January 21, 2014

Many people have watched a comedy show and lost their minds. You watch a brilliant show and then start thinking “Hey that looks easy, how hard can it be?”

After a few more drinks and the gentle motivations of your friends, you’ve signed yourself up to do an open spot. The next day, what I like to call the “Oh Shit” moment settles in as you realise what you’ve done.

So what now?

Whatever path you took to get here, here’s what to do now. Here’s how to creating a set and what to do before and after you perform.

How to create a Comedy Set:

I can’t help you with your choice of material. Whatever makes you laugh is a good place to start. I will say this: true stuff is the funniest stuff and you should always write your own material. Once you have your material, here’s how you should structure it.

All material can be classified into four categories:

A – Your best material. Your sure-fire, funniest, can’t lose stuff.

B – Second best stuff. Not as funny as the “A” material but still great.

C – Everything else. This material can be used to carry a story along or acts as a bridging material to the next gag.

W.T.F. – Stuff that, under the right circumstances, is funny but tends to not work with the majority of audiences. Avoid this, especially when starting out. Dark material like rape gags, sodomy and all other sexual deviations fall under this heading.

Structure your set in this sequence:

B – C – A

That way, you open well, carry through coherently and finish with a punch. Always say your name at the end, thank the audience and then go.


When it comes to presentation, try to focus on the A.R.T. of Stand-up comedy. These rules were given to me by Joe Parker and they do work.

A – Attitude: 
Your rapport with the audience while on stage. Are you angry, nervous, twitchy or happy? What energy you put out, you get back, especially if it’s real emotion. Yell at them; they’ll pull away from you. Be nervous and they’ll get nervous for you. If you’re just starting out, be calm and have fun.

R – Rhythm: 
It’s your own individual vibe onstage, how you’re feeling. It’s also the pace at which you deliver your set. Speak too fast and you lose them. Speak too slowly and they may get bored. Every comic has their own rhythm and as you listen/watch/attend more comedy, you’ll pick up on it. Your rhythm is unique to you.

T – Timing: 
Most people can be taught how to deliver a line and make it funny. Some are born with a natural talent for it. In either case the more time you put in and the more experience you gather, the better the material will be and the better a comic you will be. Talent is honed with training. Training alone will only take you so far.


Get a notebook
Write down your set and use it to keep track of what jokes worked, what didn’t work and what made your set fling itself off a cliff with all the zeal of a Japanese Lemming attacking a papier-mâché Pearl Harbour. Write down any ideas you may have. Make sure they are yours. Internet jokes don’t work anymore. Everyone has email now. Someone in that crowd will have heard it.

Practicing in front of a mirror is great if you want to memorise your set but stage time is all important. You’ll only know how you’re doing when you’re on stage. An audience will let you know right quick. The more stage time you get, the faster you grow.

The Gig:
So, now that you’ve done all the prep you can muster, it’s off to the gig.

Be On Time:
The easiest way to avoid getting a second spot is not showing up, being late, or having an attitude. If you can’t make it, call in advance.

You’ll be told to do Five minutes. Stick to your time. If you’re up there and it’s not working, don’t hang around. If your time is up, leave. Rather than hog the stage looking for a laugh, walk away and try again. A simple rule to follow is it’s better to do a hot three minute set than an average seven.

Ask a pro comic to watch your set and give you feedback. Write down the notes they give you otherwise you’re wasting your time and theirs. You won’t remember everything you hear Rain Man, so write it down.

Good luck.

I leave you with the immortal words of The Godfather of SA Stand-up Comedy – Mel Miller

“Never let a good gig go to your head or let a bad gig go to your heart.”