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How to Do Stand Up Comedy in College

Updated on September 23, 2013


If you're reading this, I can assume you're pretty funny. Your friends laugh at your jokes, you've been making classes full of kids roll on the floor since third grade, and you are confident enough to get up in front of a room full of don't know. If you're not described by all of those, that's cool too. I promise.

That's one of the major misconceptions about Stand-Up. The guy who's always joking and getting attention is often not the funniest guy in the room, he's just the loudest.

So, regardless of who you are, let's dive in. College presents a golden opportunity for aspiring stand-uppers. Here's a quick list of reasons why:

1. Plenty of opportunities to perform

2. Friends/Drunks in the crowd

3. Inside knowledge from a shared campus


Potential Best Friends?
Potential Best Friends?

Opportunities to Perform Stand-Up during College

College presents an amount of open mic/stage time that many non-shool attending comedians would kill for.

There are normally four options for Stand-Up in College: Regular Student Performance nights, Frat/Sorority functions, Special Open Mic/Stand-Up events, and In-Town options.

Regular Student Performances:

Most schools have a weekly or monthly student talent exhibition where students can sign up in advance to perform whatever act they would like.

If this talent show type performance is an option, go for it! But please follow a few rules:

1. Try opening for another act. This way the pressure will be off of you, many more people will be in attendance (if you're into that kind of thing) and the band/group may bring you on as a permanent opener.

2. TIMING. Timing is key with everything in comedy. Try to time your appearance around a particular event that lends itself to people laughing a lot or needing to laugh a lot. (Exams, Christmas Break, etc.)

3. Pick the right space. If the performances change locations every week/month, be sure to pick the one you are most comfortable with.

If that's not an option...

Frat/Sorority Functions:

This one may be a little frightening, but every frat and sorority out there has at least one person constantly looking for new sources of entertainment. That could be you! Approach and ask if they would want to host a Stand-Up Comedian.


1. BE AWARE OF THE CROWD EFFECT. I will talk about this in more depth later on in the article but be aware of the crowd turning against you at one of these organizations. Typically crowds that you perform for will not all be individuals who live together and drink one another's urine during initiations/for fun. Make sure you don't let the crowd turn against you in this situation, it could end badly.

2. Make fun of the other Frats. This is obvious. If someone is in a frat, they want to hear someone bagging on another frat. Simple.

3. Make sure alcohol is involved. Again. Simple.

Special Open Mic Events:

These events can be tricky, especially if you're not the only funny one. In these situations, make sure you follow the following rules:

1. Talk about your school. At events like this, you need to make things VERY easy to relate to for the crowd. They may be hearing a lot of different funny people that night. Making it personal will make it memorable.

2. Study these events before entering. Your first major campus appearance should not go horribly wrong or it will be your last one. Make sure you get a feel for what these kind of crowds respond to at your school.

and finally....

In-Town Events:

These can be really good and really intimate performances. Normally taking place in a bar or coffee shop near campus, you will have to deal with a wider range of backgrounds, ages, and expectations at a place like this.

1. Study. Again, it never hurts to see what the other acts are like at these places.

2. Let it hang. These events are not that serious and one sub-par act won't ruin your reputation. So have fun!

3. Don't be too vulgar. This goes for all locations but especially this one. The wide range of people coming in for these events, not knowing you at all will make a vulgar act very hard to sell.


Crowd Control

This is the key to any good stand-up act. Actually, this is by far the most important tool for a comedian to develop.

If the crowd is on your side, you're always funny. If the crowd is on the fence, you might be funny. If the crowd is against're not going to make anyone laugh.

Here's the Top 5 Rules for Crowd Control (with an emphasis on College Crowds):

1. Be yourself. This is the easiest way to make a crowd like you. If you're cool, be cool. If you're not cool, nobody is going to believe you are once you step on stage. If you're a little weird, that's ok. Crowd's adapt to what they see, and you should do the same. The only problem is, you can only adapt so much or the crowd will know you're faking. Which brings me to rule #2....

2. Adapt to the crowd. Feel the crowd before the show, talk to some people in the front row so they'll like you. If you feel a good or bad reaction to something (like a cuss word, making fun of your dean, etc.) then respond to it. If people like when you use the F-word, use it again. If 10 people leave every time you cuss, you should probably stop.

3. Crowd Participation. This one is huge for younger audiences. A big part to making the crowd happy is making them think they are funny. If they get a chance to yell out funny things or come up on stage and get made fun of during the show, all the better!

4. Plants. It's okay to plant some friends in the crowd, especially for your first time. They can laugh a little louder and can make a "spontaneous" crowd participation moment much funnier. Remember: just because you're on stage doesn't mean you have to be the only funny person in the room. When people in the crowd do funny stuff, everyone in the crowd feels better and thinks you are funnier.

5. Drunkedness. If people are drunk, things = easier. Simple.


Inside Jokes for the Campus

There are many things you can assume college kids think are funny: alcohol, drugs, and making fun of their school.

You have a tremendous advantage as a comedian when you are living in the same town/campus as your audience members. Make use of it! If there are funny events on campus, a quirky professor everyone knows or a shared experience of any kind, talk about it. Often. Make generalizations about funny things:

The Kappa Alpha house always smells like [insert illegal drug here]

The people with bikes are so annoying...

You get the idea.

Study Comedians: Top 7.5

Study other comedians. Simple as that. Don't watch Beverly Hills Cops and think you know Eddie Murphy. Don't watch Blazing Saddles and think you understand Richard Pryor.

Watch stand-up comedians DOING stand-up.

Watch how they move on stage and how the crowd reacts and what they talk about.

It's important and will make you better. Simple.

The following comedians are not (necessarily) the best, they are just a list of the different styles you should study to get better.

The Godfather. Must See.

Richard Pryor (Also see Eddie Murphy)
Richard Pryor (Also see Eddie Murphy)

The Funniest Man since Pryor

Dave Chappelle
Dave Chappelle

Clean Comedy Master

Jeff Foxworthy
Jeff Foxworthy

A Generation of Latino Stand Up Comedy began here.

George Lopez
George Lopez

Chris Rock. Simple.

Chris Rock
Chris Rock

The New School

Donald Glover (see also Daniel Tosh)
Donald Glover (see also Daniel Tosh)

Offbeat Comedy

Demetri Martin
Demetri Martin

Completely Underrated.

Steve Byrne
Steve Byrne

It's College! HAVE FUN!

Don't forget that you're in college and nothing is that big of a deal here. If you bomb a show (which you will) it's ok. You can still have a wonderful career as a comedian if you want and you work for it.

Practice, practice, and take any chance you can to get in front of a crowd or class to make your confidence level through the roof. Be yourself, be funny.


Me! Following at least some of the rules...


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