Article by: Holly Johnston
Imagine what a thrill it would be to quit your job and start a new life in pursuit of a dream.
Sounds badass doesn’t it?
There’s something alluring about the lifestyle of a standup comedian. It’s romanticized chaos, full of spontaneity and adventure.
You’ve heard famous comedians on podcasts share stories like “yeah, I slept on a futon for 9 years and only ate canned ravioli so I could do comedy every night, and I don’t regret it.”
If you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering what it’d be like to pursue your own comedy career. In 2021, I was too. I quit my job, packed up my car, and moved to Austin to get in on the action.
What I’ve learned since then is that comedy is fun and exciting - yes - but the lifestyle can be strange. There’s a lot I wasn’t prepared for.
There’s a lot of compromise.
When you’re preoccupied with becoming a comedian, it’s easy to let everything else fall to the wayside. There's a lot of 'good enough, 'good for now' and 'best I can do' scenarios. It’s easy to adopt the ‘nothing else matters’ mentality.
If comedy is going well, I can have a shitty job, a cheap apartment and only hang around other comics. But after a while, it all adds up…
Balancing a day job and a comedy career is a struggle. You want something that pays the bills, doesn’t waste energy, and doesn’t interfere with stage time.
That limits your options. Some comics work ‘regular jobs’ with salaries and benefits, but the risk is burnout. It’s hard to stay out until 1am networking and then get up at 8am and be excited about spreadsheets.
On the other hand with part-time jobs or gig work (walking dogs, freelance content creation, food delivery etc), the risk is financial insecurity.
When you get desperate, you end up taking on some job you never would have agreed to before comedy. Suddenly a day job peeling stickers off of filing cabinets sounds like a dream.
But if comedy isn’t going well (at times it won’t) that shitty job will feel like a nightmare.
Whether you feel like ‘an artist pursuing a dream’ or ‘a cashier who sucks at mopping’ largely depends on the day. And financial stress combined with instability can lead you to near insanity.
There are different ways you can live as a comedian: an apartment with roommates, a house full of comedians, or the inside of your car in a Planet Fitness parking lot.
I’ve lived in some odd places simply because they were cheap, accessible and noncommittal.
But when these are your only priorities, you leave out an important one: comfort.
Living in a shabby apartment with a bunch of other comedians can be fun at first, but it can also feel weird and unstable. Your friends are getting married and buying a house and here you are living with a bunch of 30 year old dudes, in an apartment that reeks of weed and domino's pizza.
If you plan on traveling for stage time, get ready for bizarre sleeping arrangements: shady airbnb, motels, and stranger’s couches.
I once slept in a comedian’s mom’s bed while she was out of town.
You’ll probably end up traveling with other comedians to save money (let’s hope they’re cool, because you guys have an 8 hour car ride together). You’ll also probably do solo travel.
Even if you flew to a city, it’s not gonna feel like a vacation. You’ll likely spend the day eating gas station snacks and camping out in the nearest Starbucks until showtime.
What I’ve learned is that it’s hard - but necessary - to have a life outside of comedy.
If you’re single, the lifestyle is a tough sell to a potential partner. “Yeah I’ll be available a few Sunday afternoons a month to hangout.”
If you’re in a relationship, it can become a constant struggle between making time for them and making time for comedy. It's tempting to stay in and cuddle rather than go to a dive bar and listen to 26 people do pedophile jokes.
Making time for family and non-comedy friends is also a challenge. A more-established comedian once said to me, “If you don't give yourself a life outside comedy, what are you gonna talk about?"
The Good Things
There are perks, otherwise nobody would do it.
One is the joy it brings. The highs are HIGH. You get to make rooms full of people laugh and continuously discover your comedic voice.
Each time you perform you get a little bit better. Plus you get to watch your favorite comedians for free, and learn from the pros.
You spend most of your time around the strangest and funniest people you’ve ever met. You’ll meet crazy characters and hear their stories (and you’ll have plenty of your own stories). The conversations are deeper, more personal, and more honest than with other colleagues.
You’ll celebrate each other's achievements, give and receive a lot of life advice, and encourage each other to keep going.
Few people are able to live a life solely in pursuit of their passions. It's a rare and special thing.
There are moments while writing and performing where you feel most connected to yourself, feel most alive; it’s that feeling that makes it easier to tolerate all the other stuff.
When you start seeing it all come together…it’s pure ecstasy. People will commend you for following your dream, and you’ll end up inspiring people to do the same.
Now you’ve got a rough idea of what you’re in for. There’s a lot of sacrifice, doubt, and instability, but in the end the experiences you have make it worth everything.
If you’re thinking about it leaving your old life behind to pursue comedy, this is your sign that you should do it.