A COUPLE OF DAYS AGO another blogger I follow had a posting about getting up on stage at a stand-up comedy Open Mic. He wrote about using it as a laboratory to try out new material on an audience that, on most nights, isn’t too critical.
I’ve been onstage at more Open Mics than I care to recall. I am proud to say that I survived them all, although there were a few close calls. That can happen whether you are there merely as a performer or as the MC – and can’t run away until the end of the evening.
Going onstage at an Open Mic, for comedians who have some experience, is a place to try out new material without having a club owner mad at you. If they have to pay you and you “Bite it” they get really angry. If you do it on an Open Mic night they don’t even listen. A Perfect Scenario.
While it serves as a lab for some comedians it is a matter of life and death for others. Some people come to Open Mic Night because they have dreams of being the next (fill in the blank). Some come there because they lost a bet, and some others show up strictly because they have stopped taking their medication. How they will do has nothing to do with in which category they fall. This helps to explain why backstage at a comedy club is a cross between a novena to St. Jude and a scene from “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.” I’ve been backstage where some people are vomiting out of fear while others are in the corner muttering to themselves and punching the wall.
I knew one comedian, who shall remain nameless because they are still performing, who had such stage fright that, before going on, would drink several large Coca-Colas spiked with six or seven packets of sugar. Talk about your sugar buzz!
There were a number of nights when I would be the MC and have to decide who went onstage and when, and to maintain discipline among the troops. It was often like trying to herd cats. Newcomers went on early or very late and comedians who were there working out would get the Primetime spots before the crowd was too drunk to notice the difference.
Another part of the MC’s job was to establish the ground rules for the audience as well as the performers. I would explain to the assembled revelers that they would, “…see careers beginning, careers flourishing, and careers ending – sometimes all within the span of five minutes.” For the comedians I had to explain that they would get a certain amount of time and no more. Break that rule and I would turn off the microphone and banish them to Hades.
Most clubs had a no-heckling rule for two reasons.
First – nobody is there to listen to some drunken idiot act a fool, and
Second – you heckle the wrong person and they will either verbally destroy you in front of your friends or, in a few cases, follow you out of the club and ‘go postal’ on you in the parking lot. That warning was usually enough, although some clubs had hired bouncers who could and would physically remove idiots when the MC gave them a nod. Hiring Samoan guys as bouncers usually kept things in order. For some reason they grow ‘em big in Samoa. Big, as in, “Sweet Jesus, where does a person that big buy clothes?”
Perhaps on another day I will blog about “heckler stoppers” – what can be said from the stage to verbally shred the drunken fools in the house who don’t want to obey the rules. Hint: female drunks are the worst.
Despite all of this I urge you to go out to an Open Mic Night at a club near you. It can be a fun and memorable evening, and you might get the chance to tell your friends, “I remember seeing him/her when they were just starting out. I knew they would be big someday.”
Open Mic Night is like a box of chocolates.
You might end up fat and with zits.