the REAL secret to stand up comedy? there ain’t none! except for handshakes – Tim Unkenholz

Comedy truly goes hand in hand with handshakes. What is laughter, really, but an audience shaking hands with the comedian, with their mouths? Here we’ll talk about the most important part of any stand up comedy scene — the ritualistic devotion to grabbing each other’s hands as a sign of respect. It’s why stand up comedy is often called a “hand job.”

When do you handshake?

A lot of comics say that simply shaking another stand up’s hand when you see them at the venue is a sufficient amount of handshaking. Those comics never get booked. And can go to hell.

We, as comedians, cannot just treat each other like normal humans beings would. We are not normal. We are all psychos.

The correct number times to handshake a fellow open mic comedian during a show is 9.

It seems like a lot, but not completing one of the following handshakes will offend even the edgiest, truth-telling satirist. You should give a handshake:

  1. When you first see the other comedian.
  2. When congratulating the comedian about a recent show, podcast appearance, or victory in a social media crusade against another comic.
  3. Another time just like as a bit, I guess.
  4. Right before the comedian gets on stage.
  5. Right after the comedian gets off stage. (“Well I laughed,” is a perfectly condescending thing to say while performing this particular handshake)
  6. A little later while discussing a bit of theirs that you say you “liked” but “could never do, myself”
  7. The “thank you for having me” convo.
  8. Another bit handshake.
  9. When you actually leave the venue.

A funny comic might “forget” to dry his hands after washing them, shake another comedian’s hand, and be like “I promise, it’s not pee!” as an icebreaker. A funnier comedian would do the same bit but actually have peed on his hand.

What do you when a comedian is a girl?

This is a tough one for a lot of comics. Do I shake a girl’s hand? Like a peer? What if I touch her hand and I get nail polish on my hand and then everyone thinks I’m a girl?

At least one time in a comedian’s career he is going to come across a female comic. Some shows (in New York, of course) book more than one for each lineup even! Although Hillary lost the presidency, women are still empowered to do boy stuff, and it’s something we’re going to have to get used to.

But do you gotta give girls a handshake?

Nah. Do literally anything but. A good policy is the one we instinctively formed on the playground when we were six: act like they have cooties. Here are some moves I use.

  • Pat them on the head like a doggy.
  • Wave at them like they are very far away.
  • Hug them while counting in your head the appropriate amount of seconds for it to remain platonic.
  • Just be generally mean to them as a defensive mechanism to keep your fragile masculinity intact so they would never want to give you a handshake anyways.

Black comic handshakes.

I get it. As I white guy who went to a predominately black high school, even I still have nightmares where I’m back in school and I didn’t study for a black guy handshake.

Black guy handshakes are difficult because they are a rigid sequence of militaristic motions.. .but at the same time, ya gotta keep it smooth.

If a black guy comic deems you smooth enough to warrant one of his handshakes, guys, just let him lead. Be prepared for some chest bumps, thumb play, bopping, and jiving.

Sometimes a black comic might come in for a fist bump. Now at first you might feel relieved as this the simplest (but no less meaningful) form of the black guy handshakes. Hang on though! Occasionally a black dude might sneak in a little jazz at the end, be it a little hand explosion or even a double snap.

If you’re getting ready for comedy and think you might give a handshake to a black comic, make sure you keep those fingernails trim. You don’t want to ruin the opportunity to have a cool black guy friend by scratching him with your privilege talons.

If you shake the hand of a famous comedian — you are now that famous.

This is how it works. For example, if you shake the hand of a comedian who has shook the hand of a comedian who has been on Conan, and shook Conan O’Brien’s hand, it’s almost like you were on Conan O’Brien, and therefore you officially have that credit.

Of course this has the opposite effect for comedians with credits. If you’ve done a set at The Stand and you shake the hand of the lowly open micer, sorry pal, you’re back to doing six o’clock open mics at The Creek.

This is why it’s imperative to shake any comedian’s hand you see. You must be ruthless. If you see a comedian with a credit and an empty hand, don’t even ask permission, just fucking grab that hand and wag it! Wag it hard! Harder! Don’t let go! Squeeze! Take up your machete! Do it! Raise it above your head and let out your battle cry! Now slice off his hand! Harvest his hand as a totem! Yes! Good! Feel his comedic power combine with yours! Now you get five wishes and festival submissions are just around the corner! Choose wisely!!!!!!!!

This article was written by Tim Unkenholz, a stand up comedian based in NYC and an associate creative producer at BuzzFeed. You can find him on Twitter @timunken.

The feature image was created by Rolando Roblero, a NYC comedian, photographer, and artist. You can find more artwork and photography on his blog,, his Instagram @Rolando_roblero, and his Twitter @roblero000.

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