Tips & tricks: creating a solo comedy show

In this post, I’ll be sharing some tips about creating a solo comedy show from scratch, handling audience participation, taking care of yourself, the value of feedback/preview shows, and more. 

So You Think You Can Make a Solo Show! You can. You really can. And you should! Creating a solo show is a brilliant way to showcase yourself, explore ideas, learn extremely fast and hard about a tonne of things, and gain real, invaluable performing experience quickly. If you truly want to get yourself out there, sometimes you have to create opportunities for yourself. 

Register your show somewhere

I personally need to do Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Melbourne Fringe and other festivals because it forces me to keep creating and moving. Register for your local comedy/fringe festivals, or book a show at a venue during festival off-seasons. Either way, lock something in so you’ll HAVE to start working.

Coming up with the concept

Sometimes it’s the idea that inspires you to create a solo show – that’s a GREAT place to start. But most of the time, you just want to do a solo show but have no idea what it’s going to be about. Here are some ways to generate ideas:

  • What do you love/what are you obsessed with?

Whether it’s a person, pop culture, politics, a particular era, a style of art or whatever tickles your fancy, your passion is the most important thing about a solo show. If you’re excited about the content, the audience will be too.

  • OR, what do you hate/what makes you angry?

Between Seinfeldian social etiquette ticks to glaring societal issues, there are so many things in the world worth exploring in an effort to make it a better place. Plus it’s a nice therapy session for you (and maybe your audience).

  • OR, who is your alter ego?

To find your alter ego, you need to think about the spirit within you that’s bursting to get out. Once you’ve found that, you can turn this into a fully-realised comedic character. To find your alter ego, you can also ask yourself:

  • Who is the person you want to be?
  • Who is the person you DON’T want to be?
  • Who is the person within you that you’re suppressing?

Once you figure that out, think of where the best or worst place is to put that character and work from there.

Format and structure

There are tonnes of different ways to structure your show. Here are some examples of formats:

  • Host & friends

You play a character that is hosting or running the proceedings of something (a funeral, wedding speeches, a talent show) that also allows you to introduce new characters.

  • Seminar/Ted Talk/educational

If you’re just planning on playing the one character, it can help to put them in a structured format like running a lecture on something. You can use multimedia and talking points to give the show structure.

  •  Cabaret

Whether it’s you as yourself or you’re playing a character, cabaret is a great way to disarm yourself and interact with the audience without asking too much of them. It’s a delightful, intimate way to share stories, jokes, songs, dances, and a bunch of other talents I’m sure you have.

  • Story-telling

A simple but challenging task is story-telling. You need to pack in a lot of heart, emotion, charisma, and weave it all into an engaging performance.

  • DIY/organic

You can create a show completely organically using movement techniques and finding your show through physicality, emotion, your talents, and workshopping ideas.

Plus, there’s a bunch of other formats we’re yet to explore. Maybe you’ll come up with a better one on your own.

Audience Participation

Here are my two rules with audience participation:

1) Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
When it comes to audience participation, only do what YOU would be comfortable with if you were in the audience of a show. Have empathy, read the room, find the people in the crowd who are having a great time and look keen to play with you. Always try to bring the bit/joke/game back to yourself, rather than focussing on the participant. Make it a safe, fun environment.

2) Don’t rely on the audience
I speak from experience in saying this. Sometimes the audience is cold and they DON’T want to play, and that’s okay – they paid money to WATCH comedy, not help you perform your show. Even if using the audience is a major part of your show, always find a way to bring it back to yourself and have backup plans.

Get a director

You’ll need a trusty director to bounce ideas off, rehearse with, and keep you in check. Don’t do it alone.

Find quiet moments in the show

Comedy is very GO GO GO, particularly solo/character comedy. We’re scared to let the show breathe (well, I’m always scared to let it breathe – I don’t know about the rest of y’all). But, it can’t be all up and up and up. You, as a performer, need mini rests and the audience needs it too (they just don’t know it). To appreciate the highs of the show, you need to give the audience some quieter moments. You can buy yourself a break (without having an actual break) by employing audio/visual techniques like voiceovers, videos, filmed sketches, fake ad breaks, where you can either leave the stage or just chill in character on the stage. You need to find moments where it’s not just you talking at your audience. Maybe you do a silent interpretive dance or something, who knows! Just find a way to give the audience a sensory break.

Run preview shows

Even if you just run one preview show a month or so before you open, it’s super beneficial. Invite a small, trusty audience of peers, loved ones and mentors to gain feedback from.

Here are some constructive feedback points I like to ask the audience:

  • What did you like?
  • What do you want to see more of?
  • What was confusing?
  • How did you feel during the show?

Create a show that YOU’RE proud of

Look, there’s a ~ chance ~ you might get some weird feedback from the crowd one night or a negative review. Take constructive critism on board and apply it. But above all else, you need to make a show that you love and you’re proud to share with the world. Find your target audience and give THEM a good time. If you make a show you think everyone is going to like even though you don’t really care about its content, then it’ll feel even worse when it doesn’t do commercially/critically well.

You need to be proud of your work and you need to be proud of yourself. It’ll show, and people will get on board.

And finally, have an open mind

You’re going to learn A LOT. Whether its your first solo show or fifth, you learn something new everytime. Be kind to yourself. Take care of yourself. Eat healthily. Have a support system. And remember that it’s just a show.

Any questions? Head to my contact page and ask away!

  • I also direct and coach actors and comedians in Melbourne, so feel free to inquire.
  • You can also see ME in action in my own solo show at this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival – click here for more info.

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