What’s the purpose of open mic?

In this entry I’m not going to tell you what the purpose of open mic is, but instead tell you to have a purpose each time you take the stage for one.  A lot of times we go through the motions after so many years and so many shows that we end up wasting a lot of quality stage time.  There are a lot of factors for deciding what your purpose should be that night, depending on how experienced you are, how many people are in the crowd, and if anyone important is watching.  By important, I mean anyone who could possibly get you a paid gig or (let’s be honest guys in your 20s) have sex with you.  A few other factors can also influence your setlist.  How well is the crowd responding and who are you following in the show?  If a pro goes before you and blows the roof off the place, you’ll need to sacrifice up to a minute or so just to establish you’re funny too with a strong trusted joke.  If the crowd is responding negatively to riskier things, they may not be an accurate barometer for your new bit about (domestic violence, race, etc.).

Sometimes I’ll do an open mic set and only care about one bit out of the four minutes.  It’s the equivalent to going to a driving range and almost exclusively using my 8-iron for a full bucket of balls (I should do that).  Other times I’ll go and do four minutes of jokes that I’ve been doing for years, but haven’t done for months just to keep them in the front of my memory.  Occasionally I just need to have a good set to get some confidence back after a rough one-nighter.  When I first started out, open mic was just the practice of getting on stage, using a microphone, and getting over the nerves.  Overall, I try to use the St. Louis Funnybone Tuesday open mic to pound out new bits over the course of multiple weeks.  Last week I had two new bits work very well, but on the flip side, it was an extremely generous crowd.  I try to play with and tweek the wording and emphasis on certain things for the best result until I find a phrasing I like and can “permanently phrase it” in my act.  I get into a lot more of what to work on and how to make adjustments once you have the words of a joke memorized in my book.

If you’re trying to progress to getting a guest set or to emcee work, it’s important to give your best four minutes as often as possible at the club you’re trying to work at.  The benefit of having multiple open mics in a city is that you can be riskier at the ones where no one important is watching.  Know when and how you can establish a reputation as someone who “brings it” every week at the comedy club’s open mic night.  Eventually you’ll be noticed.

Don’t abuse the troops…

A few weeks ago I talked about standing ovations and had someone message me that they heard a guy end his set with something to the effect of, “I’m a cancer survivor, thank you!”  which led to a standing ovation.  It came out of the blue, he didn’t mention it earlier in his act from what I gathered.  In my book I mention other ways to get cheap applause with some of it more acceptable than others depending on the situation.  Again, I’m not giving my book away on here for free as these weekly entires are only side notes to some of the tips and advice on how to make money in comedy, so I’ll just focus on what seems to be the biggest offender.  (And hear me out as I delicately approach this topic…)

“Keep it going for the troops…”  The line itself is a running joke to a lot of comics.  We’re not disrespecting the troops.  In fact, it really doesn’t have much to do with them (which is why the line shouldn’t be abused).  We support them, obviously.  What we’re laughing about is the blatant pandering that some comics have to resort to.  There’s nothing wrong with having, “He just got back from entertaining the troops in Iraq…” as an intro.  I wish I could say that.  But when you take their hard work and lifestyle and use it as a cheap excuse for applause to your set, I think it’s disrespectful.  If there’s someone from the military in the crowd and you want to give them a round of applause after pointing them out, that’s great…it’s for them.  But when you’re using the line to piggyback a crescendo in your set, or bail you out of a tough spot, that’s selfish in my opinion.  I realize I might catch some crap for this, and I usually keep all advice away from opinions and stick to the facts that I’ve learned from the mouths of successful headliners, but I thought I’d take a risk.  I understand that sometimes at a one-nighter you have to do something to wake up thirty hillbillies who are more interested in Sunday’s pole, but I also include in my book the correct strategies I’ve learned on how to handle places like Muncie, Indiana without taking the cheap route and developing bad habits.

For those that need a second opinion on this matter, listen to Bill Hicks mock the overuse in this bit.  Argue with his fans, not me.

So why can’t we wear shorts?

Since I published Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage in December 2011, I’ve been notified by dozens of comics and a few non-comics whenever they or someone else wears shorts on stage.  Usually it’s done in humor, but there have been a handful of times that people want a deeper explanation (either of these reasons is okay with me).  I’ve come to realize that sometimes they just want to argue, others are mature enough for a real debate.  One way I’ve discovered the difference is that when I want to give my book some credibility, I acknowledge the comments from the comics I quoted on the back (Jimmy Pardo, Tommy Johnagin, and Maria Bamford).  My new rules is this:  If they say, “I don’t know who those comics are!” then it lets me know this person isn’t much of a stand-up comedy fan.  They don’t have to like any or all three of those comics, but if they don’t know who they are (especially Maria), that’s a key to me that this will be like debating what constitutes “good rock music” with a teenager.  “Shinedown rules!”  Sure they do.

