Comedy Monday Night Presents
A Beginner’s Guide To Stand-Up Comedy at CMN

Congratulations! You’ve decided to give stand-up comedy a try. It can be very intimidating; you’ll be on stage with a microphone, the material that you’ve written, and not much else. There are, however, a number of steps that you can take to reduce the amount of stress for your first show at Comedy Monday Night.

Experience a Show Before You Perform on a Show

Before you pick a show to perform on it’s best if you attend a CMN show as an audience member at least once (and preferably, two or three times). While there you will see the format of the show, how it runs, and what will be expected of you. Having this information in advance will leave you free to focus on your performance and not all the rules. While you are in the audience at any CMN show (whether you or performing on it or not) you will be expected to be the perfect audience member. There are a couple of common breaches of this sort of etiquette that you will want to avoid:

  • Don’t be the noise, rattle, or buzz at the back of the room (or anywhere else in the room). Steve Martin wrote that distraction is the enemy of comedy. If you’re making noise or talking with your friends and family while the show is on you are making another performer’s job more difficult and upsetting audience members who paid to be at the show. A focused audience is crucial to a successful performance – don’t be a distraction.
  • Don’t be a jerk. This may sound obvious, but it is remarkable how many new performers are quite rude to their peers and those comedians with more experience. It’s very easy to be supportive of other performers and if you truly don’t enjoy what they are presenting, you can at least be polite. Applaud at the beginning and end of everyone’s sets and give them your quiet attention while they are on stage. Bookers, agents, show producers, and the like, pay as much attention to how you handle yourself off stage as they do to how you handle yourself on stage.

The Rules of Performing at CMN

After attending one or two CMN shows you’ll become familiar with the format of the production. We offer comedians (new and experienced alike) the opportunity to perform uncensored stand-up comedy in what could be termed an “open mic style.” Sets are short (on average, five minutes) which works well for those people who have never been on stage before or for the experienced professionals working on new material. While each comedian is his or her own censor, there are four rules that we do enforce in regards to your material:

  • Have Fun! If you come to Comedy Monday Night for any other reason than to have a great time, you’ve come for the wrong reason. Don’t try to set the stand-up comedy world on fire (you most likely won’t), just have a good time. If you can do that, you’ve succeeded.
  • Don’t insult the other comics. Taking a shot at another performer on stage is a surefire way to alienate yourself from the industry and not be invited back. If you think another performer isn’t very good, keep it to yourself.
  • Don’t insult the room or the staff. Mocking or belittling the venue or employees is another great way to never be invited back to perform at Comedy Monday Night. We enjoy using Broken City to present our show and want to continue to do so. If you do anything to hurt that, you’ll just be hurting yourself.
  • Don’t insult the audience. Early in your comedy career, it’s never the audience’s fault. If they aren’t laughing – it probably wasn’t funny. That’s OK – you can fix a joke or come up with a new one. Blaming the audience for failure or insulting them as a group or individually will not be tolerated.

It is also very important (kind of an unwritten rule) that the material that you present is of your own creation – because that is what stand-up comedy is; making an audience laugh with your punchlines, your thoughts, and your stories. Make sure that there is nothing in your set that is a street joke (“Two guys walk into a bar…”), a joke you read on the Internet, or a joke that you heard from someone else (especially if it’s another stand-up comedian). The show is run by stand-up comedians and is heavily attended by the local comedy community, so if it’s not original to you, we’ll know.

Getting On A Show

Once you have been to see a show, know and understand the rules of CMN, and have between three and five original minutes of stand-up comedy material, you’ll be ready to perform on the show. The first step to getting a spot is to email [email protected]. In your email make it clear that you are a first-timer and you’ll be assigned a Monday night to appear on the show. Once you have your assigned evening, be sure to invite your friends, family, and co-workers, to see the performance. You’ll feel much better and more relaxed having some friendly faces in the crowd.

On the night that you are performing, you’ll want to arrive at the venue no later than 7:15PM to claim your spot and check in with the show’s producer. There are a lot of people looking for stage time every week, so if you’re not in the room by 7:30PM your spot will be assigned to another performer.

Before the show actually begins you’ll be given the running order of the evening by the show’s producer. You’ll be told at what point in the show you’re going up (associated with a number which is the order of appearance) as well as the name of the performer preceding you. It is your responsibility to keep track of the show and be ready “in the wings” when the preceding performer is doing his or her set. Your time on stage is limited, so if you waste a minute running from the back of the room when you hear your name called not only will your show be off to a bad start, but you’ll have wasted some very valuable stage time.

