Making a full-time living from being a funny person is up there as a dream job for some people. But can anyone do it?
These days there are a wide variety of jobs you can do in the comedy and entertainment industry, so let’s look into the topic more.
Can comedy be taught?
It’s one thing to be witty around a few friends but being a professional comedian is different. For comedians who perform on stage doing stand-up routines they don’t need much wit at all, apart from when receiving the odd heckle. The routine is prepared, rehearsed, and repeated many times over. Does this mean you can learn how to write jokes and be done?
The answer isn’t a straightforward yes or no. Being a comedian is a mixture of natural personality, ability to learn, writing skills, and of course, work ethic. Certain aspects can be taught, but some are just natural and can’t be copied. There is an element of art to it.
Having certain personality attributes and characteristics does help. They often say “it’s how you tell them” when it comes to jokes. See them written down and it isn’t that funny, see a comedian tell it, and it’s hilarious.
Part of it comes from the comedian’s natural persona. But the bit you don’t see is that they practice the jokes many times over, steadily tweaking the words and delivery. Just because they have a lot of charisma, doesn’t mean they don’t also practice hard.
Many of those things are specific to being a stand-up comedian though. In actual fact, there are lots of jobs these days that are all about making people laugh.
Types of comedy you could do to earn income:
- Comedy screenwriter for movies or TV programs, E.g, Richard Curtis
- Stand-up comedian
- Actor/actress specialising in comedy, E.g, Diane Morgan
- Be a funny Twitch streamer, E.g, Limmy, Zafarcakes
- Author writing comedy novels
- Writer/journalist, reviewing comedy programs and shows
- YouTuber posting funny videos
- Meme creator
- Cartoonist, E.g, Drawtism
- Product developer and seller of funny products on marketplaces such as Etsy, E.g, novelty candles, funny birthday cards
- Podcast creator, E.g, No Such Thing As A Fish
There are so many different jobs you can do that revolve around making people laugh! Many will come with their own unique skills. For example, a digital meme creator needs to learn to use image-editing software, as well as learning to be hilarious!
Big challenges when making a living from comedy
Even if you do manage to successfully learn your craft, there are still plenty of challenges when it comes to making a living in the comedy and entertainment sectors:
- Unstable income that can fluctuate wildly
- Online trolls may target you
- Sets on stage that go badly can harm your confidence, (you need to learn from the poor performances, not let them beat you down)
- Dealing with writer’s block
- Getting used to a lifestyle where work doesn’t have much structure
- Dealing with the highs and lows of quiet daytimes feeling nervous and performing on stage in the evenings
- Running the risk of being hated by certain demographics just because you make a joke about a divisive topic E.g, Brexit, Donald Trump
How long does it take to be a comedian?
It partly depends on the way you want to make people laugh. Setting up a comedy website and working hard on your writing skills may not take you that long. But to be a top-performing stand-up comedian on national TV will often take many years.
If you go to university you’ll have a least a few years of studying ahead of you.
Different people will also take different amounts of time to learn to channel their nerves. If you want to be a stand-up comedian this can be hugely important. You would never want to completely stop nerves, it’s healthy to have some. But positively channeling them can take time, some people will learn quicker than others to channel their nerves.
Truthfully, it’s almost impossible to put a timeframe on how long it takes to be a comedian. But you can get a rough idea for yourself based on how you want to earn a living and what methods you’re going to use to learn what you need to learn.
Ways to learn to be funny
Study what you love
One thing to do is study what you love! Why do you love certain formats of comedy? Which TV shows do you love? Which comedians do you love? What online comedy do you love? Write it all down if needs be and then spend time slowly studying it to understand it.
While you learn the skill of writing jokes it is good to focus on jokes that you love. Practicing delivery of jokes (in the mirror) and structuring whole routines is important, even if a routine is only 7 or 8 minutes. Studying successful stand-ups you love and reading their stories of how they started and built up over the years can teach you valuable things.
A key part of learning is also understanding yourself. Understanding what topics you want to focus on. Understanding your style of comedy. Maybe your personality lends itself to Deadpan comedy. Or maybe you’re naturally more of a Michal McIntyre happy-go-lucky comedian. Be clear on what makes you original too. Write everything down!
Focusing heavily on your life experiences can really help. Ultimately the subject of your comedy should often be you. A great example of that would be Mae Martin who has done really well, not only on stage but in books and on the TV thanks to her TV series Feel Good.
A big part of success in comedy can come from getting your format right. In stand-up Tim Vine specializes in rapid one-liners and it works well for him, others such as Billy Connolly would tell longer stories. For other types of online comedy, such as memes and cartoons, you can practice for a long-time, years if needs be, to really get your format and style nicely honed in. A lot of the learning will simply come from your own trial and error and practicing hard.
You can buy books off the shelf which can help with all the aspects of being a stand-up comedian. Such as Be A Great Stand-Up by Logan Murray.
Go to University
There are university courses and quite a few of them. In the UK you can do Comedy Writing & Performance BA (Hons) at Salford. Or Stand Up Comedy MA at the University of Kent.
Whatever type of comedy you’re interested in, you can always learn about it. Because all comedy has a structure. You see the same techniques and processes gone through many times over. This is why you can learn about it and be taught it.
Everything discussed on this page tells you that yes, to an extent, comedy definitely can be taught. Does this mean everyone will become good at it? No, life doesn’t quite work like that. But if you’re interested in the industry and have a passion for it, then go for it!
Now is the time to act!
You only live once! It may be a huge cliche, but it’s true. Don’t regret not giving it a try.
Once you’ve studied well and spent lots of time practicing and running things past friends and family it’s time to start to build up a profile and let the journey begin!