When you’re starting out in comedy, maintaining a balance between standup and your actual life is so important. There’s a common mentality in the standup community that if you’re not constantly hustling, you’re doing it wrong.
Personally, I hate this attitude. It can drive away many people – especially newbies (because obviously, if you’re not ready to leave your job and declare eternal devotion to comedy right after your first open mic, you should just quit).
Luckily, it’s possible to juggle standup with a career and a social life. The comedy world is full of gatekeepers who tell you that you aren’t a “real” comedian unless you’re constantly grinding – but is that idea helpful, or even true? Research shows that maintaining a work-life balance is important for your health; I believe the same is true for a comedy-life balance. A small but steady effort can pay off in the long term.
Sometimes, the tortoise wins the race — but only if they don’t let themselves get intimidated by the rabbit that hits six open mics a night. Besides, we’re not really “racing” anyone but ourselves. Competition culture can also be toxic in its own way. Because if you befriend the rabbit they might help you get a writing job one day!
Read on for a quick guide on how to decide how much time you should spend pursuing comedy.
How Much Time Should You Spend Pursuing Comedy?
Achieving a balance between comedy and your personal life is really important, not just for your sanity but for your act. You need real-life experiences to talk about onstage; how are you supposed to have anything interesting to say if 100% of your free time is devoted to sitting at open mics and hearing the same jokes told by the same people?
It’s just as important to know when to walk away from opportunities and focus on yourself. Here are a few things to look at when deciding how much time to devote to comedy:
- How much free time do you actually have?
This is something that looks different for everyone. Almost no one has the luxury of pursuing art full-time when they start out. If you happen to be an unencumbered 22-year-old living at home, or a trust-fund kid who doesn’t have to worry about paying the bills, that’s great! (I’m definitely not jealous at all, but for the other 99% of you, read on.)
Even if you’re working full-time or juggling college classes, you can definitely clear some time in your schedule. Can you commit to going to one open mic a week? A month? Start with whatever doesn’t feel burdensome to you, and try to stick to that for now. Remember, you can always add more if you end up feeling like it!
Even if there aren’t any IRL open mics you can make on your schedule, there are a ton of virtual open mics you can check out! Finding a virtual comedy community is one way to save time.
- How committed are you to comedy right now?
It’s true that the more you grow in comedy, the more time you may end up wanting (or needing) to spend on it. However, if you’re just starting out, or are pursuing other things, it’s ok to not go the whole hog right now.
Here’s a little secret: it can take a long time to decide whether you even like standup or not! The same goes for sketch, improv, and all forms of comedy. It’s a trial and error lifestyle. It makes sense to try standup a few dozen (or even a hundred) times before pursuing it to the exclusion of all else.
- Are you feeling burned out?
At the end of the day, it’s a really hard road to find success in comedy. Whatever milestone you reach, there’s always another one just around the corner. That’s why it’s important to learn how to enjoy the journey, and to take pleasure in the small successes you’ll get along the way.
Part of enjoying the journey means knowing when you need a break. For most people, comedy is always going to be somewhere at the hobby level (even if it’s a hobby that earns you a few hundred bucks a year. (Congrats, by the way, and hell yeah!)
If it’s starting to feel like a chore, it’s ok to take a step back. Many performers have periods where they take a break from standup to focus on other things or go on vacation. Vacation is great. Vacation is relaxing. Vacation is full of stuff worth writing about.
Taking time off may help you to recharge your batteries, or even to find more clarity about how much time you want to devote to standup.
Finding the right balance between standup and everything else in your life is all about personal choices. Don’t bow to peer pressure from other comics who subscribe to the toxic hustle culture in comedy.
Sure, you might progress faster in comedy the more time you spend on it (maybe)– but if it’s a choice between spending less time on comedy or spending so much time that you get burned out and quit, I am all about choosing to do the small-but-sustainable amount. Trust me, you’ll still get better over time even if you only spend a few hours a week doing comedy.
Rebecca Kaplan is a standup and sketch comic living in NYC. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @RebeccaTKaplan. She hosts a weekly zoom show called Glass Houses Comedy Tuesday nights at 7:30 pm Eastern time. Check out her Linktree to see her most recent projects and videos.