Stand-up comedy is one of the most difficult career choices in the world. It is difficult to pursue stand-up comedy at any stage of your life. Can you start stand up comedy at 40? Well, the answer is anybody’s guess. There is no right age to start doing stand-up comedy, but just like in life, the earlier, the better.
As an introduction, I quit my job in 2015 to pursue stand-up comedy and writing. It has been 6 years. I was 33. I am warning you, if you are considering what I did, you are wasting your life, or about to waste it. Stand-up comedy is a difficult profession to pursue even in your 20’s, forget in your 40’s. Don’t do it. You still want to do it? I am asking you to stop reading this already. Alright, read this at your own peril.
What do you mean life is a waste anyway? It is people like you who are responsible for the world to be a miserable place- people who want to pursue stand-up comedy and think they would have a sense of meaning about life. Utter nuisance, sorry nonsense.
Now, let me explain how.
How did I discover stand-up comedy?
I have an MBA, like an MBA from a fairly respectable business school globally. They have campuses in Mumbai, Singapore, Dubai and Sydney. Don’t ask me where did you go? But since you will, I went to Singapore and Dubai to do my MBA. After the MBA, I got a job in an aviation firm. It was a general management role and my boss was an old Singaporean chap who hated my hotness. The project anyway wasn’t doing well, and so I was laid off, with an education loan on me.
Now, there is destiny and it’s messed up. If I wasn’t laid off, I would not be a stand-up comedian. I happened to join an ad agency later where one copywriter dude took me to an open mic and I was hooked to stand-up comedy. That was way back in 2010 but I just couldn’t get the idea off my mind. That dude later quit stand-up comedy, and became a person.
That job sucked. I was a senior account executive in an ad agency, who is basically a post man between the creative guys and the brand manager. It’s one of the shittiest jobs in the world. I wanted to be a creative, but they would pay me nuts then and I had an education loan to pay. The bank who loaned me the education loan would send people to my nightmares every night to recover the loan.
So, I kept the job and started attending open mics. Within a year I moved to another job but it still didn’t allow me time for comedy. I kept in touch though because it was difficult for me to let go of something so beautiful. If someone had saved me or stopped me, I would have given up. But nobody saved me and it became overbearing on my mind that you could just stand there and make people laugh, if you were so good. Most people who do stand-up comedy suck at it, so don’t do it. I am already telling you. Drop out of this article already. Why are you reading this?
Is it too late to start stand up comedy at 40 or close to the age?
Well, it depends. Since I had started attending a lot of gigs, at some point, with the job, I started hitting the stage. The problem with the stage is that it is a bigger addiction than sex. It is also a bigger addiction than Haagen-Dazs since they claim to be better than sex just to sell their ice cream.
Once you hit the stage, it starts to give you pleasure, weird sort of pleasure. It is unlike the pleasure, you feel in a spa, for example. It is the kind of pleasure that spiritual, if you will? Will you?
Is it easy to do stand-up comedy?
However, when I started hitting the stage, it wasn’t that sexy. I failed and failed and failed. People would look at my face as if they were looking at a beggar they didn’t want to help. More importantly, while I was doing stage with the job, I would hardly get to hit the stage a couple of times in a month. Sometimes, I would take spots and was not able to go. That created fire in me, towards my bosses, who were normal people trying to lead a normal life. Fire here means frustration, not sexual fire. I would think that since I really wanted to do comedy for some inane reasons, if I gave it full effort, I may be able to improve. This kind of thought doesn’t lead you anywhere productive in life and leads to a lot of misery. Don’t entertain such thoughts.
When did I start doing stand-up comedy full time?
The thought that comedy could add meaning to life led me, including my desire to write books to quit my job in the January of 2015. It has been a while. When I quit my job, I started looking for stage time and created a fair amount since I was desperate. However, I continued to fail and now I didn’t even have a job, so I had to improve. Slowly, I started getting a few laughs, and then a few more, which made me feel that I could probably succeed at this, which was schizophrenic. I don’t know what schizophrenia exactly means. It just sounds good there as a punch.
No, I did succeed to an extent because once I recorded some videos and uploaded them to YouTube, some people happened to like them. But, I am not a mass comedian, which is a good idea to be. People who say they are not mass comedians want to be mass but their education has ruined their lives. If you can do jokes that masses like, you have a bigger audience. But, most people don’t understand me or my jokes, and so I haven’t quite hit as big as I would want to. I want to hit as big as Kim Kardashian, but nobody from paper magazine has contacted me.
