Master the Open Mic
I remember my very first open mic. I had done a couple of bringers and a comedy school graduation show and had received some good laughs. There were several comics at the NY Comedy Club, and most of them had gotten up and “ate it.” “Wait till they see me”, I said to myself. I got up and except for a couple of loyal buddies, no one was even paying attention. “Don’t they know who I am” I thought. They didn’t, nor did they care if I just taped my one hour HBO special. I approached my next couple of mics this way, delivering my “A” set to “A” rooms full of “A” holes! Nada. An experienced comic then said to me “no one does their “A” material at a mic. You go to a mic to work things out.” Hmmmm. Comics hate when you are trying too hard at a mic. This was new to me. I began the laborious process of finding the good mics in the city.
What’s a good mic? That depends what you’re seeking, it’s different for every comic. A bad mic to me is one where you pay a cover (usually $5), buy a drink or food item (usually $5 plus) get 5 minutes and have a room full of comics buried with their heads in their notes. I simply couldn’t afford do that nightly. In fact, that comes out to three to four thousand dollars a year if you go five times a week. And the end product is you get very little read on your material and often want to slice your wrists.
A good mic to me is one that is fair, (first come first served or by lottery) is reasonably priced, and a comic can get a true read on the material they are working out. The crowd should be attentive, and it’s a big plus if there is a real audience. It’s great to have an experienced host as well; one that captures the attention of the comics so that the audience is up and in a laughing mood. Nothing is more dreadful than a mic with an unfunny host that does excessive time in between each comic.
A mentor once taught me to use a mic for a specific purpose each time. I was very dramatic when I started, talking in a fake voice, and talking fast; in short I was coming across as unauthentic. So one day I pulled up a chair and just spoke to the room full of comics about my experience in a Greek Diner on the way over. I wasn’t worried about laughs, I concentrated solely on talking slow, and being real. A fellow comic said to me it was the best he had seen me. “It took 15 minutes at the diner to get a cup of coffee, and the manager said they were new and were still figuring things out…figuring out coffee? I noticed the Greek diner had every cuisine in the world on the menu, except for Greek food!” I got laughs, and it was the first time I trusted my natural comedic instincts. I began the process of just talking, just communicating, and telling my life story as it unfolded. It made a huge difference. Our good friend and instructor Joe DeVito who has done a million mics, and still does, even though he has been on national television many times, taught me to open with a proven joke to get them laughing, mix in new material along the way, and always close strong. Closing strong is a learned craft, and I always have a closer in mind before I take the stage. This also worked wonders. If they don’t think you’re funny off the bat, it will be very difficult to get laughs throughout…remember we’re dealing with comics. My goal at each mic was almost always to find the new jokes that work.
I also learned NOT TO BE AFRAID TO NOT GET LAUGHS. In other words, leave your ego at the door. I see some comics do the same five minutes over and over even a year later desperate for the approval of a room full of comics that will probably never occur. This is a huge mistake, unless you are preparing for a five minute spot on Letterman. It took a year or two, but I became desensitized as to what other comics thought of me. In fact, I did so many mics, working out so much new material that many felt I wasn’t funny at all. So what? In the end it’s the paying comedy club audience that decides your fate in this business. So if you get feedback that you talk too fast, just spend a month going to mics and talking slooooow. It will pay dividends. I also wrote a lot of material specifically geared to comics at the mics. This was really valuable as writing for any occasion is an exercise in writing. The more you write, the better you get at it. It also showed I can be “in the room” and play to a specific crowd. Nothing wrong with that. If you can make a room full of comics laugh, you can probably write killer stuff for a room full of tourists!
I frequented one mic that had a lot of pro comics. Another great idea. You will learn a lot more from comics that are miles ahead of you than comics miles behind. Sure, it feels good to be the funniest one there, but what good does that do when after many years you become the funniest open micer in the city? In addition, find a mic where you can network, so other comics can book you once you’ve bonded and shown you’re funny. So, if you have bad habits, like looking at the floor, pacing back and forth, poor mic technique, closing weak, work it out. Don’t end your set with “that’s my time”. End with a great joke and practice showing gratitude.
The Laughing Buddha Mic is in fact designed with what I feel are some of the best elements listed above. It’s inexpensive, really supportive (no notes/texting/phones in the audience), the order is done by lottery, and a guest spot is given away at the end of the show. We also book the show so you won’t get those jaded, non supportive attitudes. You can check out the reviews, or leave one yourself on Badslava.com. http://www.badslava.com