Countdown. Number Five of The Seven Most Powerful Ways to Improve Your Stand-Up Comedy.

Nov 28 / Alfie Noakes

This blog is the third in a 7-part series, a countdown through the most powerful tactics to improve your stand-up skills.

Naturally, the rankings are subjective. Although entirely correct!

This time… we are looking at Comedy Courses.

While this may seem rather straight-forward, it really is not.

There are different courses, platforms, teachers and topics. All are not created equal.

My focus here is primarily on “Beginners” courses.

“Beginner”, in my opinion, includes those with fewer than, I choose a nice easy number, 100 gigs.

100 gigs break down as 2 gigs per week for a year. That’s barely 8 hours stage time… plus the writing, rehearsal and admin. Actually, it’s rather a lot. Yet still Stand-Up Stage One, IMHO.

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I believe that any person who has only been playing guitar, or begun studying a martial art, for less than a year, would likely still consider themselves a “Beginner”.

It can be amusing/bemusing to see acts with 70 gigs try and Lord it over brand-new faces. Across many years, I have come to see how these fools reveal they won’t be succeeding in comedy. Beyond the evident character flaw, they are blindly focused on what they have done, rather than what they still need to do.

And so, to the matter of comedy courses… If a budding comedian has never performed before, then they have little framework to assess the quality of their classes.

These days, everyone, and everything, must have online reviews. Which is a reasonable way of assessing which courses seem to be of suitably high quality

Very often, a student who may have taken a “Beginners” course with a certain teacher, and is suitably impressed, will one day return for the “Advanced”, if so inclined. Go with who you know!

For comedy students, there are options. There are in-person group courses. And then there are online, doing-it-solo, video courses.

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Let’s begin with the live, group courses…

I am fortunate to have the benefit of being in a truly global city, London. We have one of the biggest, brightest and healthiest stand-up scenes on the planet.

It also affords me the opportunity to consider several local reference points. I will try to honestly weigh-up the pros and cons for a global readership.

There are, without question, a good number of genuinely solid, talented and informed course runners.

I know, because pretty much every one of their students asks me for a spot to perform. I get to witness the initial results of their learning.

Having benefited from the privilege of many conversations with students of in-person courses. A few factors seem to come up again-and-again

Of course, I haven’t always known if any new act has taken a course at all. Or indeed, whom it was with.

However, I regularly chat with acts at the bar, after the shows, and they often paint me a picture. Over the years, I have been able to develop accurate assessments, as to the tutored background of an act debuting on my stage.

Very often I can tell, from only their 5-minute set, which teacher they have come from.

I have also seen how the results vary wildly, even, madly.

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In London, there are at least two comedy “teachers” who routinely influence new open-mikers. I believe their students would have done better to have never encountered them at all.

Among a range of seriously committed, knowledgeable and insightful tutors, it is a shame that these two sully the talent-pool. Presumably giving a bad reflection on the rest.

The testing here, one would think, is assessing the quality of the tutors when they perform on stage?

I guess, just as in other areas of life, there are good and bad. You may get a wonderful builder, or a cowboy. Dealings with police officers can come down to the character of the copper you get the lottery of facing, etc.

If it’s not already clear, I am irritated that these two charlatans have insinuated themselves into the scene. They exist through pretence and tricky self-promotion. I’m just grateful that they are in the minority.

There are a litany of tips, tricks and techniques when it comes to performing stand-up. Quality courses gather this critical information and share it with the right people at the correct time

One of my favourite tutors is a pure killer. He is rightfully successful, highly lauded and broadly loved within the comedy community. He is definitely worth listening to, hell, just being in his company is an utter joy.

Most teachers are solid and informed. They run courses that aim to convey essential information for writing jokes and performing them. And they deliver.

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Naturally, each has advantages and dis-advantages.

Clearly, there are variations in the course models.

I’d say a typical course requires 2-3 hours per week, on the same night, for several weeks. Plus, homework.

EG: 7 – 9.30pm, every Wednesday, for 6 weeks. Add another hour or two of homework between classes. The cost is typically north of £200 ($230 USD). That comes in at approximately £10 an hour.

I believe that is very reasonable for specialised, expert advice delivered in an entertaining fashion. The results should help bring the laughs, boost confidence and mitigate the scale of on-stage car crashes.

Comedy courses are a great way to get introduced to writing jokes. To understand some key strategies and skills for performing comedy

Having benefited from the privilege of many conversations with students of in-person courses. A few factors seem to come up again-and-again.

It has been regularly pointed out that most often, by the time the course finishes, less than half of the original number of attendees are present.

Let’s assume a class had 16 people in the first week, the picture painted for me is that commonly, maybe 6 or 7 make it through.

Now, we can of course acknowledge real life gets in the way sometimes. London people are busy people. Being available at the same time 6 weeks in a row, whether due to family or professional responsibilities, can be a real challenge.

I think it can be safely assumed that some of the original 16 simply decided they were not “into it”, had made a mistake, and just dropped out.

