No ring is shinier in a stand-up comedy career than doing a tight five-minute set on late night TV. Whether showcasing your jokes on Conan, The Tonight Show, or any other late night talk show still not hosted by a woman, the chance to show the world what you’ve got is a special moment in a comedian’s life. So special, in fact, that many top comics hold the experience as one of the greatest events of their lives. Here are seven things you should know about your future late night stand-up debut!
You can bring guests backstage
You’re allowed to bring some of your nearest and dearest into the green room, which can make for some of the best memories. Erin Jackson, who taped her Conan set the day after her birthday, brought her best friend. Pictures can also be taken backstage, which led to one of Samantha Ruddy’s favorite moments with her guest. “They had a Polaroid camera and a wall with a bunch of celebrities’ pictures,” Ruddy shared with Laughspin. “So my girlfriend and I used it to take a selfie and put ours next to Henry Winkler.”
Your set is pre-taped
Knowing this can relieve some of the pressure. Kenny DeForest appeared on Late Night with Seth Meyers earlier this year. “I wish it had clicked beforehand that I wasn’t doing live TV. It wasn’t until I was waiting in the wings, about to go out, that it suddenly clicked,” DeForest told Laughspin. “Just do five minutes of stand-up for the people in this room, which is literally what you’ve been doing for the past decade.”
Your set will go through rounds of changes—even the day of
Even before you get to the studio, your set can go through changes. Caitlin Peluffo, who made her TV debut on The Late Show in October, observed, “I had no idea how precise the wording of each joke needed to be.” The process can take months and you can expect to receive line edits for many of your jokes—even if your tape had been approved beforehand. Sometimes Standards & Practices, the legal department that checks your set, gets absolutely ridiculous. Just ask Anthony Jeselnik.
There’s no dress code
While you might be inclined to go out and get a spiffy new suit for your first time on TV, there’s no mandate that says it must be done. “You can wear whatever you want,” Carmen Lagala noted about her time on The Late Show last year. “I wore a fancy outfit that I would never wear in real life, and when I showed up, the dudes were in jeans and sneakers.”
It lives on the internet forever
A late night show will post segments to their social media channels the next morning, so your set can be seen by anyone who may have missed it the night before. This can lead to ever-growing comment sections, which you may be tempted to read. “I believe people comment on YouTube just to hate, just like black people love the Apollo cause they are allowed to boo you,” recalled Nore Davis after doing Conan. “So, it was shocking and surprising to see the world liked my set. Except someone called me ‘Wanda Sykes’s son.’ That stung.”
It can bring people out of the woodwork
A big platform can bring on a big response. Sean Finnerty, who did stand-up on The Tonight Show in January, was overjoyed by the response from his home country of Ireland, where he’s been contacted by multiple local publications. Others reported a big influx of messages from old acquaintances in their email inboxes and DMs—for better or for worse. “I would get messages like, ‘I am SO proud of you!’” said Katie Hannigan, who appeared on Late Show. “I’m like, umm hello? You ghosted me three years ago.”
Yes, there are snacks and bonus perks
Each show has its own way of treating its funny guests. Some studios offer booze while others were dry. “I wish I knew that there wasn’t beer in the green room,” Tom Thakkar lamented about his time on Conan. “I would’ve brought it for after!” Peluffo boasted about her Late Show haul. “They gave me swag, baby! I’ve been drinking out of my coffee mug every chance I get!” Not too shabby for chasing your dreams.