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 they are able to generate significant laughs.

But getting paid to perform is awesome as well.

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

Most new comedians start out at comedy open mic nights hosted at local comedy clubs 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.

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

For those 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 think 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.

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.


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, then feature work at the other comedy clubs in the area.

Within a year of getting that first paid gig I also started headlining 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 a comedian is able to slay audiences consistently, the faster they will draw attention for paid gig opportunities.

Find out for yourself why Steve Roye is a top stand-up comedy expert/trainer globally for both new and experienced comedians as well as for humorous speaking professionals.

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

  1. For those of you who can’t fit an open mic into your work schedule, consider two options: service clubs and Toastmasters. Rotary, Kiwanis, Chambers, and similar organization have a speaker at each weekly meeting. They love humor. If you do clean humor, this is a great option. Toastmaster’s is another weekly option. You get mic time on a scheduled basis and you can compete in humor speaking as well. For me, I like the corporate world so service clubs are a perfect fit and Toastmasters are really nice people.

    • Church groups, too, will sometimes have guest speakers for various functions and groups. I’m also exploring summer festivals which seemed to be an untapped area for stand-up. At the very least, they sometimes have trouble finding emcees for some vents.

  2. I need to get to an open mic. I have recordings of myself, but without an audience. I need to find out if I’m as funny as i think i am. Right now my sets are integrated with clean and blue stuff. I’m going to dedicate a set to clean comedy only in hopes of landing some corporate gigs. What do you think is best for open mic though? Should i hit on a little of every rating? G, PG, PG-13, R, X-rated? The first comedy album i ever heard as a young child was “Sex Mouth Leroy”. I had to sneak to listen when my parents weren’t home, but this is perhaps why most of my stuff is Blue. Is Blue bad for an open mic?

    • It depends on the comedy club hosting the open mic. I recommend that comedians work clean because it provides a much wider variety of potential performing opportunities.

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