I can easily imagine a course of, say, pottery students, will end with fewer students than it began with. It’s not a shocking factor.

Whichever way you cut it, for those who did not run their full course, it’s rather a lot of wasted money.

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Most tutors, the good ones, routinely offer sound theory, quality advice and often a live “showcase” for the students to strut-their-stuff on stage as the climax of their course.

Friends and family of the students gather to watch a priceless and exciting batch of stand-up debuts. There are a lot of nerves, laughs and all with an especially friendly and forgiving audience. I think these events are just wonderful.

Expert advice is just that. Expert. The student can select precisely which pieces of advice to adopt, test or revert to

The live and in-person students enjoy the social element of the in-person classes. They often make new friends. They have lots of laughs during the learning, their confidence boosted. As it should be.

With a live group class, one student might ask a brilliant question that the others did not even think of asking. Yet, they all benefit from hearing the informed answer. Everyone’s a winner.

Once the course ends and the class unleash themselves upon the scene, they already have a small support network in place. They step up as “Bringers” for one another. They share information about the good nights to perform at. Make efforts to get on the same bills on the same dates, so they can hang out some more. It’s very cool.

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When it comes to studying an online course, there are different pros and cons.

The recently mentioned “social” element is just not there. No matter how info-packed and engaging the quality of the content is. It always comes down to a student in-front of a screen taking notes, absorbing advice and undertaking solo challenges.

There is no opportunity to ask the tutor direct questions. While the creator of a quality online course, such as myself, will have worked tirelessly to pre-empt every reasonable question and include maximum pertinent information, it’s just impossible to cover every variable.

Equally, there is no immediate opportunity to perform some of the course-inspired writing and get a real-time response from the tutor and fellow students.

Those are the negatives. Now, the positives…

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An online course can be taken at any time, place or pace. That is to say, the drop-out rate is considerably lower for simple logistical reasons.

Got a family drama? A crazy work week?

No problem, from your learning position, at least. Take a break and drill back in as soon as your schedule allows.

The right online course truly can be the gift that keeps on giving

The format of a crafted series of pre-recorded video sessions means that a student can dip in and out as suits them. My courses feature a practical challenge laid down at the end of each session. Generating a solid step-by-step towards comedy achievement.

Meaning that a student can opt to really go for it and immerse themselves in their comedy mission as completely as they so choose. Maybe it’s a session per week for 3 months or so. Or go full-tilt and thrash through it all in a few days… the luxury of timing and pace, key comedy skills, are in the hands of the online student.

These days, everyone, and everything, must have online reviews. Which is a reasonable way of assessing which courses seem to be of suitably high quality.

However, online courses bring the added opportunity to check out video “tasters” of what can be expected. All from the comfort of your phone/laptop/home.

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Online courses clearly lay out what can be expected, what will be covered, and provide a solid sense of what that looks and sounds like.

This seems a decent alternative to laying down £200+, only to find the teacher isn’t quite your cup-of-tea.

Comedy courses are not essential. Plenty of acts forego them and find their way regardless

Online courses are considerably less expensive than the live versions because the overheads are lower.

Once the course is produced, well, there it is. With this point made… I purchased several online courses as research prior to writing and producing my own. Many of them could have done with some updating, especially the one that was still referencing Bill Cosby as an inspirational model!

Further, I literally just typed, “Once the course is produced, well, there it is…”

And that in itself is a major bonus. For the online course provides lifetime access. Once it is purchased, the student can return to it again and again.

They can dip into a particular section when it becomes more relevant to a new stage in their comedy development.

The learner can remind themselves of key notions that serve best when fresh in the mind.

Joke writing exercises can be revisited, blended with increased stage experience, and go at the challenges again and again, at ever higher levels.

The right online course truly can be the gift that keeps on giving.

Yet there is no getting away from the fact that it’s a far less social experience, for a craft, which is, well… performed solo.

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Comedy courses are a great way to get introduced to writing jokes. To understand some key strategies and skills for performing comedy.

Not only do comedy courses help to build chops and confidence for the especially tricky earlier gigs, but they also provide sufficient information so that the student can make faster fixes to their emerging sets, catalysing their development.

There are a litany of tips, tricks and techniques when it comes to performing stand-up. Quality courses gather this critical information and share it with the right people at the correct time, in an entertaining way.

Comedy courses are not essential. Plenty of acts forego them and find their way regardless. My observation is that these folks often develop more slowly as they personally have to figure out the essential do’s and don’ts, tough-gig after tough-gig.

Expert advice is just that. Expert. The student can select precisely which pieces of advice to adopt, test or revert to.

Comedy courses are very helpful. And who doesn’t want a bit of quality help when embarking on a new passion, hobby or personal challenge?

In stand-up comedy the highs are high. The lows are low.

Makes sense to do as much as reasonably possible to aim for the former, a laughter-jammed set, in front of a delighted crowd.

Which is a sharp contrast to several buttock-clenching minutes in front of an audience made up of tumbleweed and crickets.

In-person, or online, help is at hand. I enthusiastically suggest acts reach out and take the help.

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