What Is It Like to Be a Professional Comedian?

The best answer to any question.
April 30 2014 7:56 AM

What Is It Like to Be a Professional Comedian?

Comedian Jen Kirkman on the Tonight Show.

Courtesy of NBC

This question originally appeared on Quora.

Answer by Jen Kirkman, Chelsea Lately writer, comedian, best-selling author:


I think the biggest misconception is that comedians have all of this time off. Most just starting out have another job. I started doing comedy in 1997. I worked for free as a comedian for almost 14 years before getting steady paid gigs. I always had a day job. And when you're a comedian starting out, you get a five-minute spot. And you spend a lot of time sitting and waiting to go on and a lot of time writing material or thinking about writing material.

Now as a professional comedian, I do a one-hour show but usually two per night. Also, having to do press is now involved, so I fly into a city—count anywhere from two to 15 hours of travel time depending on where I'm flying to—and head to the local radio or TV station for interviews the morning of the gig. Or I spend time at home doing "phoners" (phone interviews) the week leading up to the gig. And, of course, a comedian is always looking toward his or her next new hour of material, so there's the running around to smaller shows to try out new material when not on the road. And since I don't want to tour full time, I work as a television writer 40 hours a week in addition to being on the road. So, I find I have less free time now then when I worked 9 to 5.

And yes, we spend our spare time like anyone else: observing life, trying to live a life, trying to avoid life, and even if a joke does go over well, we'll sit around analyzing that, too.

More questions on Quora:


Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

The U.S. Is So, So Far Behind Europe on Clean Energy

Even if You Don’t Like Batman, You Might Like Gotham

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059


Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

How Moscow’s Anti-War March Revealed One of Russia’s Deepest Divides

  News & Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
Sept. 22 2014 4:45 PM Why Can’t the Census Count Gay Couples Accurately?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 7:46 PM Azealia Banks’ New Single Is Her Best in Years
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 22 2014 4:34 PM Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.