Public speaking is one of the most common fears people have. The fear of humiliating myself in front of friends and complete strangers is something that I’ve spent a long time dealing with and I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on how I personally deal with nerves before and during a stand-up comedy routine.
Depending on the type of show (Pro show vs. Open Mic vs. Solo Fringe Show) will depend how much I prepare. Preparation really is the key to a good performance and that translates into every aspect of life. Sex, Sport, Pre-meditated murder of your neighbor who keeps letting his Scottish terrier take massive dumps on my lawn. Fuck you Terry and Fuck you Mitzi.
Anyway, it is possible to over prepare and become almost robotic which, depending on your comedic style and stage presence, it may work or it may not. I like to remember key words/ phrases in each bit and fill out the rest when I’m on stage. For longer sets I use a technique called a memory palace which has worked wonders for me, and I swear by it. Do an online search for more detail.
I see comedians who’ll write/ create their set at the venue. I think this is crazy and amazing. If it works for you then great but it’s definitely not for me. Some of the same comics will then wonder why their set wasn’t received well. You can’t serve up dogshit then expect people to tell you it tastes amazing. If I’m not prepared by the time I get to the venue than it’s too late. I always like to be free before a gig to ridicule other comics dress sense, have some time to listen to Tim Axton tell me about his weight loss journey or just watch Nick Jones sweat.
Preparation really is the key to a good performance and that translates into every aspect of life.
Don’t ever walk on stage wishing you’d prepared more.
I used to have 3 schooners beforehand thinking it was necessary now I’m fully aware it’s just a liquid crutch. Embrace the nerves. Use them to your advantage. I read an article about the fear just before you go on stage and how it translates to your fight or flight response. I can feel every sense heighten just before showtime and I don’t like that being diminished by alcohol.
One thing I do not negotiate on is my pre-set stretch. I love stretching right before I go on because it increases blood flow and helps lower stress levels. Not sure why, but it does. I know it looks gammin, but I don’t care. I also take several really deep breathes to control my heart rate just before being introduced on stage. After that there’s no going back so you just embrace whatever happens after that.
It also helps me when I put things in perspective. I’m doing a bit of comedy in regional Australia to a crowd who’ll likely forget me within 3 business days. I’m not performing open heart surgery; I’m talking about the time I got my arsehole bleached.
First 60 Seconds
Your first 60 seconds matters. You only have one chance to make a good first impression and that first impression is formed within 60 seconds. So, look confident, start strong and lay the foundation. I love to get a laugh ASAP. This does two things:
1) It gets the crowds attention.
People’s attention spans are getting shorter and shorter (I like Turtles) and they will judge whether or not your worthy of their attention within the first 60 seconds. If you start a long-winded dialogue you’ll lose them and then get less laughs throughout your set. The longer your setup, the better the punchline has to be.
2) Laughter is my drug and I need that fix asap.
I didn’t come here to root arachnids. That first laugh calms me down, releases those endorphins and helps me settle. I’ve seen some comics do a three-minute setup then their killer punchline falls flat. Then there’s 90 seconds to go and you’ve lost the crowd and everyone’s thinking, “who’s the next comic?”
Don’t get me wrong I love a good story, but you normally see these during a 1 hour special where people have paid to see a comic tell those stories. Comics sometimes forget that audience came to laugh not to be lectured. Ted talks can be found on YouTube.
The dreaded mind blank. We all forget things from time to time. I once forgot I was in a relationship during a bucks party. It almost ruined my wedding. It’s even more common when you’re on stage with a light on you and up to 100 people waiting for you to speak. 3 seconds feels like 30. The more you prepare the less this happens. I like it when comedians own the mind blank. We’re all human (except for redheads.)
I fucking love hecklers. They make me feel all warm and fuzzy. Hecklers just want to be part of the show. If they’ve paid money then it’s their right to have their say. It’s also my right to verbally destroy them and make them the stars of the show and to be referred to as “that guy.” (Women never really heckle, they’re too smart for that.) Always let hecklers talk. Give the crowd a chance to hate them. They’ll always say something silly. Always. That’s just what men do.
The worst heckling is other comics. For some reason comics think it’s ok to stand at the back of a room and talk amongst themselves while you’re performing. So, 1. They’re not listening 2. They’re basically saying you’re not worth listening to and 3. They’re making it harder for other people to listen.
There’s also the pre-set heckle which some comics (Patty Houghton) do. He’ll come up to me right before I go on stage and tell me I’m going to bomb. I love this because this is such a Townsville thing. Sort of like calling a red head Bluey. It makes me feel good. It’s like a Townsville pep talk.
I like to wear dark pants because I once peed a little on my pants from nervousness and had to lay on the toilet vanity with my crotch under the hand dryer. It made for good banter for incoming tinklers. So dark pants is good to avoid pee related distractions. Unless it’s a gig in Germany. They love urine.
After the show
Make sure you record your set either by video or audio recording and review it to see what worked and what didn’t. There are so many things I missed during a show that I’ve picked up later when reviewing. You always think it’s worse than it is.
Nerves affect people differently so find out what works best for you. I still care what people think but I also realize not to take it too seriously. Don’t get drunk, wear dark pants, support your fellow comics, try to make people laugh and don’t pee on yourself unless a rich Russian businessman pays you well.
Written by Justin Brown