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.