How to Increase Status in Your Open Mic Community

Your community of open mic comics can get very catty with cliques, jealousy, gossip, and internet trolling, all while experiencing the inevitable fact that showbiz isn’t fair.  I won’t pretend I was above a lot of that either.  The best way to rise above this cloud of negativity that comes with just about every city’s open mic community is to make yourself useful.  At the early part of your career (first 5 years or so), your talent on stage isn’t going to be enough to let this become a full-time job–which is often a career goal for comics.  To set yourself apart, get more bookings to improve your act and increase networking, you need to bring some other quality/service/skill to your community so that other comics will treat you with respect and want to help you even before your act is polished and have coattails to ride.

Find something else to specialize in–no contribution is too small.   Here are some ideas:

Photography–A lot of comics have “some” college, and if any of that involved an art degree, there’s a good chance you’ve got an overpriced camera and some photography skills.  Comics love posting pictures of themselves at as many venues as possible.  If you can semi-professionally shot a showcase night, it greatly increases your odds of being invited to be on it.

Recording sets–Michael Reigner has been recording a lot of comics in contests with his camera here in St. Louis.  If you have the equipment, try the same in your city.  While your “short films” are a fun hobby, this could actually help you make a couple bucks while not gouging comics to record a strong 5-minute set.  Everyone wins.

Graphic design–Flyers for Facebook, posters for shows, and even help with webpages can be useful. isn’t always the best option, so if you have any skill in this field, help those who need it.

Starting a room–Stryker Spurlock started a room 3 years ago when he was 16 and it’s still going strong.  When you can decide which comics make your show it obviously improves your odds of getting on others’ shows.

Driving–Broken down cars and DWI’s are frequent in this business.  Drive a comic to his or her one-nighter and you’re bound to get a guest set or a chance to MC.  This is a good method to get booked there next time.

Keeping time–Our buddy Max keeps the light at the Funnybone open mic every Tuesday. He’s not a jerk about it and makes sure everyone understands when to get off stage.  It helps the club out too which is beneficial to him.

Buy a round of drinks–Buy me one.  I’ll give you feedback on your set while experiencing the mild euphoria from drinking on an empty stomach.  When has bribery not worked?

Speaking of feedback–be “positive feedback guy” if you’ve got nothing else to offer.  Find a joke in the set that your comic buddy should’ve gotten a bigger laugh from and let him/her know about it afterwards. Point out the strong parts of someone’s act even after a bad set.

Always have a following–If you gain a reputation for always having at least a table or two come out to watch you, comics who book other rooms will definitely appreciate that and remember it.  At one of my first open mics in St. Louis I poked fun at the comic before me.  My buddy said, “Don’t do that.  He brings a half-dozen college girls here every time.”

Post plugs for others–About a month before my book came out, I started sharing every other comic’s CD promo, show promo or any other announcement I could share in hopes they’d return the favor.  Whether the other comic is big-time or just starting out, odds are they’ll appreciate it and maybe return the favor.

Side note–I appreciate all all of the plugs and feedback you have give me over the years.  And whoever put the last post on Reddit–thank you!

For more advice on how to make money in stand-up comedy, check out my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage on Amazon, Kindle, Nook, iTunes, etc.


Why many open mic comics can’t get work

Sometimes I’ll see an open mic comic have a great set with several good jokes.  The next week the same comic has a different five minutes–sometimes better, sometimes worse.  The following week, another completely different set.  I’ve heard it a lot from the newer guys: “I try and write a new five minutes every week.”  Writing and trying out as much material as possible is great, and these comics are probably going to multiple open mic shows per week, but it can be counterproductive.  If several of your jokes or bits work well, keep using them.  Even if a joke “kills” (or the open mic version of “kills”) on its first try, that doesn’t mean it can’t improve.  Yes, sometimes your newest jokes get the best laughs the first time you say them, but let them grow and develop.  Building a great act is all about revision and fine-tuning your material.  If you keep starting from scratch, you’ll never develop a solid set that gets work.

When you repeat a joke over and over, eventually you’ll develop a punchline in the setup too.  You’ll also think of tag lines and transitions into your other jokes.  Memorize the wording so that you can say it in your sleep because when the wording no longer takes any thought on your part, you can focus on which words to stress more, eye contact with the crowd, facial expressions, and all of the other elements and details that expert headliners use.  You can also develop callbacks with your other bits.  This also makes it easier to remember your setlist which is beneficial during a paid show.

I’ve talked to a lot comics about this over the years and they often say, “But I feel like it’s boring for the other comics who have to hear me repeat things.”  That shouldn’t matter.  It’s your career and if you can get out on the road, you’ll constantly be getting a new audience in a different city.  Repeating material doesn’t mean you’re not writing or working to get better.  Take the 2 or 3 bits that do the best and work on revising them until they can’t get any better.  Keep them in your act and build your first MC set.

Comedy is like other forms of writing whether it be songs, books, or essays.  No one produces anything great without revision.  To cite an example, Greg Warren has been coming out to open mic on Tuesdays and working through the same bits for the last month or so.  He’s not trying to write a new 5 minutes every week, but instead, polishing and perfecting the newer bits in his set.

You still have time to try something new in each set, but build a solid foundation first. Club managers look for consistent audience laughter week after week, not a new five minutes.  (And the most common type of revision?  Reducing the wording in the setup.)

To summarize: Find your best punchlines and revise those into tight bits.  Build on them until you get a 7-10 minute set of them where you don’t need a setlist because you’re so familiar with them, and then you’ll be ready to MC and start getting paid.

For other tips on how to make money in stand-up, check out my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  It’s also available on Kindle, Nook, iTunes, etc.