Performing Your Set

As soon as the emcee at the show says your name, you’re up! Don’t waste a lot of time getting to the stage as you’re first set will be no more than five minutes and that time starts from the moment that your name is announced. Time violations (going over your allotted time) are very common for new performers, so you will want to guard against them. You won’t be expected to keep an eye on your watch, as the show’s producer will be timing your set and will let you know when you’ve reached the four minute mark by shining a very bright light in your eyes from the back of the room. (It’s considered good form to acknowledge that you’ve seen this light by giving a slight nod towards it.). That will indicate that you have one minute left to finish your last joke, say goodnight and leave the stage. If you exceed your allotted time the same light will begin flashing – should this happen to you, you’re expected to stop immediately (don’t even finish your joke), say goodnight, and leave the stage. Not finishing a joke or going slightly short is far better than going long which is bad form and will make it difficult to get another spot in the future.

This is very important to remember as well if you happen to go significantly under your time and have to bail out on your set. It is possible that you will forget your material and what you wanted to say and have to leave the stage. Should this happen, be sure to leave the stage gracefully. Simply say that you’ve said all that you wanted to say, thank the audience for listening, and call the emcee back to the stage.

Microphone technique is a very important part of stand-up comedy. There a few basic things that you can do to ensure that the audience can hear you speak (because if they can’t hear you, they can’t laugh) and make you look more experienced on stage:

  • Keep the microphone about six inches away from your mouth. If the microphone is just below your chin for your set (whether in a stand or in your hand) that is the optimal place for volume and clarity. You don’t have to speak more loudly than a normal conversation volume. If you tend to yell a lot, move the microphone away from your mouth to avoid causing the audience discomfort and potentially damaging the sound system.
  • Feel free to adjust the microphone stand. Don’t be afraid to place the stand and microphone exactly where you want them. You’re not going to damage anything or upset anyone if you have to lower and raise the stand for your height. Just do so properly by loosing the stand’s “clamps” and not simply forcing it into position.
  • Hold the microphone by its grip. If you choose to take the microphone out of the stand, hold it only by its grip or handle in the middle of the microphone. Avoid having your hand cover the top of it (even on the sides) as this can cause feedback in the system (and doesn’t look as cool as you probably think). Also avoid holding the bottom of the microphone where the cord connects as this can cause static in the sound and reduce the lifespan of the equipment.
  • Bonus Tip: If you do hold onto the microphone, move the stand so that it isn’t between you and the audience members. Performing behind the stand is considered bad form and is (surprisingly) distracting for the audience.
  • Do not drop the microphone. Under no circumstances are you to drop a microphone. The diaphragm within them can be damaged or completely broken and if this happens during your set every comedian who follows you will suffer.
  • When you leave the stage at the end of your set the microphone must be in the stand and at center stage. This is the same place that you will have found the microphone at the beginning of your set. It is common courtesy to leave the stage in the same condition which you found it. There are a number of reasons for this, including the fact that passing a microphone between performers looks awkward and unprofessional.

When planning your set also make sure that you don’t require any props that you can’t move on and off stage by yourself. The use of musical instruments (guitars, etc.) is encouraged and will be facilitated accordingly. The show’s producer will mic-up a guitar and will assist the performer as needed. Props which require the assistance of individuals other than the performer will not be permitted.

During your performance be sure not to “hack” on people in the front row. This calls back to the “Don’t insult the audience” rule above, but is worth restating. Many people are afraid to sit in the front rows of comedy clubs because some comic, somewhere, picked on them for no reason. Don’t be that comic. Stick to the material that you’ve planned.

At the end of your set, wait for the emcee to return to the stage before you leave it. A stage with nobody on it can kill the show’s momentum. Once the emcee is back on stage you can shake his or her hand and then make your exit.

The Aftermath

If you’ve performed a set of three to five minutes of original stand-up comedy material, were polite and respectful to your fellow performers and audience, followed the few rules that are in place, and had fun doing it all – then your set was successful. (Notice that for your first time it didn’t have to be hilarious to be successful.) You are now in a position to get more stage time in the future if you think it is something you’d like to try again. Once is never enough to be great at anything, so if you have the passion and commitment to becoming a stand-up comedian, Comedy Monday Night will be there to help.