How Be an Open Mic Comedian... Forever!
After living here in Los Angeles and attending many, many open mic nights and listening to many, many stand up comedians, I have decided to distill my accumulated knowledge into the following handy guide for anyone who wishes to perform stand up comedy at open mic nights. I present it here as a public service.
First of all, you don't need to memorize your act. This is a common misconception. Just make notes beforehand and put them on the stool when you get to the mic. If you forget or misspeak a punchline, simply stop the act, turn your back to the audience, and consult your notes. Take as long as you need.
Help yourself to a beer or three before going on. This will help you "loosen up." If you don't like beer, try smoking some marijuana cigarettes, or ingesting powdered cocaine nasally via a straw in a bathroom stall. If you don't have a straw, you can roll a dollar bill into a tube! It's important you feel your creative best, so use whatever works for you, whether it's methamphetamines or horse tranquilizer. You'll also want to keep a beer handy on stage to swig between jokes while you wait for the gales of laughter to die down.
You don't need to rehearse your act. People who tell you this are just jealous of your talent and trying to "psych you out" - DON'T FALL FOR IT! Your extremely hidden natural funniness will spring forth once you are in front of an audience. How could your natural ability to amuse coworkers and friends in casual conversation fail you when confronted by a room full of angry drunken strangers and an improperly grounded microphone? IT CAN'T! It's that simple!
Obviously, every comedian's act is going to be different. But here are some touchstones you MUST make jokes or humorous observations about. If you have no material that fits into the following categories, then you should just give up on ever making it at open mic nights and go get a real job in comedy.
Demean other races and nationalities. Boy, people from other countries- what's up with that?! This can be a bottomless wellspring of comedy gold. For one, there's almost a DOZEN different countries! And people live in all of them! Try to concentrate on two or three of the most prevalent nationalities in your area. In fact, check the audience for some. If you see some, be sure to point them out, repeatedly, after each punchline. However, remembering all those different countries is hard. To make it easier, you may wish to lump them into races.
Key points to remember (in no particular order):
The audience should be screaming in hysterics by this point. In fact, after you've been rolling on this topic for a bit, you don't even necessarily have to have jokes anymore. Just express your honest and forthright opinions about whatever lesser race irritates you most!
- How they are inferior (enumerate specific instances!).
- What they do different from real people.
- How stupid they sound when they talk (remember, exaggeration is the key!).
- How stupid they look (stretch your face as needed to illustrate).
- Suggest perhaps they should be rounded up into camps.
Demean the other sex. Many people are unaware of the differences between men and women. You must enlighten these poor, ignorant people. While onstage, make it your personal crusade. Impress upon the audience the supreme superiority of whatever sex you happen to be. Use your own bad experiences with the opposite sex to make broad sweeping generalizations about them.Your significant other will be happy to be held up as a comedic example, especially about sexual matters. Speaking of bad experiences....
Mine your personal tragedies for comedy gold! If you were brutally beaten or raped, share your story with the audience. This will make the audience feel "at ease" with you and help them laugh more. And after all, they came to laugh, didn't they?
Bodily functions! Everyone has them! This gets the audience on YOUR side as you point out, hey, we're all human beings, here, right? Bring the audience together and celebrate humanity's essential oneness with a good fart or turd joke.
Audience participation. Audiences love to be involved! That's why they sit there passively. They're just waiting for you to involve them! They're just shy! Go into the audience and pick people at random. Look for people avoiding eye contact with you and ask them some personal questions, such as their name, their occupation, and their deeply held religious beliefs. Then make a joke about it! If none springs to mind, just joke about how ugly and stupid they are. The audience will thank you - with laughter!
WHAT TO DO IF NO ONE'S LAUGHING
No laughs? First of all, this will never happen in a million billion years. But sometimes, in extremely rare cases, you may not hear the enormous whooping guffaws from the audience you so obviously deserve. Here's a handy checklist to see what the problem might be:
1. Check the microphone. Obviously they can't laugh if they can't hear you. Make sure the microphone is working. Try saying "Is this thing on? Hello?" repeatedly until you get a response.
2. Check the audience. Obviously you can't get laughs without an audience. The bright lights don't allow you to see the audience very well. Make sure they are still there. Shade your eyes and squint at them. Demand to know if anyone is there. If not, they were probably a bunch of your enemies who came just to leave midway through and make you look bad. Explain all this to any remaining audience members, and you will win their sympathy, their hearts, and ... their laughs!
3. Are you using enough profanity? It's possible that you may have forgotten to use profanity in your standup for a stretch of several minutes. If that's the case, no wonder the audience stopped laughing! Rectify the situation immediately with a string of forceful expletives.
4. Are you in front of a brick wall? Standup comedy should not be performed in front of any non-brick wall. Having assured yourself there is a brick wall, make sure you haven't strayed too far from it.
Let's say you've checked all of these possibilities and it isn't any of them, but the audience is still NOT LAUGHING. Obviously something is very, very wrong. And it's the audience. You have just got every comedian's worst nightmare: an audience full of complete morons. Statistically, the chance of your audience all being complete morons is very low. And yet it seems to be a problem endemic to open mic nights. Scientists believe that open mic nights may actually attract idiots. So be on your guard! If a joke doesn't get a laugh, first express disbelief that they aren't laughing. Feel free to shake your head. Then stop your act- you must get to the bottom of this.
Follow this procedure:
- Explain the joke to the audience, in case they're so incredibly stupid they don't get it. Any joke is enhanced by explanation! Explain the explanation, if you have to.
- Point out to the audience that this exact same material killed, KILLED last week. They're sure to laugh, once they know how well this material has worked in the past.
- Point out how ungrateful the audience is being. Remind them how lucky they are to be being entertained at all, especially for a measly $10 cover, $10 drink (two-drink minimum) and $10 parking charge.
- Insult the audience. Harangue them. Try to shock them out of their stupor by telling them what a bad audience they are. Tell them it's all their fault. They should straighten up and fly right then.
- If after all this, they still don't laugh, you have every right to be bitterly angry at these troglodyte philistines. It's not fair that you should get stuck with such a stupid, stupid audience. Since there's no point in trying to perform when angry, vent at the audience until you feel better. Also, this may generate nervous laughter. Once you feel you have vented your feelings, then and only then, should you move on to other material.
If you follow all of these simple guidelines, I guarantee you that you will continue to perform stand up comedy at open mic nights... forever!
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