Bear with me on this analogy: I golf. I’m not great most days, but sometimes I have what I consider a really good round (+12 on 18 holes). There are a lot of steps I could take to get better. Lessons, cracking open the Golf Digest magazines my father throws in as a Christmas gift, or practicing more on my own. Do I though? Rarely. Whenever someone does take the time to work with me on something, I usually get great results, at least temporarily. Would I love to be a scratch golfer? Of course, who wouldn’t? But I’m not going to put in the effort and work to do that because I’m okay with mediocrity. I compete against my buddies here and there, sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. It’s okay. I’ve been pretty much the same golfer as far as skill goes since 2002. I can golf well enough to not disrupt the flow of the course and cause backup at any particular hole.
I feel like this is the same way a lot of comics treat comedy. They’ve been performing at open mics for some time. Some nights they have what they consider a great set, sometimes they bomb. Occasionally they get advice on a joke from a fellow comic, whether it be a tag line, a rewording or even a “never do that bit again” but for the most part, it’s like my golf game–it’s up to you and your self-motivation to get better. You could go to comedy workshops, read a stupid book that might help, or really work your ass off at writing better material, but you’re content with the plateau you’ve hit, whether you’ll admit that to yourself or not. The thing is, I don’t think most comics mean to be content, just as I don’t mean to be content with my golfing. I envision some point in my life where I get much better. I think most comics probably feel the same way, but much like golfing round after round every summer, going to open mics week after week isn’t going to help you dramatically improve. You’ve got to do more. But much like my golf game, there are other priorities in life: paying bills through another job, relationships, and other activities. It would be wrong to say someone isn’t good enough to be at open mic. What you have to figure out is this–are you actually hurting open mic? It just takes one or two bad sets in a bar scene to walk what little audience the open mic has and make them never return in the future. To continue the metaphor–don’t be that golfer who’s so bad he/she gets the whole course backed up. If any open mic consistently puts on good comics who have great sets, it’s going to last for years instead of months. The crowds will be bigger and you’ll get more useful stage time.
The point of this blog isn’t just, “Hey, don’t suck.” I think there are some comics in every scene who are almost afraid to try and succeed. (Good lord, here comes another metaphor) When I was really young (sorry, I know), and my friends and I were approaching middle school, I was still terrified to talk to girls. Instead of flirting with them like my friends started doing, I chose to just come off as the “weird boy who didn’t really try” because it felt safer and there was no way I could fail if I wasn’t genuinely trying. This is the attitude I want to discourage at open mics. These types of sets will hurt an already small open mic audience and that attitude will make sure you never progress anywhere. So if you find yourself constantly performing jokes where the goal is anything other than making a majority of the audience laugh (blatantly offending, making abstract references that only your comic buddies get/playing to the back of the room, or just getting as dark as you possibly can because nobody “gets” you and it feels good), consider making changes for the sake of the rest of the comics who are there to gauge real audience laughter on their material. It’s okay to try your best, even if it doesn’t work every time. Your parents aren’t there to judge you anymore. They’re waiting at home for you to become successful enough to move out. (<–Completely unnecessary after suffering through all of my metaphors.)
For tips on how to progress through the business and eventually make money as a comic please check out my book Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage available on Amazon, Kindle, Nook, iTunes, etc.