Stage Time Doesn’t Mean Shit

It’s often you hear people in the realty business answer the question, “What makes a property valuable?” with “Three things…. Location, location and location…”  In comedy the same repetitious mantra is present, but instead goes more like “How do I get better as a comedian?”  Answered with “Stage time, stage time, and more stage time…”  This simply isn’t true. It’s MORE than just getting on stage.

Yes, stage time no doubt is the number one way to become better as a comedian. However, not everyone gets better because of increased or relentless performance.   Some are on stage over and over and over and over and don’t improve an ounce.  It’s bullshit and someone needs to tell these comics they are wasting their time.  Who am I directing this at???      Me.

Recording my debut CD Glamorous

Nobody ever said to me the most important things I really needed to hear from a mentor comic when it came to improving via getting on stage.  I started getting on stage regularly in 2007 through the end of 2008, but then a lull made me believe I was sharp enough to perform less seldom and still somehow improve as a comic. Obviously, I didn’t.  Then, in 2011 when stage time become more available to me (meaning it came to me because I was unwilling ‘foolishly’  to go to it). I then started getting on stage weekly which became multiple times a week, which then became 4 times a week.  I quickly began writing and putting together material I felt worthy of being recorded.  Of course I was wrong, but I went through with it anyway. I recorded ‘Glamorous‘ over two shows in the fall of 2011.  This was after maybe six months of 3-4 times a week getting on stage.  It wasn’t awful for a freshman release, but it certainly was average to kinda bad. Then it happened.  I stopped getting any better.  I got on stage night after night because I was determined to have the work ethic of Louis C.K. but also to produce a new 45 minutes each year to record and release.  Well, I couldn’t.

I released ‘Glamorous’ on Halloween in 2011 and between then and the first part of 2012 I was supposed to have a new 45 minutes.  I got on stage all the time, I toured thousands of miles, I did host, feature and headline ‘sets’.  In the summer of that year I looked back at the material I had amassed and listened to recordings of the sets and came to a stark realization. It was awful.  Not as awful as my first 45, but certainly bad enough not to stop working on it and release it quite yet.

The moral of the story is simple.  I didn’t become self aware about the genuine quality of my own comedy until the middle of 2012. For me this was nearly 5 years into doing stand-up.  In all honesty, with the frequency I had been doing it, really just two years of doing stand-up.

Why Does Stage Time Not Mean Shit Then??

So after all this experience why do I say that Stage Time Doesn’t Mean Shit? Simple, the reason I didn’t get better in that year after I recorded my first CD is that I wasn’t doing much pre-work before open-mics, writing and practicing and re-writing.  Also, I wasn’t recording my sets at open mics to review privately later. I wasn’t trimming enough, I wasn’t editing enough and most importantly, I wasn’t remembering enough of the funny stuff I would come up with on stage. I was getting stage time, but I wasn’t making the most of it.  I wasn’t being true to myself and in the end that meant I wasn’t being true to the audiences I was getting in front of.

Since this realization I have spent more time writing, reviewing and dumping stuff to a non-working file (for stuff that just isn’t coming together to maybe dust off later) then I ever have in all of my comedy career.  I have revisited jokes I thought were done and added tags and improved the jokes adding both length and laughs to them.  They still aren’t perfect, but I am ok with that.  I have stopped giving up on jokes because they are ‘old’. I have begun breathing new life into them at the same rate I am retiring them. I feel like writing jokes is now a brand new thing to me and it is exciting and amazing.

I wish all comics could improve by simply working hard on their material and getting on stage with it, but the truth is, some are unable to grow without someone helping them. And honestly, not many people are willing to be that mentor.  That coach.  Sometimes you have to stop waiting for that to happen, and open your eyes to the fact that comedy can be a very solitary mission.  Mr. Myagi is not around the corner ready to teach all of us the ways of the dragon.  We have to observe, learn and improve on our own accord.  So that’s where I am, finishing up a blog about writing jokes and then planning to go back to a few older jokes to find out why they are less consistent than I would like.  What will you be doing?

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Matt Ward is a stand-comedian and comedy producer/promoter currently living in Knoxville, Tennessee. He is the co-founder of the Cape Fear Comedy Festival and founder of Knox Comedy Live. [/author_info] [/author]

Matt Ward Written by:


  1. Ron Finger
    September 10, 2013

    Thank you for the unreadable font. Light gray on white….very artistic.

      September 10, 2013

      Font is readable as fuck. Get some glasses, fool.

      • Heywood
        January 30, 2014

        “Readable as fuck” Are you on steroids? Why are you so angry?

  2. Sam Kim
    September 10, 2013

    Matt, thank you for this. As an aspiring comic, it was helpful to hear of your experiences and about “stage time” and what you learned from it.

  3. Jimbob
    September 10, 2013

    Nice article. I totally agree. And think most comedians think they have to write their material alone. The ego that tells us, “its not good enough unless I thought it myself” is a major problem in the world of comedy. To be a comedian you need the ability to understand and deliver a joke. I write with a large group comics and there is a collective understanding that we are all improving eachothers material while giving up ownership of the improvement we offer. This makes better at writing and trains us to proliferate more material. There is a new brand of comic out there and it resembles an AA community. Supportive. Kind. Collective.

  4. September 11, 2013

    I still tell newbs ‘stage time’ but I also tell them it’s also a bunch more shit that I won’t get into right now just relax and have a couple beers, then if three months later they’re still throwing themselves kamikaze style to their glorious deaths on stage at open mics etc then I’ll start talking to them about joke writing, timing, crowd work, etc. Stage time is important because it’s the easiest thing you can do ‘get better’ and if they’re not willing to do the easy part then I’m not wasting my breath on the parts that’ll really drive you nuts, besides I’m still new myself…

  5. September 11, 2013

    good point! I think when a lo of people say “keep gettin onstage” they forget to add “and learn from every set.” I personally believe that sometimes there is a stigma attached to really analyzing everything you do onstage while you’re offstage…like it somehow takes away from the art of it, or is somehow a less organic way of finding your voice. Well, that’s bullshit. Being cognizant of what you’re doing and what you’d like to change only makes whatever stagetime you do that much more valuable, IMHO

  6. Priestley Faucett
    September 11, 2013

    I worship this article lol. Good Job

  7. September 14, 2013

    I’ve been co-producing an open mic for nearly six years, and have seen 400+ comics on our little stage. You are so right about the fixation on stage time. I’ve heard so many sets that could have been greatly improved by editing/expanding the bits and even just rearranging the jokes.

  8. September 14, 2013

    Loved the read Matt. For me, its thought provoking and almost makes me want to write more.


    Fuck that douche-bag stink-finger though.

    Haters gun h8.


  9. […] Authors Note:  It took over a year of doing stages three times a week JUST to stop saying my spin out words like “You know what I am saying” and “That’s all I am trying to say” which were picked up from other comics I had done regular stage time with in 2010 and early 2011.  It then took me ALL of 2012 to figure out how to dispose of swear words that didn’t add to the joke.  Example ‘So I was ‘fucking’ going to the store.”….   Improving is hard and it takes a lot of on stage AND off stage work.  Read more about how just getting on stage doesn’t mean shit by checking out my blog ‘Stage Time Doesn’t Mean Shit‘ […]

  10. john miller
    January 30, 2014


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