Monday, August 08, 2005

The Open Mike Archipelago

In order to, shall we say, "hone my craft," and at the same time, get some exposure, I need all the stage time I can get. New York offers plenty of stage time-- there are a lot of places to get up and perform. Oh, you want an actual audience? That's different.

Most of those open mikes will charge a token amount, maybe make you buy a drink, for the privilege of getting up on stage in front of other comedians who can't afford to waste their energy and generosity appreciating your material. Comedians just don't laugh that often or that hard. They hear a good bit, and they can react in a number of ways:

1) "Hmm. Funny. That was nicely constructed. "
2) "Hmm. Funny. It would be funnier if he trimmed that set-up and changed the fish to a baby seal."
3) "Crap. I thought my take on that was original. Did he steal my bit? Did I steal his? If this guy is doing it too, it must be hack."
4) "Huh, what? Did someone say something?"

Okay, I exaggerate. Truth be told, there are many comedians who are supportive and attentive, and it is great to work with them. But there are plenty that are not. Which I understand, but it can be discouraging.

Sometimes you get a laugh, but it's misleading. Sometimes comedians laugh for the wrong reasons. Maybe you surprised them. They expected you to go from A to B and you went from A to D, so they laugh. But a regular audience will go from A to B, maybe C, and when you go to D, the audience may not go with you.

Let me take you now, on a tour of some of the memorable comedians I have been privileged to share the stage with. Please keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times.

There was the time I was in a contest, and I had to follow a woman who delivered a solemn monologue about how much she liked anal intercourse. The audience was still suffering from PTSD as I launched into my brilliant brand of observational humor. ("Hey, folks! What's the deal with airline peanuts?") I got nothing. Except her phone number. (Rimshot, "hi-yo!")

At a another open mike there was a regular who would burst into hysterical laughter. But it was indiscriminate. The laugh got bigger and more random with each beer he drank. After awhile, he wasn't even laughing at punchlines.

There was the guy who's opening line was "I think rape should be legal."

A guy who works as a clown, but whose material includes his experiences with prostitutes. (Who am I to judge? At least he's emotionally connected to his material. And I have to admit, it's interesting.)

A guy who plays a song on his cheek with a pencil.

A ventriloquist who removed her dress and her dummy's dress, and then had the dummy do a pole dance on the mike stand.

Again, who am I to judge? Perhaps one of these people is the next Carrot Top, or Gallagher, or Waylon and Madam. Besides, um, I'm there too. I'm inside the cage. So if I judge, am I not also implicating myself by association?

Some open mikes remind me of the bar scene from Star Wars. I half expect to overhear Han Solo in the corner bragging about the Millennium Falcon. ("You've never heard of the Millennium Falcon? It's the ship that made the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs!")

But it's an interesting place, and I'm comfortable being part of it... for now. Some nights it corrodes my soul; other nights, it's reassuring to see familiar faces, to be with people who would actually notice if I weren't there. These are my peeps, yo. Except for that rape guy.


At 1:29 PM, Blogger k said...

i'm trying to imagine explaining to someone in, say, a removed-from-all-influences-of-western-culture tribe somewhere the reasons why a guy joking about making rape legal is not okay...but a woman who strips with her doll and makes her doll do a pole dance is actually kind of funny.

comedy is fascinating.

nice star wars reference too, by the way.

At 5:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 6:01 PM, Blogger Ish said...

PTSD = Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.


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