Others (close to a dozen actually, so don’t think I’m going after any individuals) have told me that they’ve worn shorts on stage for years.  Well, I’m glad you can get away with it at your venues.  I’m not going to scrap my book.  I titled it that because 99.9% of successful headliners would agree with me (damn you Gabriel Iglesias).  One of the goals of my book was to show you what I have learned from successful comics through the years (I didn’t come up with 71,000 words of advice on my own).  Most of these lessons were learned from conversations I had with headliners before or after shows in green rooms or while I was a doorman in the early years of my comedy career.

People often question whether it’s worth sacrificing pride and “the art of it” to make money in comedy.  How much pride are you sarcrificing in your other job?  Wouldn’t it be great if comedy was the only thing you depended on for income?  That’s another goal my book can help you reach over the long run if you work hard enough.  The comics who I constulted on the various issuess, including not wearing shorts, aren’t clocking in anywhere else.

But Rob, don’t you have another job?  Yes, I’m going to be a full-time English teacher again.  That’s a choice I’ve made and have explained in the book on why I’m okay with not being on the road full-time at this point in my life.  Order here to find out why.

Oh, and to answer the question…Wearing shorts on stage looks unprofessional.  You aren’t allowed to wear shorts in a lot of jobs, comedy is no different.

Being put on the spot

As comics, we have a right to let people know it’s what we do (although some people claim the title of “comic” months or years before they should).  Sometimes we make smartass comments at our other job or to people we don’t mean to offend.  If they know we’re comics, we are forgiven sometimes.  Unfortunately, this title also comes with the burden of those who don’t know any better who will inevitably ask us for a joke.  I hate this.  If I ever write another book about comedy, it will be aimed toward the comedy fan to educate them against things like this.  Stand-up comedy doesn’t work (nor should it have to) on request.  Trust me, I’ve been forced in many of my other jobs, and people have a hard time taking no for an answer.

This week’s lesson, you’re not a joke jukebox.  Metaphor time…Surgeons need a lot of equipment and preparation to perform a surgery.  People don’t just slide up next to a doctor and ask them to take care of a few dozen kidney stones.  If they tried, it would be a total disaster.  Jokes/bits in isolation almost always result in the same kind of disaster.  While substitute teaching I’ve had to deal with a lot of this.  I’ve experimented with jokes (the few that are clean and completely non-offensive) over the years with students, teachers, etc.  It’s amazing how only a few out of twenty get them.  Appreciating humor is a type of intelligence just like being able to do math, read well, or even having musical talent.  It’s no wonder they invented laugh tracks for sitcoms, people are dumb.  People who ask you to do a bit aren’t really asking for comedy, they’re actually saying, “Okay, try and make me laugh.”  When this is their attitude, you won’t be able to.

Here are my suggestions of what you can do.  One option is to tell a street joke to appease the morons (or younger people).  I don’t do this because I don’t want them to think that’s what I do for a living, plus I suck at telling these kinds of jokes anyway.  But if you’re okay with it, that’s fine.  The second thing you can do is simply refuse and just tell them when your next show is.  If you have to, lie about when your next show is if you don’t have one, they aren’t coming anyway (make it on a Wednesday night at 11:00 in the bad part of town).  I usually just tell people “I’m off the clock” and to find my show schedule at my website.  If someone who knows you really wants to “hear your stuff” they should have to make an effort.  It’s not like open mics are turning away customers because it’s too crowded there.

As a comic, have some pride.  Keep your act a mystery that only the patrons of your shows get to enjoy in the proper setting.

Finally, I wanted to point out a common misconception about these posts.  These are not excerpts from Dont Wear Shorts on Stage.  Though there are a few similar topics, especially in the older entires, most of these entries are entirely different.  In other words, you’re not going to learn everything I included in the book just from these posts.  This blog is just a sample of my writing and teaching style, so go check the book out on Amazon, or get a signed copy for the same price at my webpage.  You can also look it up on your Kindle, Nook, or through iTunes for the e-book version.  And as always, thank you to anyone who buys, spreads the word about, or reviews my book or blog.