If I go there will be trouble and if I stay it will be double

I'd rather not do mics at all. But until I'm at a point where I can get stage time on booked shows every night, well...what else am I gonna do? I know some comics who, despite not getting booked all the time, prefer to just avoid mics. But I still feel like I get something from the workout, despite the negatives.

Thinking of all this because Abbi Crutchfield suggested this as a guest post:

Open mics are an essential component of getting stage time, especially for less established comedians who do not have immediate access to being booked on shows. In addition to being an opportunity to grow as a comedian, they are a chance to get to know fellow performers, learn about new or existing shows, or get excellent accounting advice.

Nothing hurts your chances of establishing professional relationships more like leaving early. Even bombing on stage can be forgiven if you showed respect off stage. It follows the same bleeding heart logic robotically announced to you at the top of the night, "Do for others what you would appreciate when you're on stage." Sure there's no heckling, no writing, no staring open-mouthed, nostrils flared which are always appreciated, but seeing people duck out immediately after their set is a signal. To the host it sends the message that you had a horrible time and can't wait to leave, to the comics it sends the message that you think you're better than them or don't care what they have to say. I don't even want to imagine the hurtful message you're sending the chairs.

If you need to leave early, let the host know ahead of time. If you receive an unexpected text that takes you away, or if you have a two-hour commute back to your parent's house, live your life. But be mindful of the conversation it creates in your absence, the one that represents the positive feedback you could have received about your set or better yet--the chance to do less open mics and get on a booked show.

Slight problem. I often leave mics early. So my response:

interesting. i'm guilty of that sometimes.

why do i do it? i find mics to be insufferable. like they really drive me crazy. they sap my will to live. but i need stage time. so what do i do? do i stop going to mics? do i sit there and pout and fill the room with negative energy? or do i just force myself to smile and pretend i don't hate something that i hate?

i try to stick around for at least a few comics after i go up. i agree it's the polite thing to do. but overall, i figure it's the luck of the draw. if i go up late and a lot of people have left, i understand and figure it'll work out by me going up early another time.

Abbi replied:

Why do you hate it so much? I'm not being naive; I'm asking. I used to hate mics that were interminable, had hosts who would pick on any real audience there, or producers who would hog the stage. Not only was I getting home late, but I was spending hours being miserable. The unfunny comedian issue wasn't that big a deal for me. At the very least, the inanity is entertaining. But that's a bad mic. How awful can it be to stick around a good mic and glean ideas / laugh at buddies / impress producers of other shows? (By "good mic" I mean conveniently close to where you live or lasts short enough for you to enjoy home life, features people at your level or genuninely working to hone the craft, has an attentive crowd or draws a civilian audience, friendly, respectful vibe).

As host of a mic, I see younger, inexperienced comics who are so self-interested or embarrassed about bombing that they bolt after their set. One guy in particular would leave immediately after his set so often I had to put him up towards the middle or end so as not to spook the other young comics and create a domino effect. There's never a good reason to stick around a bad mic, just a little hope in staying and getting something out of a good mic.


Most comics at open mics are bad. And I hate bad comedy. It pains me. It's like going to a concert where a bunch of people are playing instruments that are out of tune. It's like nails on a chalkboard except the chalkboard is my brain. If I sit through too much of it, it takes away my love of standup.

And maybe the thing that pains me the most: A lot of these people are interesting. At least in some way. I just wish they'd go up onstage and talk. But instead they write these silly jokes that mean nothing and aren't really funny. At least if these people said what was actually going on in their minds or in their lives, it'd be somewhat compelling. Instead, it's just ten more jokes about the phrase "no homo."


Most GOOD comics at open mics are bad! All early ideas are weak because they're undeveloped. People try to write in joke format in an effort to make sure whatever their idea is will be funny. Your problem is with content. Are they REALLY that annoyed with unicorns? Or are they just referencing unicorns because they feel it makes them absurdist?

The real life stuff--yeah, I think there's more humor in truth, but if that's delivered from a hand holding a shaking piece of paper you couldn't care less about it anyway. The mic isn't bad. The people on it aren't lost causes. It's the bad attitudes that kill it. The funk creeps in like The Blob. The kind of mic hopelessly dreadful folks should be on is the one at Gotham that requires you to offer constructive feedback to each other. Because then someone who wraps themselves in mic chords is told "don't wrap yourself with the mic chord." For the record, I am told I have an unusually high tolerance for bad comedy.


soce said...

Anyone looking for the shortest mic in town is highly encouraged to drop by Positively Awesome: Night Shift. It's generally around 15 minutes long total, and each performer gets 5 minutes to do whatever they want.

As for other mics, I agree that I have definitely seen amazing performers perform terribly at the mics, which I am fine with because you have to start somewhere with your new material. Also if they did it at a booked show, it would most likely get many more laughs, because the audience would be ready to laugh (instead of focused on their own sets / networking).

