a good comedy routine?’, a popular answer is that they want to ‘comprehend’ the comedy and feel ‘connected’ to the comedian. That’s simple! Audiences want to hear you and understand you. Practice speaking clearly and greeting the audience. One way to achieve these two goals quickly is to introduce yourself.

Comedy Tips: What To Do While You Are Introducing Yourself

Comedians communicate and listen at the same time. Get started on this process before you walk on stage because it can help you gain the audience’s attention. As you get on stage to tell jokes you’ll discover the audience prefers that you get to the microphone quickly and begin with the funny jokes as soon as possible, if not sooner! Here’s a few tips for introducing yourself to comedy audiences.

  • Speak clearly into the microphone. If you are verbally impaired, create a method of greeting the audience such as waving, smiling or using assistive technology.
  • As you speak, listen. Can you hear yourself through the sound system when you say, “Hello, my name is _____.”? If you are hearing impaired, greet the audience and assess their connection with your greeting.
  • Make eye contact. Is the audience connecting to you? If the stage lights are too bright or there are other visual impairments listen for applause.
  • Tell the audience who you are. Generally, people want to know who they are listening too. Tell them your name. It’s almost rude to skip this concept.  If rudeness is the source of your humor, consider skipping your introduction.

What are you joking about?

A lady writing. Caption, "What do you write jokes about?"

Common Types Of Jokes

  • Funny Stories – audience love funny stories! The trick is to get lots of laughs while you tell the story. Generally, you want to get the biggest laughs at the end of the story. Consider how many stories you can tell in a 5-minute comedy routine. And remember, the audience cares about laughing more than they care about your story. Try telling the story with short, funny sentences.
  • Observations – are you astonished that there is braille on the drive-thru ATM? That’s a funny observation comedians have been converting into laughs since 1982. Audiences love funny observations. Make a list of your favorite, original observations. Convert each observation into a funny joke.
  • Street Jokes – a Priest, a Rabbi and the Pope walk into a comedy club. The host says, “You better be telling your own jokes.” Generally, audiences want to hear your funny jokes. However, if all of your comedy comes from quoting movies or sharing jokes you heard at the bar many audiences will find your comedy to be unoriginal. We watch movies too! We go to bars and parties where people tell us those jokes too! Some of us work at offices where people tell us those funny jokes we all heard before. Stand-up comedy audiences prefer create your own jokes.
  • Current Events – is Trump making you mad? Got a fresh joke about Kim Jong Un? Jokes about current events are funny! If you have a page or two of funny jokes that’s enough comedy to try an open mic comedy show.
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When Are You Telling Jokes?

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Think About The Night Of The Comedy Show

Many professional comedians spend some time researching their gigs. For example, I started comedy in 1992 while living in New Hampshire, USA. The closest comedy club was 60 miles away in Boston. If I wanted to tell jokes about my buddies and funny stories from High School parties the audience in Boston would wonder, “Why the fuck are you telling us?”

How To Think About An Audience?

  • Ask yourself who, what, when, where and why there is a comedy show happening that is allowing you the opportunity to tell jokes. Think about the audience. Is there anything funny you can joke about to bring everybody together?
  • When is the show? Is the date close to a holiday? Upcoming holidays include St. Patrick’s Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. These are great ideas to consider for a joke, greeting, “Happy Father’s Day!” or finale, “Thank you for listening. Have a great St. Patrick’s Day!”

Where Are You Telling Jokes?

NASA photo of astronaught in space above Earth. Clipart microhpone edited into Astronaut's hand. Caption, "Where is your first comedy show?"

That Town Up The Road Is Funny

  • Many comedians will make fun of the town up the road. For me, I try to make fun of the most elite, gentrified suburb. When I tease an audience member about being from ‘Highlands Ranch’ I’m listening to the audience laughter, or lack there of.

Why Are You Telling Jokes?

Stockphoto of two ladies giggling. Caption, "Why do you tell jokes?"

If you have no clue, tell the truth

After years of conversations with audiences I’ll offer this final piece of advice to a potential comedian that is struggling with what to joke about. If the ideas above didn’t jar your pen then try telling the truth. The gist of a comedy performances is repeated, intense laughter. Comedians build mild giggles into giant guffaws to the point where the audience stands up in an ovation so enthusiastic them demand, “Encore!” Do that.

Try Stand-up Comedy

If you are still offering up resistance to getting on stage then what is your real goal? Are you trying to tell jokes on a stage for one-night only? Cool, you could have achieved that within the time it took to read this article. The goal of a stand-up comedian is to get back up there again and again. So, get started. Get to an open mic and watch. Lend your laughter to people who are trying. Learn, observe, ask questions after the show. Find out what it will take to get yourself on stage for the short amount of stage time you are most likely to be offered. Try a few minutes of comedy and try again.
I’m doing my best to create quality coaching and comedy education for brand new comedians. I love it when people try comedy. Audiences do to! Add your questions or comments below and I will do my best to answer them.

For more blog posts about How To Be A Stand-up Comedian visit Jokes.ChuckRoy.com/Comedy101.

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