So, you want to break into stand-up comedy? First things first: there are no easy or clear-cut ways to automatically break into stand-up comedy. Like pretty much any creative endeavor, it requires a lot of hard work, focus and perseverance. Especially perseverance. If you're willing to work and stick with it, being a working comedian offers a number of rewards: the opportunity to travel, job flexibility and the chance to make money doing something you love - making people laugh.
Paying Your Way
Because you'll just be starting out, you won't be able earn a living in comedy right away. That means either finding a steady stream of income (like a day job) or saving up enough money to live off of while you're getting started. You may even need to continue working once you start getting paid comedy gigs, if only because you might not be earning enough to pay the bills as an emcee or feature comic.
Whatever job you do have, be sure it affords you enough time to continue working on your comedy. It's also a good idea to keep your evenings free so you can perform gigs, attend open mics or go see other comedians at the clubs. You'll want to absorb as much comedy as you can - especially in the beginning.
Obviously, the most important part of starting out in comedy is having an act. Before you do anything else, you'll want to have at least 30 minutes of strong original material. You probably won't need that much for early gigs, but having a half hour can help you pick and choose from your best bits. Besides, you'd rather have too much material than to wind up on stage without enough to say.
The biggest thing to remember is to be yourself -- find your own voice and stick to what you find funny. Don't second guess yourself or try to predict what an audience will respond to; there will be plenty of time to tailor your act to an audience in the future. For now, figure out who you are as a comic. Do you have life experiences you want to draw from? Do you have something original to say about politics or pop culture? Are you capable or adept at physical comedy?
While you should expose yourself to as many comedians as possible in the beginning, keep in mind that you want to be original. Be wary of copying other comics you see -- not simply plagiarizing material, but also mimicking their styles or delivery. The world already has a Mitch Hedberg or a Chris Rock. You should bring something new to the table.
Performing Your Material
There are several outlets where you could start out performing parts of your 30-minute set. Before you take it live, try out material with friends, family -- anyone who will listen. Hang out with other comedians and see if they have any suggestions. Comedy is a community, and many comedians should be willing to work with you or give you suggestions on how to improve your jokes.
The most logical place to try your act out is likely an open mic. Those could be held anywhere, but are often found at bars, rock clubs and coffee houses. You won't see any money from these, but they're a great place to workshop your set, network with other comics starting out and -- most importantly -- get invaluable experience performing in front of a crowd. Comedy is a live medium, and joke writing is only a portion of being a good stand-up; you've got to get timing and delivery down, and you can really only do that in a live setting. Open mics are great for that.