How did I financially sustain after quitting the job?
My last job was in marketing research and so after I quit full time, I became a consultant and started working with companies across the industry, which is weird since now I was doing comedy and marketing research, which caused a lot of confusion in the city. Sometimes, I met people while doing research and they would say that they have seen my comedy online, which would make for mutual embarrassment.
I have also written copy, blogs, screenplay and dialogues besides books, which has brought in money over the years and hence I have been able to run my expenses. Obviously, performing corporate comedy shows brought income that helped meet expenses and keep myself alive. Being alive hasn’t been quite productive though.
Listen, don’t do comedy.
What has age got to do with stand-up comedy?
Listen now, there is a lot of bullshit around age. Age doesn’t matter. A dog can eat age. Sorry, what’s that? You are never too old and stuff like that.
Age matters. If you want to start stand up comedy at 40 or beyond, you need to be cognizant of mortality.
Most people I know who are in comedy right now are in their 20’s. A lot of guys start early and carry on from there. If you are in your 30’s or 40’s, it is tough since you are at a different life stage. You understand what a life stage is? It is different from a comedy stage. You may have a family and that they would have expectations from you. If you don’t have a family, that’s a good idea since you can live and die alone, which I highly recommend.
Do you want to live a normal or an abnormal life?
However, if you want to live an approximately normal life, it’s a little difficult. The problem with things that are a little difficult is that they are quite difficult.
Now, if you are fortunate to be the natural comedian who tells stories that people can’t get enough of, then life would be easier and you would be able to do a lot of shows and live the ideal dream life. You would also be hate worthy. If you happen to have a slow learning curve, then you would need to figure out how you would eat while you try and improve at stand-up. You still need to eat as a comedian. That’s the unfortunate truth.
If you start stand up comedy at 40, it would help if you have had some background in stage in the past life, whatever it was.
Is it a good idea, after all, to pursue stand-up comedy late in life?
So, if you want to stand-up at 40 or beyond, you need to know how you would meet your expenses. It is a good idea to be born in privilege. However, if you were born with privilege, you wouldn’t be reading this. People who are born rich do not need to read things about things that involve struggle.
It is possible to start stand up comedy at 40 and make it happen since I know people who have done it. They started while they had families, and a main hustle which they left once comedy took off. One guy I know left his prestigious job at 44 and started stand-up comedy. He still lives a prestigious life. Don’t aspire for prestige. Not everybody gets it.
It is a good idea to have not one but a couple of years’ of expenses in place when you take the plunge. However, if you do not make within those 2 years’ financially, your standard of living would take a hit, and you need to be okay with that-what? It is not easy mentally or emotionally to start stand up comedy at 40 or 50 or 60 since you would be putting a lot of comfort at risk.
Not just yours, but your entire family needs to be okay with that, and that’s a tough bet to make. If your partner has a job, it helps. Not that it always helps to have a partner or even kids. Kids are a physical addition to life which everyone needs to think several times before manufacturing begins. Ideally, you should be able to tell those folks to follow their dreams. How would you tell them if you didn’t follow yours?
What will you have to learn to start stand up comedy at 40?
If you want to start stand up comedy at 40 or beyond, you would have to learn a few things quite fast. You don’t have much time. I mean, you have less time than someone in their twenties does. There are things about the craft of stand-up which are atheist to age. Does that make sense?
Let’s talk a bit about the craft of stand-up. I have spent a few years doing it and thinking about it and have thought tonnes about it. In fact, I love to talk about it. I love to hear people talk about it. That’s why it is great work. Great work is when you can’t get enough of talking about it.
In case you are brand new to the craft of stand-up, in my view, these are the few things you would need to learn.
A. How to write jokes
It takes a while to learn how to write jokes. It doesn’t come naturally to most of us. Writing a blog or a book or a screenplay is way different than writing a joke. I know it, since I have written them all.
To write a joke, there are 2 essential elements:
- A set up or a premise
- A punch line or better, a punch word
What on earth is a setup?
