How to Keep Doing Comedy When You Can’t Get Up On Stage

Photo by Sarah Kennedy.

Stand-up comedy is a tricky thing. It’s one of the few art forms that requires a crowd in order to occur at all. The only way to get better at comedy—and by extension, get booked on more shows and advance in your career—is to leave your house and go perform.

Life is also a tricky thing and sometimes life makes it hard to work in all the open mics you’d like to hit. Crazy changes in day-job schedules, issues at home or school, and other personal things pop up and you can find yourself needing to full-on step away from the stage to get these things taken care of.

Visual gags are a good fit for Instagram.

Nothing can take the place of actually telling jokes, out loud, to an audience, but there are still things that will help you keep your comedy career afloat in the meantime. Whether you’re taking a break for 24 hours, 24 weeks or more, there’s always something you can do. While taking your break from performing, aim for three things:

  1. Continue to work on your craft, however you can.
  2. Stay “top of mind” by staying in contact with the people in your network.
  3. Send out a beacon to the world that you’re still a hard worker and still funny as heck.

Tackling those three goals will help you return from your time off at less of a deficit than quitting cold turkey. Think of this time away as a pitstop in a car race. Even when Ricky Bobby pulls off the track, he doesn’t just park! Important work gets done, like tire replacements, mechanical adjustments, and gas fill-ups, to maintain the well-being of him and his car.

Below are a few more specific, concrete actions you can take to help you make the most of your pitstop.

Write like crazy.

You know how you see things happen in life and you think, “That would make a great bit?” Don’t lose that instinct! As you’re out living life away from the stage, use it as a chance to seriously bank some material. Whether you keep your joke notes in a notebook or on your phone, keep jotting down funny thoughts and experiences as they happen to you. Then, when you are able to make your grand return to stand-up, you’ll have a huge stockpile to pull from.

Additionally, “writing” doesn’t have to look like a series of setups/punchlines you hide away from the world. Keep working out those comedy muscles by writing for a blogging platform, like Medium. Medium is great because it’s free and it gives you all the tools to format your writing to look like a slick piece of internet content. Any funny idea for a list, article, etc. can be typed out and presented to the world in no time.

If you’re really feeling like you’ve got a knack for writing, look for websites that accept submissions and pitch ideas to them! A writing credit from a notable humor website is an awesome thing to have as a comedian and can help you get booked on more comedy shows when your break is over.

Keep your social media accounts active.

The internet has really done wonders for helping humans connect with others. If a funny idea strikes you, you can share it with thousands by just flicking your thumbs across your phone a few times. Re-focusing your current social media accounts, or creating new ones with a comedic angle, can help fill the gap between times onstage.

Spending a few minutes a day to put a little elbow grease into creating/curating content and sharing it can help you stay connected with people who like seeing you in person. It also keeps you on the radar with your fellow comedians. Short, quick ideas are perfect for Twitter; visual gags are a good fit for Instagram; timely instances are best shared on Snapchat; and on, and on, and on. Plus, you’re gonna wanna share all those lists/articles/essays you just wrote on Medium or on that website that accepted your submission.

Let the world know what you’re doing. Stay in touch and put a funny spin on it all.

Start a podcast or a vlog.

Lots of comics have podcasts and it’s not hard to see why. A podcast is a medium where any regular person can speak their thoughts into a microphone and share them with an audience. Sound familiar? If you have a subject you could easily talk about for an hour or so a week, you could have one too. One big plus for doing your own podcast is that you can do it from your own home—in your pajamas if you want—and free audio editing software like Audacity makes it incredibly easy to jump in and get started.

Vlogs are also a great way to get your longer form comedic ideas out to the world. You can speak directly to a camera, like Chewbacca Mom (dated reference, I know), and upload your video to YouTube in minutes. You could also go live on Periscope or Facebook Live and make it happen in the moment.

Regularly producing a series of something is a great way to stay in the mix of what’s going on in the comedy community. PLUS! If your vlog/podcast formula features guests, you’ll have a pool of your comedy peers to pull from so you can stay connected with them.

Promote the work of other comics.

Can’t get to the mic? Can’t make it out to shows? You still wanna be a comic? Well then, my friend, it’s time to pitch in and help out the comedy community. The simplest way to show goodwill is to share information about the shows and open mics that are happening around you. No fellow comic is going to be annoyed by the support, trust me. 

As a working comic, you know how hard it is for your friends to create things and put them out in the world. Spending some time genuinely watching, liking, commenting and sharing their work online creates great promo karma and, on top of that, you get to stay plugged into what’s going on in the community while you’re busy with other stuff.

Talk shop.

Speaking of staying plugged in, make a point to talk about stand-up with fellow comics throughout your break. Keeping the comedy conversation going with your people can help you maintain your focus and keep conceptualizing yourself as the comic you are. The gossip, the news, the minutiae—you’ll want to eat up as much of it as you can because that’s gonna be the stuff that fills your brain and heart while you’re busy filling your time with the rest of what life throws at you.

Join relevant Facebook groups; meet comedy friends for lunch or a happy hour; send out messages to people when you’re thinking of them or when questions pop up. Honestly, no one loves talking about stand-up comedy more than stand-up comics and if you can’t be doing it, the least you can do is still be learning about it.

Sometimes a hiatus is inevitable, but you’re the only one who can decide if it’s a permanent or temporary break. If you decide that getting back on stage is an inevitability, then staying involved in your community—at whatever level you can—will make your return smoother and you won’t feel like you lost out on as much time.

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Sarah Kennedy

About Sarah Kennedy

Sarah Kennedy has opened for Jim Norton, Chris Gethard and Doug Stanhope; and also for Dana Goldberg, Fortune Feimster, and Erin Foley as part of 2011’s through 2013’s Southwest Funny Fest. She’s was a finalist in NBC’s Stand Up For Diversity nationwide comedy contest and won multiple “best comedian” awards from publications in Albuquerque, New Mexico—her hometown. Now living in New York City, Sarah works throughout the year as the co-director of the Laughing Devil, Devil Cup and She-Devil Comedy Festivals. She has also contributed multiple pieces to Reductress.

1 Comment

  1. Billy McCall on March 24, 2017 at 9:38 am

    Good article, good advice. I saw Sarah perform about 5 years ago at a tiny shop called the Cellar Door. It was 20 people sitting on the floor of an art gallery, and she was really funny! I’ve seen her a couple times since then, with much bigger audiences, and is always good for a laugh. Keep at it, much love!

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