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Becoming A Stand-Up Comedian

Becoming A Stand-Up Comedian

Rudi Lickwood (Comedian) gives expert video advice on: Can you be sued for making a joke about someone?; Do you have to be funny in real life to be a stand-up?; How can you make sure that another comedian doesn't steal your jokes? and more...

Is being a stand-up a full-time job?

For me, stand-up has been a full-time job for, maybe, 8-9 years now. Stand up comedy doesn't start out as a full-time job; initially, for a lot of comics, I think, stand up starts out as a hobby. The same way that people would sort of play either tennis or table tennis on the weekend, or maybe play for the local football team. Then it develops. I guess some people know what they want to do before they get into the world of stand-up. Others just fall into stand up by accident.

Is there any specific training you can do to become a stand-up?

There are specific techniques that you can learn for stand-up comedy. In 1998 or 1999, I set up a comedy school with a friend of mine called Keith Palmer. There are a lot of stand-up comedy courses out there which teach you things like similes i.e. talking in pictures. They train you in things like 'the list of three': where you say one thing, a second, and the third is the odd one out. These stand-up schools teach you things about sarcasm, such as making comparisons such as comparing today with yesterday: "Oh, they never had..." i.e. "Oh, kids have got mobile phones whereas we used to have two Heinz baked bean tins with a piece of string running through it." During stand-up comedy you can make like comparisons like that. There are performance techniques as well: how you use your body during stand-up comedy; how to utilise your voice because if you go up in volume it creates a certain amount of excitement, and if you bring it really down low it can create a lot of tension. We set up a stand-up comedy school to provide training of these techniques, which we took into the art colleges, which we took into the prisons, which we took to the community centers. It's quite successful actually.

At what age can you become a stand-up?

I don't think there's any particular age as such. I do believe a good stand-up has got to have lived some sort of life. If I was to take an eight-year-old kid and put him in front of eight-year-old kids I'm sure he can perform to them, because he understands what they're going through, and they understand what he's going through. I wouldn't expect that eight-year-old kid then to be able to get up and perform to a pub crowd, because, obviously, the experiences now are so vast, he's restricted in what he can talk about and how much he really does understand, to a certain degree. So there's no real limit on it, but I would say the older you get the better you become.

What roles can you combine with being a stand-up?

Loads, man. You've got to remember that the stand-ups of today, in the year 2000, write their own material; or, we're supposed to write our own material, is the best way to put that. Therefore, straight away, what you've got is a writer. So, stand-ups can go into writing. Stand-ups can go into acting. I think a stand-up is more than capable of doing anything in the arts. We're so used to not working with the fourth wall (i.e. just working towards a script) and improvising with the audience that's in front of us. That, a lot of times, sometimes, can become a benefit to directors who could be directing you because you could take them down a different angle. A lot of times, it's a bit of a frustration because we do lack discipline in terms of structure, because, like I said, we don't work to the fourth wall, we work to what we feel. So, if something isn't working, we would more than likely divert and go elsewhere. However, if you're acting, you're meant to stay in that role. A lot of comedians can act, whereas a lot of actors cannot become comedians.

Can you be sued for making a joke about someone?

Can you be sued for making a joke about someone? If I was to turn around and say that one of the princes for example had committed sodomy, right? And he hadn't, and it's a blatant fact that he hadn't, then of course I could get sued for defamation of character. Do you know what I mean? Quite easily.I think providing that there is some truth in what the comedian is bringing forth, well, I think it's very difficult to sue him because what he's doing is he's ridiculing or he's questioning the decisions or the policies that you've laid down. Okay, and the way in which it sort of like affects society or the general public as a whole. Because the one license that the comic does have is to tell the truth. And by telling the truth you can then find that comedy becomes a very powerful tool.

Do you have to be funny in real life to be a stand-up?

No, you don't have to be funny in real life to be a stand up. I think what you need to do is you need to have as a stand up is something to say, you need to have something that you want to convey, because you can take a funny moment that you recalled and you can share that with an audience whether you're funny or not. But providing all the parameters are in place, if what you're saying as a stand up leads to some conclusion that this is quite ironic or this is quite ridiculous, then it's quite possible that, you know, people will laugh at it.

Is there a comedians' union?

There is no comedians' union. I think comedians are too individualistic and too self-opinionated to actually form a union. It's such a competitive field, and there's so much money running through the comedy industry, at this point in time, that comedians won't come together in a union and 'bond.' They all want to become stars and millionaires in the comedy business.

Is being funny an innate talent?

I've said I never really perceived myself as being a funny person. I've often been ask, particularly during comedy courses, whether you can teach someone to be funny. I've often said my honest answer is that you cannot teach somebody how to be funny, but you can teach them the techniques that are used in comedy. Therefore, if you learn how to use these techniques you can incite laughter.

What advice would you give to an aspiring stand-up?

If you genuinely want to do stand-up comedy, I would suggest that you get up on stage, get yourself six or seven minutes and try. That's the only way you're going to know if you can make it as a comedian. There's no point in being at home and telling your friend, telling your 'missus' - you've got to get up there in front of people you don't know to find out whether or not what you are saying is actually funny. It's the only way. Or you can go to theComedySchool.com and enroll in one of the stand-up comedy courses there. They'll offer you some of the principles and techniques that are required for a seven minute stand-up routine. Most of all if you believe that you are quite capable of becoming a comedian, then do it.

Is there a golden rule of being a stand-up?

I think the golden rule of stand-up comedy is to be yourself. I think people find it easier to buy into someone who's themselves. It wasn't until Brent - who I call 'the eighteenth century crackhead' - got honest with everybody about his condition and the lifestyle that he went through that they started to take him seriously as a comic. So, stand-up comedy is all about being honest to yourself. And, most importantly, the bottom line is they audience laugh.

Do you need an agent to be a stand-up?

No. You don't really need an agent to be a stand-up, but it depends what you want. If you want a career out of stand-up, I suggest you get an agent. That's what I would do. But what tends to happen is that if you show any form of proficiency in the stand-up game, the agent will find you. If you understand the comedy business, you will go and find an agent. Because some people are thinking to themselves "Oh, I'm so funny, and because I'm so funny, everything is going to happen." And their main focus is just to get up an stage and to be funny. That's all they want to do. But what they haven't realized is that they're actually in a business, and the way in which the comedy business talks to each other is that it talks to each other through agents, through management you know. So it would be hard for me to get up and go "listen I'm brilliant, I'm great, come on man you should book me. I'm brilliant, I'm great." and they go "who are you? Where did you come from?" Where is if there are agents or management companies who have been in the business, they would more tend to listen to each other than they would to any individual comic, unless that individual comic showed a great deal of talent while they were on stage. Therefore, what like I said if an agent can see that there's the potential in you they will approach you. But then at the same time if you're serious about the business I would say go look them out, go search them out. But only go search them out when you really do have 20 minutes of material to show them.