Creating a Comic

Bombing, killing, and other occupational hazards of stand-up comedy


I'm your host, CJ Alexander.
This is my blog about breaking into stand-up comedy.

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This question comes up all the time. Other comics like to gauge how old you are in comedy years—which are like dog years, with even more crotch-sniffing—while bookers and club owners use it as a very rough approximation of your experience level.

Dipping your toe in
Dipping a toe in: your first few open mics
are unlikely to be as pleasant as this photo.

Oddly enough, answering this question isn’t as simple as I used to think.

To take my nascent comedy career as an example: next week will mark the anniversary of the very first time I got on stage at a comedy club. At the same time, it’s not really accurate to say that I’ve been doing comedy for a year; over the course of the next seven months, I only went on stage four more times. That’s not really “doing comedy,” that’s just sticking your toe in the water. Dilettante-ish dabbling.

In fact, there was a rather drastic turning point this past April, around when I started this blog:

  • Performances in the 8 months 7/08 – 3/09: 51
  • Performances in the 4 months since 4/09: 21

It’s fun to say that I’ve been doing comedy for a year, but in practical terms I’ve only been serious about it for about four months now. So which answer should I give?

I mentioned this dichotomy to a couple of comics during pre-show last night, and the very funny Ron Placone and Diana Hassenger offered some sage advice2: don’t count the dabbling.

As it turns out, most comedians start off that same way: dipping a toe in the water before taking the full plunge. And most don’t count the toe-dipping period.3 Diana and Ron pointed out that club owners, in particular, tend to look poorly on any disparity between your stated experience and your on-stage performance; if you claim to have been doing comedy for a year, your act should sound like you’ve been polishing it for a full year. If your act sounds like you’ve only been working at it for a few months, they’re likely to write you off as a slow learner or underachiever.

Since I’d prefer not to be thought of as some sort of developmental retard, I’m going to say that I’ve been doing comedy for four months. But I’ll still be hoisting a drink next week on the anniversary of my comedy club cherry-popping.

Related entries in Creating a Comic:

  1. This paltry number wasn’t entirely for lack of trying; I showed up and got bumped, which is very common in the beginning. []
  2. Ron is a humble guy, and objected to characterizing anything he said as “advice,” but I chose to take their nuggets of wisdom that way. []
  3. Incidentally, doing a harmless Google Image Search with SafeSearch off can lead to some rather unfortunate speedbump results. I searched for “toe in the water” images, and on the second page of results I was confronted with a hardcore porn pic of some dude blowing another dude while simultaneously jerking off a third dude. What’s confusing to me is, what’s the relevance here to my search term? If you’ve got your mouth wrapped around a big hard cock, with your fist wrapped around a second big hard cock, you’ve pretty much taken the big gay plunge. You aren’t just testing the temperature. Verdict: GOOGLE SEARCH FAIL. []
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    4 Responses to ““How Long Have You Been Doing Comedy?””

    1. WOW @ subnote #3.

      This is a question I hate to answer. I’ve always started to say oh 6 months almost but I never took it serious for a few months. I think the moment I took it serious was the moment I got my notebook. 4-16-09 was my first entry. My first show. Since then I’ve almost got 80 shows in Which is any open mic, any mc, any weekend time, and of course an appearance on my dads show so I can keep track of what I’ve done there. Pretty cool to think about.

      But in reality I’ve been doing comedy since february 1st (easier than Jan 35th or w/e) when I started. I don’t want people to look at me like holy shit there’s no way you’ve only been doing comedy for 3 months. Then I would have to explain THAT theory. I just say close to 6 months. So far, a few ‘wows’ and ‘you’re doing good’ and mostly just polite nods. Which is all good.

      Andrew J Rivers

    2. You’ve demonstrated a remarkable dedication on a level that the rest of us can only hope to emulate. This is why I admit that you’ve bumped me, in terms of seniority, at Giggles. Which pretty much never happens. :)


    3. […] “How long have you been doing comedy?” […]

      Parallel Thinking (a.k.a. “No, I didn’t steal that joke!”) | Creating a Comic

    4. It’s been about a year since my first stand-up performance. Maybe six times since then? I’m tempted to say that since I’m still in the dabbling phase, if asked how long I’ve been doing comedy I should say I’ve *never* done comedy. :-)


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