If you’re starting out in comedy, or having a crisis of confidence, there’s a lot of advice out there. The only 100% objectively useful piece of advice is this:
I’ll just flesh this out a bit.
If you’ve been doing the same thing on stage for five years and it’s the first five minutes you wrote and it’s not connecting with people, you should probably vary what you do. I don’t think anybody persisted their way to success by sticking with the first five minutes they ever wrote.
But! If you vary what you do too much, you won’t get a handle on what works and doesn’t work (for you). Remember, other variables are changing from gig to gig (the audience, their level of sobriety, the type of performance space, the community the event is in, the lighting, the height of the ceiling, your position in the running order, the tone set by the MC and the preceding acts…). It will be your journey to develop intuition about what the feedback from each gig means given these variables, and the ones you’re adding in by changing your act.
Also, I’d set a time-limited goal if I were you. Mine was, “If I’m not making a living at this after five years, I’ll try something else”. Five years was just a guess, based on more traditional models of personal development (three years of college, two years of practice).
The UK circuit has changed since I began, but it seemed to me that people who were making a living were able to perform a rock-solid twenty-minute set in a variety of settings. Having this time-constrained goal helped me get focussed, but I must stress that the world has changed; the goal I set myself might not be the right way to go about thinking about your work anymore.
Your goal might not have anything to do with money (in fact, there’s a solid case for keeping money out of it), but it probably should involve a thing changing by a certain date, and real consequences if it doesn’t happen. My first target was set when Jeff Green said to me, “Stop trying material out on me! Just book a gig and tell some people that it’s booked, so you’ll look like an idiot if you back out – then you’ll have to come up with the material.” He said this was the same advice that started his career.
Finally, every piece of advice anyone gives (including mine) can be disregarded. Listen to it all, but if you try to take it all on board (“topic (x) is hack”, “you should wear a suit”,”you should talk more about your passion for rollerskating, nobody’s doing that…”) you will do nothing.
The only piece of advice that you must take on board is the one I wrote at the top in capital letters.