For the ladies of open mic. . .

I’m going to make a prediction. I predict this entry gets more hits than any other previous entry even though less than 5% of most open mic nights are populated by women. Although most of the advice in this entry is for women, there are still a few tips for the guys as well, so read on.

In my book I consulted my friend Maria Shehata for some pointers (and warnings) for female comics. Maria has frequented the stages of New York and L.A. and has even appeared on Comedy Central so she knows what she’s talking about. For the specifics in this entry I consulted some other female comics who wish to remain anonymous because they probably already have enough stalkers.

(Note: The following is based on the many email communications I had with female open mic comics, so if you disagree, blame my anonymous sources…or just go punch yourself in the face.)

First the disadvantages that ladies at open mic will have to overcome. Other than the awkwardly aggressive male comics trying to get phone numbers, women are often stereotyped as not funny. At some open mics, most of the comics aren’t funny so if there are women who perform that risks making the stereotype worse. If there are two women on the show and they both suck they’ll be remembered more than the dozen guys out of fifteen who also weren’t funny. Whether you’re male or female, your’s still a beginner. Men also cringe at the thought of what women are going to talk about on stage. Periods! Abortions! More periods! If I were to advise a female beginner I would say stay away from these things, but for a different reason. The same reason I would advise a male beginner to avoid the typical beginner topics of masturbation and other dick jokes. This is all explained (here it comes) in my book.

Another disadvantage brought up is the lack of female mentoring in the comedy community. There are PLENTY of male comics who will try to mentor (court) the “cute little ladies” and eventually take one on the road with them whether they’re ready or not (they’re not), but how many local scenes have women who are good enough to mentor but aren’t always on the road?

There aren’t as many famous female headliners out there so a lot of times a newer female comic will get accused of trying to be one of the few who are successful. She’s trying to be Kathy Griffin. Just because she talks fast? As mentioned in a previous post, comics will often try to emulate a pro before they find their voice, especially early on.

I do have one quote from Amy Milton (a St. Louis open mic comic who has the most well-written jokes I’ve ever heard for someone who’s only been performing for only six months). “One of the rudest things a male comic can do to a woman at an open mic is to apologize for saying something rude.” In other words guys, don’t get all politically correct just because there’s a woman around. They’re comics, they get jokes too. If they didn’t then they wouldn’t be there.

Let’s be honest, in a male dominated business appearance counts. Other than pharmaceutical sales, what business that should be gender-balanced as far as opportunity, is so advantageous for women when they’re attractive? I don’t blame the women who have taken advantage of this, I blame the men doing it (Especially whoever renewed Whitney for a 2nd season). Whatever they do will garner attention. If they can overcome the male crowd member thought process of “There’s no way she can be attractive and funny,” with a solid few minutes up front, the stereotype will go away for that show. (Won’t it?) Yes, there are going to be some idiotic members in the crowd who don’t like you, but dumb crowd members affect us all at some point.

So to sum up the advice…Guys, don’t hit on (there’s a difference between talking to and hitting on) or apologize to female open mic comics. And ladies, it might be a steeper climb to the initial success, but once you get to a certain point that momentum is in your favor.

Open mic openers

My last two sets at open mic haven’t gone as well as I would had liked.  A new joke I’ve been doing that worked well the first time fell flat the last two weeks.  In my book I have a section on “Why jokes no longer work” that explains the multiple reasons why a once successful joke dies, but in my current case, it’s a completely different reason that can be fixed.  I didn’t take my own advice from two weeks ago.  This joke is a longer bit and by opening my last two open mic sets with it, I wasn’t able to establish whether I was funny or not to the crowd right away.

The key lesson is to open your set with a quick joke or two that gets right to the punchlines.  Recently I had a fellow comic ask me if he should change his opening joke at open mic because he had been using it to start his set every week for awhile.  I told him to keep opening with it because it was quick, funny, and established who he was on stage right away.  These are all very important.  Yes, open mic is a place we test new bits and we only get four minutes to do so, but to give other jokes a fair chance sometimes we have to establish that we’re funny to the crowd first.  No one hates having to use the same opening joke or two week after week more than me, but it looks like it’s the most effective way to give the rest of the set a fair chance.  So this Tuesday, if you’re one of the St. Louis comics, we’ll see if it makes a difference in how my new bit (about starting line-ups) does.

It took me nine years to find an opening joke that worked well enough to keep.  Openers are actually harder to find than closers because of the length restraints.  By the time you get to your closer the audience is on board with you and knows who you are as a character.  The role of the opening joke must establish that, be funny, and do it in a much shorter amount of time.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel with your opener.  There are some common ways to do it which again are mentioned in my book.  What’s with all this heavy marketing and plugging, Rob?  Is the book finally completed?  Why yes, yes it is!  I’m waiting for the final proof to be sent to my apartment (Tuesday the 20th) and then I’ll be taking orders (since you have the Internet, you’ll know).  In the meantime work on writing that opening joke that quickly establishes you’re funny and gives the audience a sense of who you are.  For further example (St. Louis friends), watch how Patrick Brandmeyer does is it correctly.  It’s been the key to one of St. Louis’s most improved comics.

The Back Cover

Here’s the back cover to my book that is awaiting final approval and first printing from the publisher. I hope to be accepting orders by next week (I won’t take any orders until I know it’s completely ready). Thank you again to my brother, Dave, for making this back cover and front cover perfect for my book.


