The bartender or teacher or head of accounts receivable or some other day job they're afraid to leave. They spend their nights at open mics and YouTube clips of their sets have 23 views, most of which are uncomfortable coworkers and embarrassed family members. Most of their material is about how "wacky" their group of friends is.
Sweaty, "casual" attire that took hours to plan, gripping the mic stand like it's the only thing preventing them from hurtling into space.
Laundromats that convert the back room into an open mic night once a week.
They would be homeless if not for their car. They now host open mics and clips of their material are widely shared but with titles like "This dude gets it!" or "Heckler gets owned." Their material sometimes feels like a slightly funnier version of a hobo rant, but with less "the government invented appendices to funnel more money to the insurance companies" and more "everyone in Hollywood is a corporate shill sellout fascist capitalist!"
Five day shadow, casual "attire" in its 3rd day of deployment, bags underneath the bags underneath their eyes.
Clubs with names like "The Guffaw Ghetto" and "The Something-Is-So-Funny-You-Don't-Even-Make-A-Sound-You-Just-Wheeze Factory."
Trying their hardest to sell out. They headline and film specials for Comedy Central and use downtime to record their podcast "See Me After Class." Clips of their sets get shared on A.V. Club with descriptions like "Surly mailman from last night's Parks and Rec is actually L.A. comic who deserves your attention."
Constantly changing in order to find the right glasses, facial hair, shirt style, etc.
Theaters and venues.
At this point the trajectory splits into three parallel branches
They film one-hour specials for HBO and Netflix, using downtime to appear on other people's podcasts. Everyone waits with bated breath for them to weigh in after the latest rape joke or "women aren't funny" controversy. Their tweets get reported as news stories and the clips that get passed around are of everything BUT their sets: talking to Conan, pranking people on the set of their new movie, improvising in a TV guest spot. No amount of movies and TV deals can tear them away from stand-up.
Whatever they chose before they are now stuck with. They are contractually obligated to meet the president in their trademark flannel shirt, jeans, and Toledo Mud Hens hat.
Sold out arenas.
They star in movies and TV but leave stand-up behind in the process. The majority of their fans are too young to know where they got their start, knowing them only as the voice of the grumpy mushroom in their favorite Disney movie. Clips of their sets have titles like "Wait, he was actually funny at one time?!?!"
Whatever the director decides. They progress from "goofy friend" to "lovable idiot lead" followed by "funny dad" and ending with "grandpa who says inappropriate things a grandpa wouldn't usually say." Expect a lot of Hawaiian shirts.
The other kind of theater.
Stand-up becomes "storytelling," one-hour specials become "one-man shows," and books become "essay collections." The only podcast they appear on is This American Life to read their short story about a dog learning to talk but only in Nietzsche quotes, which somehow is a metaphor for globalization. Any YouTube clips are from their web series "The Lindy Hop," where they interview elegant starlets while a jazz quartet plays current hits in the background.
Mustache, coiffed hair, and suits from a plantation owner's closet. NO, not like Mark Twain, he had wild hair.
Story slams and poetry readings.