king-of-comedyI was at the Comedy Store last night. I was talking to a young comedian about crafting a joke and the importance of writing everyday and this other comedian butts in and says, “I don’t give a damn about any of that, I just want to know how to be a famous comedian!”

What this comedian didn’t realize was that I just saw him do about an 10-minute set and not only did he run the light, (went way over his time), disrespecting the audience, the booker and his fellow comics, he also did a whole 2-minute bit about not putting kids on “time-out”  but putting them on “knock-out,” (a bit that’s more worn out than a Vegas hooker on New Year’s Eve). When he said “I just want to know how to be a famous comedian,” I remember thinking to myself, not with that act!

I’ve been doing comedy for 25 years. I’ve written for Jay Leno for 8 years. So I try my best not to be negative when I’m around other comedians. I’m honest, just not negative. The truth is there is no direct answer to the quest of “how to be a famous comedian,” but there are guidelines.

Write, write and write some more!

One of the crucial keys to making it in this industry is originality. That’s one thing bookers look for when scouting for talent. They also look for how well you craft a joke. Most stand up comedy on late night talk shows is about well-crafted jokes and routines, not about big act-outs. The only way to develop that is by writing and writing a lot. Most comedians, I’ve noticed don’t actually write a lot. They wait for something funny to happen to them and they write it down or record it somehow. That’s a good way to get material, mind you, but it’s only one way. When you learn the fundamentals of comedy including joke structure and technique, then you can make something funny, rather than wait for something to be funny.

A comedian should be spending several hours every day writing. Most don’t. One of the problems is that most comedians and wanna-be comedians equate comedy with frivolity and they treat their profession frivolously. That’s one way NOT to be a famous comedian.

Stage Time is King!

Once you have a well-crafted act (I have a lot of posts on techniques) of 5-7 minutes, then it’s time to hit the stage. Writing is great for the crafting of the material and really sharpening your sense of humor, but nothing beats getting on the stage. A comedian who is looking for notoriety, (whether they are trying to get famous or not), should be hitting the open-mics at least 3 times a week. If you can’t commit to that, you might want to consider a different line of work. You have to develop your act, your timing and your comfort level on stage so you can learn to be yourself while standing in front of complete strangers and the only way to do that is stage time. Sure, open-mics can be grueling. The audience is usually notoriously comedian-heavy and sometimes they can feel unrewarding. But the mere consistent appearance and mic-work will eventually payoff. If you’re doing good work, you’ll gain respect and reach at least some level of fame with the other comedians.

When I was doing the open mics, I was up at least 4 nights a week, at least and sometimes several times in one night. I gained a reputation as a good writer. There’s a nice feeling that accompanies walking into a room and having people talk about you—in a good way! I was always nice to everyone too and if I heard another comedian do a  joke and thought of a tag for the joke I would always write it down and offer it to the comic as a suggestion.

Some of the best advice I got from Jay Leno. He said “write faster than everybody else and your reputation will precede you.” It was true. I was “famous” within certain circles for being a really good writer and comedian.

Develop your act and hit the road!

Once you’ve written and honed an act of between 15-30 minutes of solid material, (“solid” meaning a laugh point every 18-20 seconds), then it’s time to hit the road and develop it. When you start working night after night, you really start to develop as a comedian. The beauty of the road is that you’re out there working on comedy 24 hours a day. You write during the day and perform at night. By the end of 4 months on the road, you should have the makings for about an hour of material. When you feel completely secure in your material. It’s time to start submitting yourself to T.V. talent coordinators. Some bookers take DVD’s, some like to see links on the internet and YouTube.

You can contact the bookers by getting the “Hollywood Creative Directory.” It lists all the shows that are on the air and their staffs. Be sure to check out the style of comedian that gets booked on each show. Fallon is different from Kimmel and Ferguson is different from Leno. Once you feel you fit a certain show. Send a DVD right to the booker with a note that says “I’m a regular watcher of your show and I think my act fits with what you do. Please take a look.” Be sure that your name and contact info is on the DVD and the cover of the DVD as they often they get separated.

There is no certainty of success only the joy of the work!

Other than working hard on both parts of the word show-business there are no rules or guarantees to success. My Dad, who was a successful character actor, once said to me, “You have to get into this business for the right reasons. If you get into it to be famous, get out now, because odds are that’s not going to happen. If you get into because it’s who you are and you stay true to being the best you can be and doing the best work possible, you will reach such a great personal level of success and gratification that the idea of how to be a famous comedian won’t be as important as being the best comedian you can be.

Jerry Corley
Jerry Corley

Jerry Corley is a professional comedian of nearly 30 years, working nearly every venue imaginable.

    14 replies to "How To Be A Famous Comedian"

    • CJ Mischel

      Hey thanks for the tip man. I am going to get started writing right away.

    • Glenn Francis

      hi, I really enjoyed reading this, and found the imformation, exstreamly helpful.
      i have stood on a stage, many years ago’ and treid to make the audence laugh. it was only at a holiday camp, but I loved it. but as you do sometimes’ life go’s by and you kind of forget all about it. but I guess I’m no spring chicken..
      so if I’m going to do it, now is the time.
      i really think that comedy should be fun. and the idea is to have fun.. after all where else can you really be yourself.
      haha- so for the last few months iv’e been writing some matirial down.
      and writing and re-writing it. and have come up with my final gag’ sheet, haha.
      so I now going to do my first open mike. haha-
      thanks. ( have a good one ).
      my email-

    • Jlink Brisco

      I agree Comedy is a way to PRODUCE your jokes into an originality form! I mean when I was starting out, i had trouble speaking real English, as I crafted a murdering joke into peoples faces! Right now I’m professional, i use jokes to be Creative, and unusual with it! Some may not understand what I do! But Comedy is something where u make people laugh! Its not about saying the F word 30 seconds in a row! You get a chuckle, ladies and gentleman! Then your up for an comedy award!

      Thanks Standup Comedy Clinic for this post!

    • thank you very much 4 dis enlightenment, can, t u pls create an avenue on line how we the up coming comedian can learn more abot our career in comedy.

    • […] A humorous conversation always attracts people. There is humor in every situation of life; the problem is the inability to perceive it. The way you talk, walk or even fight can be funny in the eyes of others. For you it is just plain conversation. Being funny is not something inherent in some people as you may think. It is a skill that can be learnt and practiced to perfection as other subjects. There are people who make a lot of money by utilizing this art. They are known as the Stand up comedians. If you want or aspire to be one, you need to master the tricks that can generate laughter. The question that now arises is- how to be a comedian? […]

    • Mathieu Boumal

      Hey. Very interesting article, thanks! But I’m curious about that “sending your tape” thing. Can it actually work like that? Will bookers consider putting you on as long as they love your material even if you don’t really “have a name” yet?

    • Norchris Undari

      I learn frm this alot its like m daily leson you now I love it.

    • Joseph Saturno

      thank you for the awesome insight.All my life I enjoy making people laugh and it’s in me.I would truly love to bring this to the world.Thank you very much.I live in Miami Florida.Any advise as to where I could start?Any help would be so appreciated

    • Comedian Dirtybiz


    • Scott Arnold

      Just as I thought.. Skill,be humble and luck 😉
      And Joe do u still have that kun- Foo grip ???

    • Julie Cook

      I agree completely.

    • Arnie Placencio

      Do you teach?

    • Derrick Cribb

      This is very inspiring and good advice. I mean great advice. Trying to consider one fear at a time. I’ll start writing asap as much as possible also. Thank you sooo much for your expertise.

    • Lioz Shem Tov

      Good advices, Thank’s for sharing 🙂

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