Exploring this Job

The field of comedy offers a number of good opportunities for career exploration. For example, many improvisational groups offer classes in acting and performance techniques. These groups are often highly competitive, but they are a good place to learn skills, make contacts, and have fun. Of course, there is no substitute for hands-on experience, and most comedy clubs and coffee houses have open mike nights where aspiring comedians can get on stage and try out their material in front of a real audience. To get an idea of what it is like to perform before an audience, aspiring comedians can also stage performances for family and friends before venturing on stage to perform for strangers. Acting in school plays and local productions is another good way to get performing experience. It is also possible to learn by watching others. Visit a comedy club or coffee house to observe comedians at work. Try to talk informally with a comedian to learn more about the profession. Finally, do some research. There are also a number of books that describe exercises and techniques for comedians.

The Job

Comedians work very hard to make people laugh. There are many types of comedy, from physical and slapstick to comedy involving highly sophisticated wordplay. All comedians must develop their own style. Comedians may appear in regular attire or incorporate colorful costumes, music, props, or other techniques into their act. In any case, it is generally the writing and timing that make a comedian unique.

Perhaps the most common form of comedic performance is stand-up. Stand-up comedians usually perform in nightclubs or comedy clubs, entertaining audiences with jokes, stories, and impersonations. Most often, stand-up comics write their own material, so they spend a great deal of time developing, perfecting, and rehearsing new material. Adding new bits and creating entirely new routines provides a constant challenge for the comedian.

Stand-up comedians often travel around the country, performing in a variety of settings. They may have to adapt their performances somewhat, depending on the audience. The length of the performance is determined by whether the comedian is the main act or an opening act. A main act will last from 30 minutes to an hour, while an opening act may be just a few minutes.

Another popular type of performance is improvisation, often abbreviated to "improv." Improv comedians work without a set routine and make up their own dialogue as they go along. It allows for a kind of spontaneity that traditional performances do not. Improv groups perform skits, dances, and songs using well-trained comedic creativity. Many comedy groups will perform a number of scripted skits and then improvise a number of skits based on audience suggestions.

Comedians are storytellers. No matter where they perform, their goal is to engage their audience through characters and stories. Many comedians use their own life as material, weaving a picture of people and places designed not only to evoke laughter but also understanding.

Comedians may perform their work live or on tape. Usually a taping is done in front of an audience, as comedians need the laughter and other feedback of an audience to be most effective. Many also use the Internet and social media to share their work, through their own Web sites as well as through Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.

Comedians who perform on film or television have the same restrictions as other actors and actresses. They must adhere to strict schedules and perform routines repeatedly before the director decides a scene is finished. Film and television comedians usually perform scenes that someone else has written. They are required to memorize their lines and rehearse their performances.

As with other performance artists, comedians often find themselves looking for employment. Comedians may work weeks in a row and then face a period of unemployment. To find work, many comedians hire booking agents to locate club owners willing to hire them. Many clubs feature open mike nights, in which anyone may perform, providing important opportunities for beginning comedians. Other comedians attempt to find work on their own. A person's success in finding work will be largely influenced by skill and style, but also to an extent by personal contacts and a bit of good fortune.

For comedians who are uncomfortable in front of an audience, there is the opportunity to write material for other performers. Not all people who write comedic material are former comedians, but all understand the fundamental elements of humor and ways of using words and images to make people laugh.