Tuesday, December 11, 2007

My First Open Mic Experience


This is going to sound like "the summer essay" that we were assigned in grade school--"How I spent my summer vacation." As Tollbooth Willie would say about me, "You unoriginal bastard!" But anyway, let us begin...

My first experience in comedy was at an open mic in the back of a dingy restaurant. It smelled of a nondescript stale beer mixed in with the smell of a room that hasn't seen sunlight since the day it was built--- like your high school buddy's basement. It was a relatively packed house. Anywhere from 15-20 people all crowded around a small box, set for a stage. (Yeah, we were supposed to believe a 4ft x 3ft x 2ft box was a stage.)

When I walked in, somebody was already on stage, ranting into mic. (I cringed thinking about the number of microorganisms growing on that petri dish of a mic.)

There was no real comedy. Just ranting. No one was laughing. The lack of laughter was sort of disconcerting, since after all, it was a comedy show--the only thing missing were laughs. And yet the performer didn't seem to notice. He was embittered, but not noticeably nervous. I think his confidence grew out of his familiarity with the subject matter--his ex-wife. He spewed vitriol. What baffled me was that his misogynistic rant was received as completely normal, at least to the audience. The crowd was unfazed by his hateful complaint speech. There seemed to be a collective acceptance. I would compare it to the Roman Catholic church--the congregation doesn't understand the entire liturgy, but they bow their heads in agreement anyway--knowing whatever mindless gibberish was being uttered something they needed to hear.

Finally, the host pounced on stage to break up the pin-drop silence. He was overzealous (which I later come to find out most hosts are). Apparently, that's their M.O.--to be over-the-top! They're there to be the vocal thermostat for the crowd; to bring them up when they're down. And to cool them off when they're too hot.

It was then that I decided to grab a seat--somewhere in the back, where I wouldn't be noticed. But I didn't know the host was paying such close attention to anyone but himself and his over-the-top antics. A good host knows the room, knows where every warm body is seated. He knows the pace, knows the energy (feels the energy), reads the crowd. So he did see me come in and asked me a direct question: Was I a comedian?

I hesitated. I has to ask myself the same question: Was I a comedian? That question was followed by another series of paranoid questions: "Why would he ask me that? Did I look like a comedian? Did I have a sign on my back? How did he know? Was he psychic?" Enough time has passed for him to grow a disturbing grimace on his face.

"Uh, no. I'm just here to watch."
"Oh, okay. Then that'll be 5 dollars."
" 5 dollars?"
" 5 dollars to watch. 7 to perform."

Ugh, what steep prices for basic entertainment, nowadays. I had to pay to stay. So I begrudgingly pulled out 7 hard earned dollars--dollars I wasn't ready to part with. After all, if I was going to stay and continue my observations, I might as well get on stage as a perk.

The host pulled out a clipboard with some paper, with a long list of names.

"Okay what's your name?" he expectantly asked. Again my paranoia kicked back in. "My name?" I thought. "Why does he need my name?"

"Lu... uh... Lu... cy... Lucy," as if first learning to pronounce my name.

"Lucy? That's it?" His pushy tone was beginning to annoy me. "What's your last name?"

"Dee. Lucy Dee."
"D? Like the letter "D"?"
"Like D...E...E..."
"Okay," as he scribbled my name in the last slot.
"Am I last?"
"Yeah, I can put you up earlier, if you want."
"No-no." I quickly back-peddled. "Last is fine."

Perfect. Everyone will leave the restaurant by the time I go up on stage. Little did I know about comedy etiquette, and that most, if not all, comedians will stay right up until the last comedian performs. Comedians know that we thrive off of having an audience. So unfortunately, to my chagrin, I had my audience, a comedian audience, of about 5 people--still an intimidating number people to a first-timer.


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8 comments:

Pablothehat said...

mmmmmm nondescript stale beer!!!

Anonymous said...

what a tease!

You ended the story before you even got onstage!

Hopefully, we'll get to hear the rest of the story in part 2.

Laughing through my chardonnay said...

How did you do? Did you get laughs?

With an audience of nothing but comics you are 1 of 2 things; 1 completely screwed or 2 set for a great crowd.

I used to work in that business so if I can offer any advise it would be to do as many open mics as possible, work in your material constantly, try to find a niche/styke that works for you, don't swear too much and last but not least, don't take other people's material.

Mile High Pixie said...

how cool! I've only done some material for my stand-up class, and that was 6 years ago. Finish the story--I want to hear how it ends!!

GoldenBoy said...

Still the toughest road in showbiz...but with comics in the house, didja get any laughs? If you didn't they might have been busy writing down your material.

Lucy said...

Pablo the Hat - Yeah, it's funny. I would have said cigarettes instead of beer (which the room did have a vague scent of), but they have since banned smoking indoors in NYC businesses.

Anonymous - A tease? I didn't know you were reading so intently. (lol) Okay, Anon. Just for you, Part 2, coming up!

Laughing Through my Chardonnay - You and Anon. are in cahoots.

Comedian crowds are an aberration from what you would normally get in an audience. But good practice nonetheless. They're a good barometer as to the effectiveness of your jokes. If you're lucky, you'll get some personal feedback from them.

You "used to work in the business"? What made you stop? That gives me a bit of concern.

All the advice you mention is good. I'll eventually write about all those topics. They are all great fodder for scintillating blog posts.


Mile High Pixie - You're an old hand, Mile High. You know the deal. You're a practiced comedienne, yourself. In fact, I would like to hear/read your "first time" story.

Goldenboy - Now I'm convinced you all are in cahoots. Laughs. It's always about the laughs. What about me? What about my dreams? My goals? (lol)

Is there a collective paranoia about joke stealing? Is there a conspiracy?

Amey said...

Hey, where's the climax?

RoG said...

That post was so unsatisfying! What happens next? The suspense is awful!