Comedy ACT

Getting started in stand-up comedy in Canberra

We  often get asked how to get started in comedy in Canberra. Thankfully Simon Tolhurst has written a neat little post about just that which is provided below…


If you’re thinking about trying Standup for the first time…

First of all, congrats, you’re on the right website. Comedy ACT has a regularly updated list of a whole heap of standup gigs organised by and for ACT comedians.

To get started, there are two things you could do – first, go to one of these gigs to see how they run. Smile, be friendly to the organisers, ask a few polite questions, they’ll be able to point you to things you can do.

Second, you could try going to one of the open-mic nights to perform. There are usually a few open mic nights per month around Canberra, that are held at various locations once a month, go learn how it works, they are all on or on the Standup Comedy in Canberra Facebook group.

Now, the important bit. Once you’ve got a microphone in your hand, what are you going to say?

Well, generally open mic nights are looking for people who will do up to five minutes of something that can be called comedy. That means that you’re meant to ensure there are jokes in here. You may have some great political opinions on the environment or mens rights or the state of the roads or whatever. But unless there are jokes in there, people are probably going to look at you weird.

It’s worthwhile writing down or recording what you plan on saying beforehand and polishing it a bit so you don’t ramble – you know you have a set up, an extension and a punchline. When writing a set it can be good to go through with a highlighter and point out all the bits you want people to laugh at. If you haven’t used much highlighter, you’ve stopped doing comedy, and you’re just talking. And comedians who have been doing this for about a decade can do really well with a set that may have a few minutes between laughs. But you’re just starting out, and assuming you’re not spontaneously instantly fascinatingly talented, you’re probably going to want to have a fair few laughs per minute to see you through.

Your comedy can be anything – it can be confessional and personal, it can be surrealistic nonsense, it can be political, it can be social, it can be filthy, clean, or whatever. But it does need to be funny. On the filthy aspect, please be careful that you aren’t just going for shock value, and that it is actually funny.

It’s worth getting to the location early for a bunch of reasons – you can calm your nerves, you can talk to other comedians, you can get a sense of how the room looks (where you’ll be, where the audience will be) and sometimes you can come up with a few jokes about the decor in the room to pop in your set later.

Also watch the other people on with you with a critical eye. What are they doing, and what would you want to do too, and what wouldn’t you want to be doing.

Also keep an eye on your time. Local open mic nights generally have a limit of up to 5 minutes. If you go over 5 minutes, other people will probably be annoyed with you. Again, unless you’re so spontaneously brilliant you make people not mind that you’re making their night longer.

And if you enjoy it, come back and do it again. Probably don’t do all the exact same jokes you did last time, but you can certainly refine jokes over time as you develop and perform them over again. Each time you’re on stage you will learn something, even if it’s just “no, that bit wasn’t very funny”.


In addition to this, David Graham has written some tips for you…



Write some jokes – this is the hard bit. You need to work out something funny to say. Use a notepad or a computer.

Cut the Fluff – Cut out all the unnecessary crap out of them. “I was down the coast near Nelligen, and was driving my car to this pub, then when I got to the pub…..” replace with “I was at the pub”

Write out your jokes in full –  every word. Then highlight where the laughs are. You as little as possible gaps between highlighting. Cut more fluff.

Time it –  How long do your set go for? Aim for 4 minutes. This will allow for a minute of laughs for your standing ovation.

Practice practice – Do you remember Jerry Seinfeld looking at a notepad and reading it awkwardly? No of course not, he practices. Practice by going for a walk and just saying all the jokes, out loud to no-one, trim your sheets of jokes to a list, then learn the list, then do it without the list.



Open Mic – Go to one of the “Open Mic” comedy nights. They are held at various locations once a month, go learn how it works, they are all on or on Stand Up comedy in Canberra Facebook group.

How do you get on the list? Each venue will vary. How does the night work? The people who were funny, why were they funny? Why were the people who struggled not funny?  What material was acceptable? Did someone talk about farting in mouths for 5 minutes? No, they didn’t, maybe you should avoid this too.

Ask the room runner / MC how to ensure you get on the bill the next month.

Pro Night – Go to one of the Comedy Club nights at Civic Pub. Go see people who are being paid. What works? Why do you think it works?


Your Big night

Mates Tell your workmates and drinking mates. Share the night, get them to come support you. They will! It will help your confidence.

Record it Have a phone or recorder ready, record your set so you can listen back. It will help you understand how you really went, and what worked and what didn’t


Being on stage

Couple of tips

Mic in or out? – If out, Move the mic stand out of the way, if you leave it in front of you while you hold the mic, people will focus on that. Don’t play with the cord. Just let it be. If you are leaving the mic in, that’s cool too.

Engage – Make eye contact on occasion or look at people in the front row, look around, don’t stare at one person.

Commentary – Don’t comment on your performance while you are performing. “that joke didn’t work” will work once, but after that you are beginning to tell the audience not to laugh.



Q: I am a funny guy/gal, should I just get up there and wing it?

A: aaaahhhhhhh, no. We would strongly advise against that. Only Robin Williams could do that. Everyone else has a structure of jokes and subjects they have.


Q: I am too good for Open Mic’s, I went to Civic Pub and was just as good, can you put me on at Civic Pub?

A: Easy tiger. Once you do a couple of spots at Open Mic’s, word will travel and you would be offered a spot at Civic Pub.


Q: Are any subject off limits?

A: Yes. It is only an amazing, experienced comedian that can delve into subjects like Rape, Genocide and the like. If you have to ask “Is this subject too touchy?” then yes, it is.


Q: Can I play guitar?

A: Yes.


Q: What else should I avoid?

A: Don’t slag off the venue you are performing in. Light hearted observations should be the limit.