A Comedy Nerd’s Guide to Open Mics
By CNtributer Dash Nye
So the podcasts aren’t enough for you, huh, kid? A new Louis hour every year just doesn’t cut it, right? You gotta get out there and forge the chuckles yourself, don’t you? You disgust me.
Actually, what you’re feeling is pretty common. The line between “comedy nerd” and “wannabe comedian” is becoming pretty blurred these days. However, every headliner’s advice when asked how to start doing comedy is the same: “Don’t do it. But if you’re going to anyway, go to an open mic.”
As a devoted open miker who’s been on the bottom rung longer than I’d care to admit, here’s 4 things I’ve learned bombing in coffeehouses. Enjoy!
1. You actually have to leave your house.
I’m as fond of dark rooms and glowing keyboards as the next guy. But stage time is something you can easily put off until tomorrow, then the day after, and so on. The best stand-ups and improvisers work-out daily and the beginning of your pain-filled comedy career begins with you crossing the threshold of your door.
Badslava.com is quickly becoming the number 1 resource for comedy open mics. Run by Brooklyn comic, Slava, the regularly updated network has a comprehensive listing of over 2,000 open mics all over the world including cities like New York, Toronto, Ho Chi Minh City, Edinburgh and more.
If there’s not an open mic in your area, guess what? You gotta start one, cupcake. Hit up the owner of a coffeeshop or bar you like to frequent. You’ll be surprised by how many cats will jump at the chance to turn a slow, week night into potential business.
The point is: get off your caboose. I promise with the right push you’ll have a few laughs and meet a ton of great people.
2. Get a stage.
As an occasional comedy producer, I can tell you that a physical stage makes all the difference. You can cobble one together with little-to-no expertise and a few 2x4s. If you wanna get really fancy, spray-paint the whole thing black to give your open mic that New York, underground vibe.
Down the line you’ll probably want something more professionally constructed both for the quality of your show and the safety of performers. But if you’re just a bunch of college kids trying to have a good time, the DIY version will more than do for now.
Of course, I can’t forget the rest of the open mic arsenal: speaker, microphone, and stool. These are all things you can borrow and the venue might even have them on hand. It’s also worth considering throwing some cash down on your own set-up, especially if you want to get to the point where you’re putting on an open mic most days of the week.
The reason professionals purse their lips when a shoddy microphone craps out or a gig doesn’t have a stage is because the list of essentials for comedy is so short. If someone gets lazy, it compromises the entire show. Start asking around because the right set-up is totally worth it.
3. Don’t be a dick.
Okay, so I wasn’t the first one to come up with this mantra. Whatever. It probably goes back to vaudeville times. It’s true, though. You won’t believe how many young hopefuls I see burn bridges year after year.
First of all, show up on time when you’re scouting out an open mic. Find the host and introduce yourself. Ask him or her if you can sign-up. Wait your turn, do your time, and don’t run the light. The standard is 5 minutes. If you run out of material, no sweat. Say thanks and get off the stage.
Also, your first week or two, watch the rest of the acts. It leaves a good impression. When you’re more familiar with the place, then you can do your time and bounce.
A lot of open mic etiquette is just common sense. For example, you probably don’t want to test out your bluest material if the venue is an upscale bar. You run the risk of getting yourself blacklisted as well as shutting down the open mic for good. Not a great start.
Lastly for not being a dick, know that these open mics will vary in how well they’re run. If you don’t like how one host does things, keep it to yourself. Usually it’s the worst rooms that make you a stronger comic anyway.
4. Talk to other comics
I can’t stress this one enough, but the soundest advice you’ll get is from other comics. I almost romanticize the hours of laughing and swapping tags with other comedians more than the stage time itself. Almost.
I won’t be surprised if this one comes naturally to you. These people are your comedy brethren. The world is rife with comedy nerds who want to make art and our numbers are growing every day.
If you love comedy as much as the rest of us here at CNU, open mics are definitely one of the top places to find like-minded people from all walks of life.
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