Every comic needs an audience. An audience is the difference between standup as a hobby and a career. An audience can get you booked, can pay your bills, can change your life.
Now how to grow an audience for your comedy?
Like a best friend in a campy Rom-Com, I’ve made a list of three main things (and a bunch of little actionable pieces of advice) you can do, both in person and online, to give yourself and your audience the highest chance of finding each other.
Those Three Things Are:
They look a bit different in person and online, but those three key points are how you’re going to grow an audience for your comedy – and get to write the material you like, because that’s what your audience will want to hear.
Just like anything else in life, remember the golden rule: Don’t Be A Dick.
You need to be funny to make it in comedy, no doubt, but the days of the tormented genius are over. No one cares how good your set is if you’re a nightmare to work with. No one’s going to book the lone wolf who only punches down. No one wants to be on a lineup with the creepy dude who makes comics of any gender feel uncomfortable.
Actionable Advice: Be A Good Community Member
You exist within a community, so start acting like it. Not Social Climbing, but actual community building. Finding people around you not to utilize, but to collaborate with.
That little bit of effort goes an infinitely long way in getting you booked. My friends Balyah and Eddie literally produce a show called “They Were Nice To Me,” where they book comics who – you guessed it – were nice to them.
And where do they find these people? Community events like open mics and shows. I know you might roll your eyes at calling them a community event, but that’s really what they are.
Audiences can tell when the people on stage enjoy what they’re doing. It’s a vibe thing. And honestly a logistics thing. Things just run smoother when everybody involved gets along.
And when they don’t? It’s a nightmare.
I was on a 3 hour long, sold out, un-airconditioned show at a pretty well-known club. Objectively the worst show of my life – mainly because the producer was terrible to work with. And the audience could tell. They clearly were there for a good time – like most audiences are – and got robbed of that by a man who was just trying to get as much money from the audience as he could.
You need to be professional and funny to get somewhere in comedy. I’ve seen it happen repeatedly, where talented people shoot themselves in the foot because they think they’re God’s gift to comedy. There’s so much work that goes into building an audience in comedy, being nice is the easy part.
“Being Discovered” is all about being at the right place at the right time. To be entirely honest, it’s mostly luck. There are thousands of talented comics who never found an audience for one reason or another. It’s a lot of luck, but most of the time, it’s because they didn’t stick it out long enough to let their audience find them.
So you need to show up. Now, I’m not saying put the rest of your life on hold for comedy (in fact, that would be worse, because then the only thing you have to inform your comedy…is comedy. And people can only handle so much meta.)
The only way you’re going to find out what works is if you keep trying. Getting up consistently, however often you can, is key to not only developing your craft, but getting exposure from other comics and, if you’re lucky, the occasional audience member.
Actionable Advice: Become A Mic’s Regular
Have at least one mic that you go to once a week. It’s okay if you miss a few here or there, but try to stay – surprise – consistent.
My first regular mic was in a warehouse closet in Bushwick, which you could only get to via a rusty fire escape. But that weird little closet was the highlight of my week. That’s where I met all the most important people in my professional and personal life. The people you meet in a closet or a dingy dive bar are going to be the same people headlining tours and festivals years down the line.
If you’re just starting out, it can and should be the same mic every week so you get comfortable with the host and the other regulars. Just be sure to try out some new jokes every time, building on rather than refining your old material.
If you’re more experienced, try to be a regular at a few different ones .Definitely try to get out to a wide range of clubs and audiences to start refining your 10 minutes by getting a feel for which jokes work on different crowds.
Consistently showing up in the same places and building those connections is the first step to building an attentive, loyal audience
Actionable Advice: Posting Consistently
This advice carries over to apps like IG and Tiktok. Post regularly. Make content. There’s an infinite ocean of scrolling waiting to steal your audience’s attention between the times they see your content.
Post consistently, on whatever schedule you want, but consistently. If you post a new clip every week, then that’s all you do, but the algorithm and your audience will get used to your videos coming on their feed once a week.
Record your sets (at shows preferably, but if there’s a mic you know you do well at, then record those too). Post clips of them. Respond to every comment. It’s cringy, I know, and nobody wants to reduce themselves down to a sound bite, but that’s the world we live in. So you might as well have fun with it.
And you don’t have to just post perfectly edited standup clips. It’s your page, your brand, your career. Do whatever you want. Think of it like this: Instagram is your Business Card/Portfolio, TikTok is for shitposting. Post unpolished jokes that just pop in your head while you’re brushing your teeth or commuting to work. Just make sure that you’re writing and putting out videos regularly, regardless of how many views you get.
Despite what TikTok might have you believe, you can’t build a retentive audience if you aren’t doing something long enough to have fans. The wide majority of people stop doing comedy in less than a year.
If you can make it past that, you already stand out significantly. I’m not gonna lie, there’s a reason most people quit – it’s rough out there. If you’re trying to do it alone, it can isolating at best, and self-flagellation at worst.
Learn early that stand up isn’t going to be easy. You’re going to bomb. You’re going to crush. You’re going to have more mediocre sets than you can count. Learning to ride the highs and lows of this industry will make your life easier. And the best way to do that is with people who get it.
When you keep going back to mics, you should actively try to surround yourself with people who you admire, who’s style and perspective is different from yours. A varied circle will challenge you to be better, and seeing what their niche is will help you find yours.
My writing partner is my perfect compliment. They were more monotone, but I do big gestures and act outs. I’m into storytelling, but he’s an amazing one-liner comic. Writing together, we get to mix and match it all. (Note: Writing as often as you go up is going to help you find your voice and perfect it.)
Finding Your Niche
Stand up is all about having a specific perspective. You’re trying to make people give a shit about what you have to say. You have to find a perspective that feels authentic to you and resonates with audiences. You’re only gonna do that by writing and performing. A lot.
The traditional way of doing building an audience around yourself was going to mics to get discovered by a booker and fighting for stage time at clubs. You were writing for one type of audience, no matter who you were as a comic.
Now with social media, there is a platform for anyone to have a voice, and an infinite number of niches with an audience for your silly little jokes. Use the right hashtags, learn what the algorithm likes (which is a whole other article but TL;DR Verticle Videos, Strong 3 Second Hook, Captions) and you’ll get sent right into your audience’s little black mirror.
Actionable Advice: You Don’t Need Permission!
Anyone can build an audience if they have the confidence and the resources – which really is just a stable internet connection. You can produce a comedy show right now. Seriously. Just find someone you get along with in your local scene or on opencomedy.com and connect with them. It’s that easy.
I have friends now who have been producing comedy shows since they were in high school – simply because they made it happen. If you’re reading this article, you can look up a venue near you to produce a show. You can reach out to comics you know and throw together a show in less than a week, you just have to take the actual steps to do it.
No one’s going to tell you you’ve become good enough to deserve an audience. You have to do that for yourself. You have to make things happen and believe enough in yourself to convince other people to believe in you too.
Editor | Comic | Storyteller | Cohost @killyrdarlingsmic | Social Content Editor @notsolatelateshow | Co-Founder @write_hive