Are you a stand-up comedian who is looking to “break into” acting for TV shows, commercials and movies?
Please make sure that you read every word of this article because…
I’m going to identify the single biggest mistake many comedians make when it comes to getting acting gigs.
First, please allow me to cover some differences and similarities between stand-up comedy and acting. Many people are under the false impression that stand-up comedy is acting, possibly due to the reference to a stand-up comedy act when talking about stand-up comedy.
Well, I think it is very important to have at least some baseline knowledge about acting as it relates to stand-up comedy, especially since even small acting roles can pay handsomely.
So let’s get down to some serious business, shall we?
There are some significant differences between acting and a stand-up comedy act:
1. Comedic acting scenes aren’t dependent upon a minimum average of 18 seconds of laughter per minute in order to have a significant comedic impact. As a stand-up comedian, if the minimum laughter response is not at least 18 seconds of laughter for each performing minute, the comedian is not delivering headliner level stand-up comedy material.
2. Acting almost always involves some sort of dialogue presentation involving other “characters”. Stand-up comedy (proper) almost always involves a monologue presentation.
Note: The exception to this is comedy ventriloquism, where the comedian conducts a dialogue with a puppet or “dummy”.
In other words, in comedic acting the “funny” part of a scene is dependent on the dialogue and/or actions of two or more actors, each with different characters and roles that collectively impact the level of “funny” any particular scene can generate.
3. In acting, the “character” and the dialogue associated with that character are predetermined. In stand-up comedy, the comedian is the “character” so to speak and the monologue that comedian delivers is representative of how that comedian communicates verbally in everyday life.
4. The process for getting stand-up comedy gigs is completely different than the process for getting acting gigs.
And yes, there are some similarities between comedic acting and stand-up comedy:
1. If the comedic acting is taking place in front of a live audience…
Just like in stand-up comedy proper, timing is largely dependent upon audience response. In other words, the audience must be afforded time to laugh before talking starts when a live audience is involved.
2. In acting, talent is still required, just as it is in stand-up comedy. In other words…
The best “writing” in the world will not be of benefit to a talent-less actor, just like it will not be of benefit to a talent-less comedian.
3. In acting, massive preparation is required. The same is true of stand-up comedy.
4. In acting, delivery skill is continually acquired and honed. The same is true of stand-up comedy.
5. The comedy mechanics for generating laughter, whether as an actor or a stand-up comedian are exactly the same (it’s the audience dynamics that are different). Many comedians attempt to use stand-up comedy a vehicle to get acting gigs.
Unfortunately, most make a huge mistake when taking this path and that is:
The Big Mistake
The comedian doesn’t take acting classes from an experienced acting professional.
That is a huge mistake because the dynamics, presentation qualities, character development, skill set and a whole host of other factors are significantly different in acting than in stand-up comedy.
And while it is certainly possible to get some very helpful insight about acting, the business of acting and the methodologies involved in an online acting course — as well understanding the business aspects of getting acting gigs…
When it comes to acting, there simply is NOT a substitute for acting classes with an accomplished actor who can deliver feedback and advice on the spot — about ALL aspects of the business of acting.
Plus, there is another HUGE secret that many comedians don’t know about acting classes that can really make a difference when it comes to getting a chance to audition for acting roles:
Casting agents, production companies and other film professionals can have ongoing professional relationships with acting coaches.
In other words…
Depending upon the acting coach or acting school, these film professionals can offer audition opportunities via that acting coach to their students.
As a matter of fact, particular acting school students can be handpicked to audition for acting roles based on the acting talent, skill and ability an individual has demonstrated during classes.
Here is the bottom line:
Stand-up comedy can be a great supplemental skill for getting acting roles, provided the comedian can deliver headliner level stand-up comedy material. While there can be certain similarities between acting and being a stand-up comedian, make no mistake:
However, being a comedian is NOT a substitute for acquiring the skill set needed for being an actor or landing acting roles, if that’s what your goals are.
I should also mention that the acting business is absolutely a different animal than the stand-up comedy business — especially as far as the process for getting gigs is concerned.
So don’t just leave your show business career to chance. Take the steps you need to take to increase your chances of success and reach your show business goals.
Great article, Steve! There are definitely similarities and differences. They both require people, who as you said, “will give feedback and advice on the spot.” Most people think they are better at them then they really are. But we can all grow in both fields (acting and stand-up), by listening to others with more experience and learning from their valuable feedback. If we think we know-it-all, we will miss out on lots of opportunities to grow and improve!
I still think acting is easier than stand-up comedy. Unless you perform in front of alive studio audience, you can have several “takes” of a scene until the director has the shot he wants. You only get 1 take on any given night as a comic unless you get a NEW audience on the same night.