Next week’s blog will be based on a mistake I made last Tuesday at open mic night.  It involves which joke you open with.

How should comedians influence you?

As a doorman at the Columbus Funny bone (’00-’02) I saw a lot of comics come through and eventually one became my early influence, Dave Attell.  I didn’t steal any of his material of course, but on a couple of my jokes I tried to use his mannerisms (posture and tone).  It wasn’t until another comic (Josh Sneed) called me out on it that I realized it wasn’t helping my act.  Nothing about me resembled Attell so it made for an awkward mesh.  As mentioned last week, club managers (who you always want to impress) and other comics recognize faults like this and before you know it you have a reputation bordering “hack” …or just dork.

Early on in your career you’ll have at least one or two comics who you idolize so much that they become an influence on your performance.  When I started out a lot of comics had an obvious influence from Bill Hicks and/or George Carlin.  Some of these influences were pretty obvious because beginners would just try to steal their jokes for laughs at open mic night.  In today’s scene, comics like Mitch Headburg are still inspiring weak imitations to even those who never saw him live.

As you mature as a comic and “find your voice” (I hate this phrase too, but it applies) these influences should fade away quite a bit.  Until then, realize what the comics you admire do well and emulate that in your own way.  Observe how clean Brian Regan is and try that for once.  Watch how theatrical some comics like Kevin James make each bit as they act it out.  Try not to pick an energy level which mirrors that of another comic.  The amount of energy you use in your act should be a fairly natural representation of how much energy you communicate with in real life.

I still think there are too many low energy comics out there trying to be Steven Wright.  It might work at your friendly neighborhood open mic, but when you’re performing at a one-nighter in a loud bar where most of the patrons are upset because the bartender had to turn their game off in the 4th quarter because your “little comedy show” is starting, they’re going to jump all over you.  If you want to someday become a professional comic, these one-nighters are where you’re going to pay a lot of your dues (they also help you pay your rent so get used to them.).

The message is that you shouldn’t go out and “pick” a style to do because it takes you further away from finding your voice.  When you’re being funny at work or around friends, that’s who you are.  No one gathers their friends around and tells a funny story by slowing it down or acting like another comic.

I’ve written much more about this topic, including the other way-too-popular style, in my book.  I also address the dozens of other challenges that come along with one-nighters including the gigs that you should never take and the strategy to take on the ones you do.  It’s getting close to printing time and I appreciate all of your support (over 1000 hits in the first month–thank you!).

The problem with storytelling…

What’s wrong with storytelling?

One of the biggest misconceptions beginner comics have is thinking that a funny story that happened in life is going to be funny on stage. After all, doesn’t the best comedy come from real life? Isn’t that how the masters like Bill Cosby perform most of their act? Shouldn’t I have a third rhetorical question just to follow the rule of three?

The first problem is that a short set of four to seven minutes isn’t the right context to tell a story. If you have a four minute set you need to get several laughs per minute. I don’t just mean little chuckles, you need to have several hard-hitting punchlines. If the first minute of your story doesn’t have a punchline here’s what the audience is thinking…“This comic sucks too. I need another beer. My sister was right, I should’ve just invited him over for a DVD instead of letting him take me to this open mic night that he swears was funnier last time. What is this guy in a dumb t-shirt babbling about? I haven’t heard a joke yet.” So by the time you get to the “funny” part of your story the audience already hates you. (Hate is a strong word, how about detests.) The key is making them legitimately laugh at least twice in the first minute.  You have to use obvious punchlines rather than implied punchlines.

The other problem is that things that happen in life are funny-ish, but unless you really know the people involved (the crowd doesn’t know you or your pals) there’s a ceiling. Real life just doesn’t provide that many ridiculously funny moments. So when you tell a long story you may as well use the tagline, “You had to be there.“ If you insist on telling a story, as a comic you need to rewrite the story with different details. Remember that classmate in elementary school who always lied about stuff but you didn‘t realize it until years later? There’s no way he had nine pet snakes! Be like him. Embellish. Exaggerate. Twist things around to make them more absurd. Good stand-up only feels like the truth. Find those moments in your head where you wish you would’ve said something clever; now write the bit so that you did say something clever. Think of some what-if moments. Stephen King said he never tries to write scary things, he just takes situations and says, “Wouldn’t it be funny if–?” and that’s how most of his story ideas start.

Try not to mimic the style of comics on television. It’s like trying to learn guitar by watching footage of Jimi Hendrix. I realize that’s giving way too much credit to a lot of the comics on television, but realize they’re a lot more advanced and can pull tougher things off. (Should I use a golf metaphor instead?)

Thank you for all of the positive feedback on this blog, I’m glad it’s helping some of you. None of these blogs are just a cut-and-paste from my book. There are similar topics so I wanted to give you a taste of my writing style and the kinds of things the book covers. A lot of early parts are how to avoid common mistakes. As far as the joke-writing process, the above blog is about as far as I go into “how” to write your act. Other books claim to show you how to do that but I don’t think a book can teach funny. A few of you have told me that you’re hoping to make money from comedy someday. My book definitely outlines the methods of becoming an opener as well as explains how comedy contests work. Feel free to sign up here for the email alert for the moment it’s published (should be less than two weeks!).