A set up is the context on which you would base your punch line. The shorter the setup, the better. Comedy is about seconds, not about minutes. The comedy stage is the most brutal of all stages since your performance is how many laughs you can get in a minute.
Now, once you have created a setup, you deliver the punchline. The punchline doesn’t have to be real. It must not be real if it were to get a laugh. Therefore, exaggeration or even rhetoric is an extremely important element in a stand-up bit.
For example, I do a joke on good names. The premise or the setup is that ‘what’s your good name,’ which is a dumb question but quite often used in India. Now, the setup needs to be familiar to the audience. If you are talking about countryside things to a city audience, you would see blank faces and you would deserve those.
The point is to have a relatable or a contextual setup.
So, once you have a setup, you create the joke.
‘Pooja called me the other day and asked for my good name. I am a guy. I told her my name is Amar, but since she wants my good name, my good name is Natasha.’
Now, what’s the punchline here? It is my good name is Natasha, which mostly would get a laugh since Natasha is a female name and my name can’t be Natasha.
That’s a joke, and it’s a good one. A joke is a setup followed by a punchline.
B. Stage presence
Now, a presence is a bit of an esoteric thing. Esoteric by itself is an esoteric word. Presence means that the audience can see that you are comfortable on stage. Your energy transfers to them. The stage is a powerful place and the performer translates howsoever he or she feels to the audience. If you feel nervous, the audience you realise it, and it would kill your chances of getting any laughs, no matter how good your jokes are.
It takes time to understand and build a stage presence. So, don’t fret about it. I still don’t know what my presence is.
Delivery of a joke is one of the most important elements of stand-up comedy. How you say what you say is most of the times, more important than what you say. This is where personality comes in. If you are someone who can deliver a joke in your natural style, and the audience finds it funny, you win. Otherwise, it will take some time to understand your style or may be create a stage persona, which a few comedians do successfully.
Again, I deliver my jokes naturally but I need to better my delivery.
D. Networking and marketing
For now, you don’t need to think about this. You need to write 5 minutes of jokes. However, I have realized over the last 5 or so years that an ability to make friends and be a sociable person helps in growth. If you have a family and you always have to rush back after a show, then you will find it difficult to make friends.
If you find it difficult to make friends, nobody would care about your life. Figure out how to make friends. I am myself quite lonely. Do not make friends with me.
Yeah, so stand-up is not that easy. It is tough. I could write about a few more things that you would need to do, but you have heard of a thing called destiny?
You would also need to learn how to get destiny on your side. That is a bit difficult, too.
Is it a good idea to start stand up at 40?
I don’t know. Everybody has a life context. If you think your life context allows you to do things like these to your life, which most people around you would scoff at, please go ahead and do it.
If your life doesn’t allow it since you have massive responsibilities that have caused your life to become a massive burden on your life, then don’t do it. Try in your next birth, for in most likelihood, you are quite late.
Besides the intended humor in this article, there are few things in life which are as satisfying as watching people happy because of you. Stand-up comedy is one of the most difficult but most satisfying professions in the world. I am 39 at the time of writing this, and in so many years of my life, I haven’t felt as amazing as I do after a great show. In fact, I do feel that I would start stand up at 40 this year, since 2020 almost took 1 year away from my stand-up career.
It feels like life. So, if you want to feel happy yourself inside, no matter how old you are, if you are driven to do stand-up comedy, go ahead and do it. If you succeed, your life will change forever.
Thanks for reading this nuisance piece. Most of the stuff on my blog is intense. However, since this was about stand-up, I thought, I would try and make you laugh through the piece, and hence I inserted satire and sarcasm through the article.
Besides writing this blog, I am a practicing stand-up comedian who wants to perform across the world, and make people happy. Check me out.
A note on pursuing your dreams later in life
Although this article was about stand-up comedy, I exhort you to start doing whatever you want to pursue as your dreams at any point in your life. Most people live meaningless and superficial lives where they wait for the weekends, and then feel scared about Mondays. Figure out how you can create a life around your dreams. Start stand up at 40. Begin writing at 60. Create a running career in 80’s.
Look at it this way. If you lived a directionless life for several years, give yourself 5-10 years to fix your life so that you can start living the rest of the years meaningfully. The problem with ageism is that it makes most people compromise with life and the painful misery of it.
Isn’t that what life is about?
Thank you for reading.
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