Local funny man Bryan Miller tells good jokes that make people laugh. He’s the perfect person to tell you how to become a stand-up comedian, which is a great fallback career if you ever need something that’s guaranteed to pay all of your bills.
“I was born in Paducah, Kentucky. I was always a big fan of stand-up comedy, but when you grow up in a small town it doesn’t seem like something you can do. I’ve lived all over since then, and did a few open mic sets here and there – all of them disastrous. When I moved to Minneapolis I decided to do stand-up full-time.
“It really is terrifying getting up there for the first time, but it’s surprising how fast your fear of public speaking goes away. All you have to do is bomb a few times. You get a thicker skin from bombing, and only then do you realize just how little you really know about doing stand-up.
“You have to master your physical presence: the way you stand, the confidence of your body language, the amount of eye contact you make with your audience. You also have to learn that sometimes the best show is one you’re willing to let go in a weird direction. In the beginning you’re terrified of silence, but the best comedians know how to utilize it when they’re building up to a punchline. The audience is a constantly moving target that you have to read every night if you’re going to figure out what they want.
“Above all else, you want to make it look easy. Even though stand-up is almost entirely prewritten, people should walk away from a good act thinking it was all improvised. That’s why a great comedian will make you think you can do it too.
“Everybody’s afraid of hecklers. Contrary to what you might think, they’re really more of a problem for aggressive comedians – some people like to poke the Incredible Hulk to see what happens. I get a little rowdy, but I’m not an insult comic by any stretch, so I don’t have to deal with hecklers all that often.
“A few years ago I worked with Pete Holmes, one of the best comedians in the country. When Pete’s performing for a crowd that he doesn’t like, he does what he calls ‘doing the album’ where he basically just recites his act. It’s important to have a template that you can always fall back on, and save the improv and riffing for a crowd that’s giving you the right kind of energy for it.
“Everyone comes up with their jokes differently. I base mine on my everyday life. For instance, my wife recently decided she wanted to become a vegetarian. We were trying to pick out a restaurant that would give us both options, and that gave me an idea.
“Whenever I get one of those, I go sit in a coffee shop with my notebook and start writing. This part of the process is essential, where you have this raw, imperfect concept that you’re trying to make funny. When you think it works, you slip it into the middle of your act where it’s safe, find out it doesn’t work, and then go back to refining. Through this repetition a final draft comes about.
“I’m going to open up a vegetarian-friendly restaurant. We’ll only serve parts of the animal that the animal can do without. Out back, I’m going to open up a petting zoo with the world’s fattest animals.
“Sometimes, after I tell that joke, I ask if anyone in the audience is a vegetarian. I get some raised hands from people expecting me to follow up with something mean like ‘I’m so sorry, your parents must be so disappointed.’ But that’s too obvious, and I want to encourage the audience to answer my questions. When people open up and reveal something about themselves, it changes the tenor of the show to something sincere. And that’s when you get to start telling mean jokes.
“There’s an accepted truism in comedy: The first time you do a joke is better than the next ten times you’ll tell it. Then you spend the next 50 times trying to simulate that original magic. Hopefully the joke will be at its best the 150th time you tell it. By then, you’re comfortable with it.”
If you would rather leave the comedy to the professionals, you can go see Bryan Miller and other funny people perform live at Acme Comedy Company and The Comedy Corner Underground.
by David Scheller