If I had more free time, I would definitely do multiple mics per night. I think it's good to stay for at least 5 or so total sets per show. And the best mics are the shorter ones, preferably an hour or less so that you can get in and out without too much pain.

I've certainly done 8 hour mics quite often when I first moved to nyc, and they had their moments, but they can be pretty crushing after a while, unless you're viewing them as an opportunity to network and socialize, or if you really like sitting through 8 hours of new material.

My name's Josh Guarino said...

In the end, it's all about getting good. Staying for an entire open mic doesn't make you a better comedian. It may make you a better person, but it's not helping your performance. Maybe if you're followed by Louis CK or Dave Attell, etc. But you're probably more likely to be followed by Mitch Hedberg than any of those guys. If the choice is stay for the entire mic or make it to another mic in time to do a second set, it's in your benefit to leave. I don't hold a grudge against anybody for leaving before I take the stage. Some of my best friends in comedy will probably miss my set four out of five times at open mics. That's just the way it goes. We're all trying to get better.

myq said...


Regarding using open mics to become a better comedian, there could certainly be an argument made that, collectively, comedians would all benefit by not just bolting immediately after their sets, if you agree with the idea that having more people watch and react to your set should make you a better comedian than having no one there or paying attention.

In the free-for-all no-man's-land where everyone just did their set and only paid attention to their own business and then left, then everyone suffers. Maybe the people who are fortunate enough to go on first have a shot at getting people to pay attention to them more, because there are more people there, but if shows generally randomly distribute comics, then you'll just as often end up at the shit end of that distribution as well.

So if people are utilitarians and able to sacrifice at least a BIT of their time/chalkboard brain for the greater good, then everyone can benefit.

(Given that not everyone necessarily thinks this way, I think it makes sense that some mics have an incentive for comics to stay until the end, be it another chance to perform for a few minutes, money, prizes, etc. That way you get to be a better comic OR at least a richer one.)

Gonzalo said...

I've often wondered how long I should stay at a mic before I'm considered a jerk. I don't fault anyone for leaving before my set though. I usually stay for a few after me. I think realistically, if you are doing mics seven nights a week, you can't stick around for all of them or else you will go insane.

Leaving immediately after your set every time you perform can be really inconsiderate. Obviously, sometimes you have to leave for whatever reason. I think if you stay for an extra three to five comedians, you are doing your part. Going up last to an empty room is just the luck of the draw in my opinion.

My name's Josh Guarino said...

I think my post may sound like a defense of leaving immediately after your set. I'm in agreement with Gonzalo and Matt that staying for at least three comics after you is good form.

Gonzalo said...

You're not fooling anyone, Josh! We know you're a huge jerk!

Alex Grubard said...

"A lot of these people are interesting. At least in some way. I just wish they'd go up onstage and talk. But instead they write these silly jokes that mean nothing and aren't really funny." - Ruby

Y'know what? After years of going to open mics what Matt is talking about here has become one of the reasons I go to open mics. If I quit stand-up tomorrow (don't start crying) I would still go to open mics sometimes just to watch. Creepily. Front row center.

They're fascinating. Why do people do the jokes they do?

It's a whole different kind of show and you have to get in that mode. If a "show" is where people do their best stuff then why should anyone expect to be laughing consistently at an "open mic"? The fun of open mics is seeing someone discover a new funny idea. Watching a stand-up open mic is like watching an improv show (even though I know you all hate watching those too).

As far as leaving... eh, doesn't bother me much. I'd rather people stay, but I brush it off. There's MUCH worse issues with most mics than attendance:
-Pay to play
-Inexperienced hosts
-Uninterested audience
-Palpable bitterness
-No line up cap
-Signing up friends
-Normand's whistle

And I'm a hypocrite, by the way. But hey! There's just so much stage time in NYC. Yet somehow it's not even close to enough.

Anonymous said...

I am shocked that either Matt or Abby would consider participating in an open mike.

people worth meeting: zero
opportunity to gauge your own jokes: minimal
affect on your attitude: negative

I'm sure plenty of people could spend paragraphs explaining why open mikes suck, but if you're good enough that open mikes depress you then you're too good to spend time caring about them.

There are a few exceptions.


That said, I find it simpler to learn from terrible comics than from great ones. Great comics work a mysterious magic of infinite perfected nuances. Often bad comedians are bad for a few huge, easily discernable reasons. If you can perfect not-sucking, I imagine you'll become good by default.

myq said...

Yeah, all you have to do to write great jokes is to just listen to all the jokes that AREN'T great, and then just write the opposite.

Or take a blog of marble, and just chip away at everything that doesn't look like great jokes.

PS Just wanted to clarify also, I know this is a blog about being a comic in NYC, and I've probably said this before about open mics outside of NYC, but just in case other people other places are reading and don't know (like I didn't before I moved to NYC): open mics in other towns are actually often good places to work out material, places audiences might go to enjoy comedy from newcomers (and/or experienced folks working on new stuff), etc.

The NYC open mic is a weird animal.

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