So you’ve decided to try out an open mic night—congratulations! You’ve taken your first step toward realizing your dreams… or ritual humiliation. This is a brief guide to what you can expect the first time you show up at Open Mic.1
Stage time is a comic’s most valued commodity, and as with any scarce resource, there’s a certain amount of competition and jockeying involved. If you’re patient and polite, you will absolutely be given a chance to get up on stage—if not tonight, then probably next time. This is especially true if you bring paying guests.
I can’t emphasize that last bit enough: if you bring two or more paying guests to watch your open mic set, you are virtually guaranteed to get on stage. Club owners aren’t running a charity with their open mic nights, and demonstrating that you respect their business needs is the surest way to get up on stage.
What to do when you arrive
If the manager’s identity seems obvious, approach them and ask politely if there is any room on the list tonight for an open mic first-timer. Being a comedy virgin will sometimes give you a better shot of getting up. And again, make sure to mention if you brought paying customers, as that will often guarantee you stage time.
If the manager or person running the evening isn’t immediately identifiable, find a comic that looks like they’ve been there before. Approach them with a smile and ask politely who you should speak to about getting on The List. Do not sit around and play it cool; nobody’s going to go around the room soliciting new performers. The fact that you showed up may seem like a big deal to you; tragically, nobody else gives a shit. Be proactive!
Rules of the road
Some unwritten rules of etiquette that a rookie would do well to heed:
- Respect the pecking order. Lots of people are going to go up before you, starting with the professional comedians, then the regulars, then the people who brought more guests than you. This is true regardless of when you showed up; do NOT get your panties in a bunch about it. Understand that simply showing up does not entitle you to anything.
- Be persistent. If you do get bumped on your first night, check in with the manager before you leave about getting on The List for next time. Clubs will often maintain a “bumped list” like this to give you a better chance at the next open mic.
- Stick around for a while after your set, especially if you brought guests. You don’t necessarily need to stay until the very end, but it’s not very good form for you and your guests to dash off right after your stage time (until you’re a regular, at which point you’ve earned that right).
- Don’t sweat it if you suck. Seriously, nobody expects anything else from a first-timer. Since the stakes couldn’t be any lower, why not set all that stress aside and just have a good time?
I’ll tackle stagefright, how to write material, and other open mic topics in future Creating a Comic entries. In the meantime, please feel free to mention anything I left out in the comments.
- Stand-up Comedy Glossary
- Open mic tip: move the mic stand
- Working new material into a stand-up set
- Funny stories are not jokes
- Open Mic: the Bringer Paradox
- The Story So Far
- Please bear in mind that my own experience is limited to open mic nights at Seattle comedy clubs; your mileage will vary wildly based on the region and venue. Seattle is somewhat competitive but it’s nothing like New York and Los Angeles, for example; on the other hand, it’s also a lot different than Spokane or Wichita. Probably. Like I’d ever be caught dead in Wichita. [↩]