Daniel Nguyen-Phuoc

Confident, disarming, and on stage, I stood in front of a class of Frontrunners and realised there wasn't much I could do. Teaching English in China can be intimidating at times. Teenagers, hormones, and the intricacies of social niceties which seem so important at that age, all of them seemed to be staring me in the face, asking for my surrender.

Little did they know that I have faced their like before.

Of all the performing arts you can attempt, stand up comedy is one of the easiest to get into. It doesn't require years of musical practice; it doesn't require complex rehearsals with teams of actors. All you need is a stage, a microphone, and an audience. All you need is an Open Mic Night. All you need to bring is yourself.

That said, while it's easy to get on an open mic stage, it's not easy to be good at it. Many have assumed that it's just about getting up there and being funny, but it is not. Open Mic Nights are your opportunity to give it a try though, and if you ever do, here are three tips:

  1. Make it your own - It's easy to watch lots of professional comedians on Netflix or YouTube and you might be inspired to emulate them. However, and this may come as a surprise, you are not Trevor Noah, Jim Jefferies, or any other famous name. Unlike other performance arts, emphasising your individuality is often what helps you be funny.

  2. Whatever you do, make it funny - You usually have 5 minutes, maybe 10 at most, and you are not there to make a political statement or complain about your love life. You can do these things, so long as you make it funny.

  3. It's still an art form - Even though the barrier to entry is low, there's still a method to learn, basics to master, and practice does make you better. Although it might seem like we're on stage just having a fun chat, most of it is rehearsed and with thought put behind it. Work on a script, try out your jokes, get feedback, and practice the best way to deliver it.

Even if you do all these things, you'll still have some cold audiences, and you'll probably fail a few times before you figure out what works best for you. If that doesn't discourage you, then at the very least it's a hobby you can enjoy. Open mic events are also free entry, and you can also just attend one if you're looking for things to do in your city even if you don't intend to go on stage.

So why bring it up in an EF blog? Well, I say that the shame you might feel from 5 minutes of at best awkward laughter floats around the same level of frustration you might feel from an hour of trying to get teenagers to engage in the class topic. Dealing with rowdy children can be surprisingly similar to dealing with hecklers. You also get to save all your darker humour from the classroom to let it out to the audience of the night.

Perhaps the most important thing you can learn from the experience is about yourself. Everyone is different and offers something different, so learning what aspect of your personality, quirks and weirdness becomes compelling on stage, might also help you connect with your students. In Stand Up Comedy, all your insecurities and the things you dislike about your life or the world can become fuel for humour, and that humour is how you connect with your audience.

Well, maybe. At the very least you get some practice living with a difficult classroom.

I and several other comedians, both local and international, opened for Danny O'Brien's "Lock-In" World Tour.

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