"So we always said the first thing to do was to get onstage. Get onstage. Because that's where you're going to learn all your skills, primarily." - Tom Smothers, quoted in Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of the Smother Brothers Comedy Hour, by David Bianculli
"The WORK will teach you how to do it." --Estonian proverb
Often we describe something like a magic sleight of hand move or a juggling trick as a skill. However, for an entertainer they are more accurately described as a tool. They are not a goal in themselves, but are used to achieve another goal.
Live entertainment is an interaction with an audience. The trick is just an excuse to have an interaction. An entertainer's goal is to create a memorable moment. Often an entertainer's goal is to elicit a specific emotion from audience members. That might be joy, wonder, amazement, or other feelings. Sometimes an entertainer's goal is to motivate or inspire audience members. The goal of many entertainers is to effectively teach a lesson. An entertainer's goal may be to connect with members of the audience and make them feel special.
Specific variety arts tricks are tools that you use to achieve those goals. You can't achieve those goals working in a vacuum. The only way to learn to interact with audience members is to actually interact with them. Audience feedback will start to teach you the skills you need to be able to use your tools properly.
Timing is one of the skills you need to learn, and you learn it through trial and error. It is natural to rush too much in the beginning. As you observe other performers and gain experience you learn that you get better response by slowing your delivery down. You start to give the audience time to understand and appreciate what you are doing. Verbal comedy often involves the audience members thinking of one meaning of a word, and then you surprise them by switching to another meaning of that word. If you don't give them time to think what you want them to, there is no surprise when you switch. You discover that in magic there is no surprise when you open your hand revealing it is empty if you didn't allow time for the audience to realize that there was supposed to be something in your hand. Eventually you slow down too much. Audience members guess the surprise. They figure out the punchline before you deliver it or they realize the hiding place for the object that is supposed to be in your hand. So you speed up a little more until you get the results you want. As you gain more experience you discover that the exact same timing doesn't work with every audience. You need to adjust your timing for each audience. Gradually you learn how to do that.
There are other skills you learn on stage. You learn how to improvise to connect more deeply with audience members. You learn routining because you discover that tricks in a certain order get better response than others. When things go wrong you learn how to recover, set your audience at ease, and continue without the mistake interfering with your concentration. You learn how to cope with a rush of adrenalin. All of these are things that you can't learn in practice. You have to learn them through actual performance.
How do you get on stage? One way is to volunteer for a charitable cause that you believe in. That way you are gaining valuable experience and giving back to your community.
Another way is to join a variety arts organization. Local magic clubs often include an Open Mike opportunity at their monthly meetings. This gives you a chance to get some experience on stage. (Warning: A group of magicians or other entertainers are not a "normal" audience.) Many clubs produce an annual fundraising show you can participate in. Large organizations hold conventions where you can enter competitions or perform in an Open Mike show. Educational programs like California Clown Campin' also provide Open Mike opportunities.
What opportunities do you have to get on stage?