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.