Getting Your First Paid Stand-up Comedy Gig

Some folks come to this blog with this question:

How do I get my first paid stand-up comedy gig?

Performing as a stand-up comedian is a very thrilling adventure once a person is able to generate significant laughs on a consistent basis.

But getting paid to perform is awesome as well.

As a general rule, here’s how many comedians get their first paid performancw:

Most new comedians start out at comedy open mic nights hosted at local comedy clubs, coffee shops or other venues.

Once an open mic night comedian starts killing audiences with consistency, usually they are afforded more stage time (both in length and frequency).

When it becomes apparent that the open mic comedian has enough solid stand-up comedy material to open/emcee a show (usually 10-15 minutes), then they can be asked by the comedy club manager or owner to fill an opening act spot.

Usually, that opening act spot can be for a single show or series of shows during the week, again to see if the new comedian can do well with consistency.

Then if that pans out…

The next step can be getting booked as the opening act/emcee for a paid weekend performance that will usually include a seasoned feature act and a headliner.

What I have described is just one way that comedians can land their first paying gig.

As they progress in their stand-up comedy career, many comedians will set-up independent comedy shows outside the comedy club scene. These shows are generally referred to as one nighters and can be in bars, hotel lounges or in local restaurants.

So another way that new comedians may get their first real stand-up comedy gig beyond the comedy open mic scene is to get the attention of another comedian who is booking an independent stand-up comedy show, then get asked to perform in that show.

I have known comedians who got their first paying stand-up comedy gig as the result of participation in a comedy competition or talent show.

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For those folks who can develop and deliver a clean and/or family friendly stand-up comedy act that kills audiences, there are many more paid gig opportunities available outside the comedy club scene as identified in the Corporate Comedy Secrets module in the Killer Stand-up Online Course.

As a matter of fact, one of my students figured out how to work with a small team of other new comedians who worked clean in order for them all to get paid for performing right from the get go.

The most important thing to know about getting your first stand-up comedy gig is this:

The faster you are able to generate big laughs with your stand-up comedy on a consistent basis, the faster gig opportunities outside the open mic scene will come to you.

Specifically, I am talking about generating an average of 4-6+ quality laughs every performing minute. When that happens it automatically draws the attention of those who are in a position to either hire comedians (talent buyers, promoters) or help comedians get hired (agents).

While your first paid stand-up comedy gigs won’t usually pay much, it’s still a very big deal when you consider that many who pursue stand-up never develop act that will result in a paying gig — even after years of trying to develop and deliver a stand-up comedy act that will generate laughs.

And as soon as you are getting paid to perform as a comedian, you move from “amateur” comedian status to professional comedian status.

There is only one other thing I can think of that beats the thrill and excitement of causing an audience to laugh loud and often and that’s getting paid to do it!

Here’s how I got my first paid stand-up comedy gigs…

I started stand-up comedy early in 1992. By Oct 1992, I had decided to quit because I couldn’t get anywhere near the laughs I needed to make any sort of headway.

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In Nov 1992, I discovered my system, threw away almost all my old jokes and basically started over to develop a stand-up comedy routine that would get the level of laughter I needed to get noticed.

In Apr 1993, I won a stand-up comedy competition. The big prize for winning was getting 10 minutes (no pay) to perform at the Improv in San Diego that I did in early June and nailed it.

What I didn’t know was that there was a show promoter at the comedy competition who also went to my first Improv performance.

Once he saw that the laughs I had generated at the comedy competition wasn’t some sort of fluke, I was booked to open for a rising comedian at the time named Dennis Wolfberg in July of that same year.

I got $100 for that 10 minute opening act gig (700 people in attendance) and my professional comedy career was officially started.

From Jul 1993 to Jan 1994 (when they closed), I was able to perform a 15 minute guest spot after the opener once a month (no pay).

But because of that, I was able to get paid opener work, then feature work at the other comedy clubs in my home area.

Within a year of getting that first paid gig I also started headlining at multiple local one nighters and getting opportunities for corporate work because I had a clean act.

All I know beyond a shadow of a doubt is this:

The faster that any comedian is able to slay audiences consistently, the faster they will draw attention for paid gig opportunities. That is not hyperbole.

If you can’t deliver big laughs consistently, you are in for a very log wait for fortune, much less fame.

7 Replies to “Getting Your First Paid Stand-up Comedy Gig”

  1. Hi I m a farmhand but my biggest passion in life to make someone laugh I’ve got a back for it to I’m looking to change what I do an early m not asking for a hand out I’d jus like some pointers I don’t even know how to start

    • This blog is probably one of the best places to start — it has most of the foundational info you need at no cost. There’s literally a ton of information here. If you are looking for something a bit more detailed, foundational info about the stand-up comedy industry as a whole, you may want to check out

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