One of the things I can tell you with great certainty is that when I made the decision to take a shot at stand-up comedy and started signing up for open mic nights, I was hugely unprepared.
I had a vision in my head about what stand-up comedy was and how it should be done based solely on having watched countless hours of stand-up comedy on TV.
In retrospect, I can also say that the only thing that did for me was leave a big butt mark in my sofa — it was of no value to me whatsoever when it came to my open mic performances.
As a matter of fact, after my first stand-up comedy open mic performance, one of the open mikers approached me and said “You should get Judy Carter’s book on stand-up comedy”.
Well, I did that (and much more) and despite almost memorizing the book contents from cover to cover, it was not much help either.
Related Article: Looking For The Best Stand-up Comedy Books? Check This Out FIRST…
Some Important First Steps
There are two important things that I wish I had done before I attempted to tackle stand-up comedy open mic nights:
1. Attend several live professional stand-up comedy performances. I had been on stage as an open mic comedian 4 times before I made the decision to actually pay to attend a live stand-up comedy performance.
While this would not have helped me in developing my own act, it would have given me a much better feel for the actual laughter levels pro comedians can generate in a live stand-up comedy setting.
That is something you simply cannot experience by simply watching recordings of comedian performances because the audience laughter doesn’t carry over to the individual viewer. Live performances are different than TV.
2. Attend several open mic nights from beginning to end before attempting to get on stage.
This would have allowed me to observe the contrast between open mic shows and live pro performances, allowing me to adjust my expectations accordingly.
But more importantly, had I taken the time to closely observe open mic comedians over several shows, I could have made note of what the open mic comedians were saying and doing that resulted in little to no laughs.
Unfortunately like most who hit the stand-up comedy scene, I was inadequately armed with what I thought stand-up comedy to be — which again was assumed from watching TV (there was no YouTube back then).
Subsequently, my open mic performances were awful. I truly didn’t have a clue about how to develop and deliver a stand-up comedy routine that would even have a chance of getting laughs.
This Aspect Gets Overlooked Too
There is another aspect of stand-up comedy open mic nights that I was completely unaware of until later on in my career which is:
There can be people in attendance at stand-up comedy open mic nights that are in a position to advance a comedian’s career.
I’m not saying that this happens for every show. But there can be agents, talent bookers, casting professionals, films directors and any other type of entertainment professional checking out the “up and coming” comedy talent.
Not only that, but these folks will usually observe new comedians over multiple performances to evaluate the consistency or progress at which they can entertain a variety of audiences.
This is one of the reasons that I harp on the speed at which a comedian can progress. The faster a new comedian can generate big audience laughs consistently, the faster better and better performance opportunities present themselves,
Conversely, the longer it takes a new comedian to generate laughs, the further and further they are “off the radar” so to speak.
The Big Question
Let’s assume that you have made the decision to become a comedian and now you are out to tackle open mic nights.
Here’s the most important question I could ask, which is this:
Are you going to approach open mics largely unprepared like most open mic comedians or are you going to be prepared?
One need only attend a few comedy open mic nights to realize that…
1. Most comedians, even some headliners use notes on stage — then they are amazed that their material flops.
2. Many comedians try to “wing it”, which in most cases seems to create more hecklers than laughs.
3. There is an obvious lack of rehearsal prior to getting to the stage.
4. It is somewhat rare for a new comedian to video their set for performance improvement activities.
That’s mostly because they wouldn’t even know what to look at specifically for improvement even if they did video their performance.
Probably the biggest problem I have seen is that the new comedians don’t really understand what they are doing on stage. They don’t have a good handle on how comedy material is developed or delivered for maximum impact.
In other words…
It’s a complete surprise to the new comedian if their material works at all. If it does work, they really don’t know why.
No matter how you slice it…
It seems to me that most new comedians could benefit from even the most basic education when it comes to developing and delivering stand-up comedy material.
Yet, most seem to be OK with suffering at every possible comedy open mic, expecting that “funny” will just happen in a stroke of luck.
Let me say this — that’s the long, frustrating and very hard approach to developing a killer stand-up act for the stage.