Many of us watch stand-up comedians on stage or in shows and marvel at their timing and talent. Comedians make us laugh, think, and forget about our troubles for a bit. What we don’t see is how hard they work to schedule shows, craft their jokes, and sometimes, fail. Experienced comedians make their work seem effortless and natural.
Successful entrepreneurs also make their business strategies seem like child’s play. Regardless of your industry, like comedians and creatives, you will face naysayers who don’t believe in the power of your dreams, who refuse to see the hard work you put in, and possibly ridicule your ideas by pitching you despite their lack of know-how.
Women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and people with disabilities face even more hurdles when it comes to pursuing their dream careers. That’s why I spoke to three successful comedians who have faced trials and tribulations only to come out of the other side. May their sage advice help you continue to chase your aspirations.
Confidence and research are key
Anastasia Washington had been working as an actor for years before she began writing and performing comedy. Her material is about life as a woman of color and her observations on that experience. She’s unafraid to push at the edges when it comes to discussing how political or social issues affect her. She began with an improv group and chose stand-up when it was clear that improv wasn’t for her. Stand-up comedians are known for being solo acts, “You have to be confident in who you are,” she says, “and confident in your material.”
Comedian Aida Rodriguez also came into the comedy world with extensive experience in film and television. She is one of the comedians Tiffany Haddish chose for the Netflix TV show, They Ready and has been working for more than 10 years now. Rodriguez says it’s important to remember who she is and stay on top of what’s happening on the ground. Once she decided to take the plunge into comedy, she surrounded herself with like-minded creatives. She chose to take a more cerebral approach to her craft because it’s easy to see the artistic side of comedy. “There’s a technical part of it,” Rodriguez says. She sought out the reasons why comedians are funny and why some jokes fail.
Start with what you have
After the 9/11 attacks, Erik Rivera decided to organize a comedy show at Pace University in New York City, where he was studying at the time. Based in Manhattan, the school was shut down during the Autumn semester and several rooms were used for triage.
Rivera noticed that comedy clubs in NYC were seeing a spike in attendance because of the city’s need to laugh. He was a member of a group called Alianza Latina, which organized a comedy night that attracted 400 attendees. “That was the first time I saw the power of comedy,” he says.
There’s always a community of other people who do what you want to do, and they’re often willing to help you. Anastasia Washington sought out her peers in comedy and joined Pretty Funny Women. She continues to keep in touch with comedians she met during her time there, and this group has continued to be a valuable source of support.
Along with starting wherever you are and seeking assistance from your peers, you need to find a way to practice tasks related to whatever it is you want to do. Aida Rodriguez decided to start attending open mics. “I remember going on stage and half of my set was great and half of it was awful,” says Rodriguez, but knowing this helped her improve her set.
Navigate outside of big cities
Entrepreneurs and business people also face barriers if they don’t live in a large city. The pandemic has equalized the pitching process a bit as people become more comfortable working remotely and social distancing makes it necessary to work from the comfort of your home, but the reality is that urban dwellers often have a bias against people based in suburban or rural environments.
Though 2020 has been rough, you may be in a position to continue seeking opportunities as long as you’re open to doing things differently until it’s safe to go outside again. Washington has explained that she’s been able to continue working by doing comedy online through platforms such as Zoom.
Meanwhile, Erik Rivera has taken this time to work on writing projects. He has been using his time at home to work on this separate skill set while in-person comedy shows are on hiatus. For Rodriguez, the slowdown has allowed her to continue working on routines and honing her craft. She’s able to stay busy, consult with peers, and write new jokes thanks to tools you probably also have access to.
Now is a good time to write, grow your social media presence, and ask professionals in your field if they have any words of advice. Don’t be afraid of video calls, and you may find that you have more at your disposal to start your new projects than you previously thought.