I'm a senior in college and over the past six months I've been considering becoming a standup comic following my expected graduation in May...I go to school in a city in Mississippi without any form of standup comedy scene. Thus, I have very limited standup experience. I perform at an annual comedy show at my college, and that's it in terms of my standup experience. Also, I'm planning on making a trip to NYC for this year's fall break, so as to experience the NYC standup scene, gauge my own abilities, and also visit a friend who lives there. Below are some questions I have regarding standup comedy, particularly as they pertain to my situation.
My fall break is Oct. 14-Oct. 17. Assuming I'm in NYC on those dates, will I have an opportunity to perform standup?
As an outsider I assume my performances would be limited to open mics only?
Also, could you recommend some venues for me to perform at?
Slava's mic list is a good place to start. Identity Bar on Thursday and Woodshed on Saturday are two good ones in your date range.
Could you also provide some information I should know about performing standup comedy in NYC, such as what attire is appropriate, what length my act is limited to, etc.?
Wear whatever you want. If you have something unusual, people will make fun of it. But secretly, many of them are just too scared to wear something their friends would never wear. So don't sweat it. Anyway, there are lots of other things that are more important. Like what cologne you wear.
Your act will be 5 minutes (or less).
Could you explain what it's like when you're first starting out?
It's easy at first. And then it gets hard. For some reason, people tend to be funnier the first time they do standup than the 20th. That's when you really start to realize just how tough it is.
In regards to the launch of one's stand up career, do you have any tips?
Try out different stuff. Don't fall into the funnel of what everyone else is doing. Perform a lot. Edit, edit, edit. Get to the point and get out. Read/listen to interviews I've linked to with pro comics at this site. Watch lots of standup too.
Realize you're going to suck for a while. Be delusional about being better than you are so audiences think you're confident. But still, be humble in the back of your mind and know there's miles of hard work to go if you wanna get good.
And also live a life that's interesting so you become an interesting person with interesting points of view that will be interesting to others onstage.
From what I have gathered, it typically takes about one year of performing stand-up comedy in order to get paid. Is there any possible way to reduce that length, other than of course increasing the funnyness of the act?
One year? Good luck with that. In NYC it takes a lot longer (if ever) to make a living as a comic. But I guess you could go the angle of appealing to one specific demographic (college crowds, urban crowds, gay crowds, or whatever – maybe you should be a gay urban college comic!) and that would make you more marketable in your race to get paid. Really, I'd advise not worrying about getting paid right now. Get a job that doesn't suck and lets you do standup at night.
Do you have any general advice for me, perhaps based upon things that you have learned over the years or mistakes you made as a standup comic?
Most of what I've learned is here in this blog's archives. Start with the best of posts and work back from there if you really want to get into it.
Can you provide me with any details about the profession that I probably don't know that I should know?
Do it because you love it. Otherwise, it ain't worth it.
What are your thoughts on NYC as my post-graduation residence? Is it better than any alternative (ex. LA)?
I say yes. Move to LA if you've got something lined up. I think NYC is a better place to get good.
But you're prob even better off spending a few years in a city that's cheaper and has more stage time. Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland, DC, Austin, and SF all come to mind. Do a few years there and then you can see if you're ready for a bigger city.
What are the difficulties associated with having a fulltime job while also pursuing a career as a standup comedian?
You need to stay up late and be out all the time. That can get in the way of, well, pretty much everything else in your life.