How to make a standup comedy reel that will get you GIGS
You are a very great genius. Literally everyone says so. People are always like, “Ohmygod, Nikki/Kaitlin/Thor/YOUR NAME, you’re SO FUNNY. You should just, like, HAVE a TV show … or at LEAST a podcast where all you do is TALK to me and I laugh.”
You know in your little clown heart that it’s time to take the inevitable plunge. You must take your stand-up out of your dreams and open mics and out into the CLUBS.
Or rather—for now—the Zoom Clubs. The Zubs. The Zoobs? Zlubs. Final answer. Zlubs. (Or Facebook Live or Streamyard or YouTube or whatever the platform of your chosen club is. But can we still call it Zlubs?)
Here is what happens next: A club owner or booker will say, “Sure, we’ll consider you—send me your reel.” You will say, “Of course.” And you will think: ‘What is a reel and how do I get one?’
To level up: YOU WILL NEED A REEL NOW—AND WE ARE GONNA TELL YOU HOW TO MAKE ONE!
First of all, congrats. Leveling up is exciting. It’s scary. If you’re deciding to do it, it’s because you believe in yourself and that makes me JOYFUL. Mazel tov! You just delighted a stranger (me) with the merest idea of your comedy, and you haven’t even gotten onstage yet!
Back to work:
The club owners are going to want to see you in action so they know what you will be like once you’re up on their Zlub stage.
Clubs are going to want to see your best material in a five minute set called a “tight five.” In the pre-pandemic days you would need to capture this video at some sort of performance with real human laughter, but now you can do it on camera at home.
A GOLDie in Cleveland sent us this recent submission form from her local club. It’s pretty standard—take a look.
Zoom video submissions will be allowed, but the video and audio must be clear, and the video must be uploaded to a video hosting website (ie, YouTube, Vimeo, DailyMotion, etc) prior to submission. Please enter your video link in the form below.
Your video must be between 5-7 minutes in length. You can send a longer one if you wish, but we will only watch up to 7 minutes. Conversely, you can submit a video that is less than 5 minutes in length, but that would be doing you a disservice. Please, no “highlights” or “best of” reels.”
- SOUND AND LIGHT. You will need good lighting, which in this context just means plenty of light so that you can be seen and you look your best. To get good sound, you’ll need to record in a quiet space. This is a quick way to distinguish your video submission from others. If you can be seen and heard, you are in a good position to dazzle.
You definitely don’t want sound or lighting issues to distract from your performance. If your writing and your delivery are hysterical but half your face is in shadow and a dog is barking the whole time outside your bedroom, no one will know how funny you are.
- BACKGROUND. Choose a non-distracting background. A blank wall totally works or a non-distractingly simply decorated space. Take a moment to look at your space in the video setup. If you were watching it with a set of fresh eyes, would it annoy or distract you? Make sure that YOU and not your strewn laundry are the star of your stand-up reel.
- JOKES. In a five- to seven-minute stand-up set you’re going to want to put in all of your best jokes, but they should connect thematically, like you’re telling one story. Of course you’re going to get all of your funniest material in one place, but don’t let the effort show. Make your jokes flow from one to the other as if you’re talking to that trusted buddy who loves to laugh at you (in a nice way).
- TRANSITIONS. Notice that this submission is asking for one set and not a highlight reel. Why? They want to see you not just at your absolute best, basking in the glory of your isolated punchlines, but rather in the full arc of your performance. Storytelling will help you here, as well as imagining you’re telling your stand-up set to a friend, like a conversation. When moving between unrelated bits, craft a transition if it seems natural, but don’t force it—a confident pause is just fine.
- PRACTICE. You’re putting this on film, so you’ll be able to do a million takes until you absolutely love it, but you should still practice just like you’d do for a live show.
The technical aspects of filming can be tiring (and creative!). But they take up time and energy, so that’s why you want to have practiced—a lot—before you get started.
What if I wanna use video from a live virtual open mic that I did?
Awesome. The requirements in our example submission say that that’s fine, but be sure that the audio and video quality are good enough to submit. If not, you should re-film it.
You could even gather up a few friends and perform your set for them and record the Zoom while you do it. If they’re REALLY good friends, maybe you could even do three full run-throughs of your five- to seven-minute set and THEN choose your favorite take. (And THEN order your friends a pizza?)
BONUS: If you have access to a local theater, club, or high school auditorium and can film your standup set Covid-safely ON A STAGE, do that. The camera will be zoomed in on you and we won’t see the audience anyway. Don’t put a laugh track or anything crazy in there; I think in these times it’s understood that you might be a lone human performing for a camera in a theater. (Oof that’s a sad sentence, but I said what I said.)
Other clubs might have different things they ask for in a video submission, but the basics won’t change.
The basics are:
GOOD LIGHT AND SOUND
NO DISTRACTING BACKGROUNDS
YOUR BEST JOKES
PRACTICE LIKE CRAZY. (Pick your best take.)
Reward yourself with something you adore. (Cookies, books, movies, reading Wikipedia for hours, baking vegan cupcakes, crocheting? Looking at Amy Sedaris’s bizarre and occasionally terrifying Instagram, coding?).
You are a star and you take on exciting challenges. I’m smiling just thinking about what a hilarious genius you are!!!!
BONUS BONUS: If you want to make a highlight reel out of your tight five using just your favorite moments, you could edit the very best stuff and put it on TikTok and Instagram. Your highlight reel could be great promotional material for social media so you can get your crew to come out and see your shows once you do roll up to the zlub.
(Heads up! If you give away your punchlines on social media, you’d better be writing new jokes! I know you will be.)
Emma is a comedic actor and writer. She played Logainne in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at ACT of CT (Broadway World Nomination for “Best Ensemble”). Emma appears in Netflix’s “Explained.” She’s been a joke writer for NYTW gala hosts, Broadway’s Jeremy O. Harris & Heidi Schreck and has hosted HQ Trivia live in front of millions of players internationally. She’s written sketch & stand-up comedy for truTV, Comedy Central and Refinery29 and is the author of her new illustrated book of comedic essays, poems, and rants entitled, TRASH MERMAID: https://bit.ly/2Nzwioh