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The Virtual Comedy Open Mic: What You Need To Know

This article has been selected for inclusion in the SCF Course.

Once the Covid pandemic made its way across the globe, a new construct to “work out” stand-up comedy material rapidly came into play called the virtual comedy open mic.

If you don't know what that is...

A virtual comedy open mic is basically a video conferencing call with multiple participants using Zoom or some other platform where comedians can “perform” for an open mic audience of attendees in order to see if their stand-up material is solid.

At first glance, this sort of virtual open mic “performance” appears to have a number of advantages:

  • No travel expenses to “perform”
  • No risk of contact with people potentially covered up from head to toe with Covid
  • No mask required to “perform”


Vital Details Before You Proceed

My professional opinion on this issue is somewhat stark and will certainly not be for all which is:

The virtual comedy open mic --- presented as some sort of viable “performance opportunity” for comedians is by and large a major boondoggle and yet another means for the world of stand-up comedy to embrace mediocrity.

But I strongly recommend that you read this entire article (including the section below about theft of stand-up ideas and material) before you make any sort of judgment about participating in any virtual comedy open mics for yourself.

Before I continue, let me be crystal clear:

Using a video conferencing platform with other comedians in order to help each other flesh out their individual comedy ideas and develop comedy material can be an outstanding idea.

However make no mistake --- a “virtual comedy open mic” should not be characterized or peddled as anything that can effectively approach any sort of live performance as it relates to “working out” stand-up comedy material in any sort of meaningful way.

Before I go down the path of explaining why I would dare say such a thing, please keep these things in mind:

1. Virtual comedy open mics are presented as such by comedians at all levels who don’t actually understand how stand-up comedy works, particularly when it comes to audience dynamics.

2. Subsequently, neither promoters nor attendees fully understand that there are significant and noteworthy differences between a performance for a live stand-up audience and people attending on a virtual video conferencing platform.

3. The purpose of performing at any comedy open mic is to identify whether stand-up material generates laughs or not and should be kept in a routine or not. Again, this is for an IN-PERSON AUDIENCE performing environment.

So here's why I believe that the construct known as the virtual comedy open mic is NOT a fruitful endeavor:

The Issues With Virtual Comedy Open Mics

1. Lack of audience proximity. Laughter is contagious when people are in close proximity to one another.

On a virtual meeting, you could literally have hundreds of people in attendance on the platform, none of which are in the same physical proximity to one another.

Subsequently, the same dynamic exists as does with a stand-up comedy video – because the audible laughs on the video don’t carry over to the individual viewer…

The person viewing has to directly connect with or relate to the material the comedian is talking about in order for the laughs to occur. Otherwise…

The comedian is deemed not that funny, no matter how wildly the audience may be laughing in the video.

Related Article: You Kill On Stage And You Got The Video! Then This Happens…

Again, the purpose of performing at a comedy open mic is to identify whether stand-up material generates laughs or not and whether it should be kept in a routine or not.

In the virtual comedy open mic arena, there is a very high likelihood that stand-up material that would do very well in a live audience environment simply WILL NOT generate near the response (if any) in a virtual conferencing environment.

So if any comedian attempting to “workout” stand-up material during a virtual comedy open mic can’t really tell if they material they are presenting is actually viable or not, what’s the point?

In my professional opinion, this situation only adds to the uncertainty that comedians have about their stand-up material in the first place.

But wait! It gets better…

2. There're even more audience issues involved with video conferencing when it comes to the “virtual comedy open mic” construct.

First of all, you are limited to the number of people you can actually see during a video conferencing call as dictated by the host of the conference and the size of the device you use to access the video conference.

You could have hundreds of people on a video conference but you will only be able to see a fraction of them. And the more that are allowed to be seen on the screen, the smaller and less pronounced they are.

This is an important aspect because you really need to be able to see if there are any reactions to the stand-up material being presented because…

I have been on numerous video conferencing calls and the audience tends to be collectively muted because somebody is:

  • Operating a chainsaw or a leaf blower
  • Having crisis where their children or pets are playing or fighting
  • Experiencing a police/medical emergency next door with sirens blaring
  • Playing a TV or stereo loudly
  • And on and on.

My point is this:

Whatever audience feedback that may be available can be effectively reduced even more base on what I have just described.

But wait! There’s still more…

3. There are performer variables that impact laughter results on a virtual comedy open mic.

For those who are familiar with my educational materials, then you know that a person’s natural body language and facial expressions play a critical role in generating laughter from others (this applies on stage or off stage).

In the video conferencing environment, you are essentially a static head in a window with much of any body language eliminated from view.

Again, this is just another factor that significantly reduces the effectiveness of attempting to use a virtual comedy open mic as a viable means to work out stand-up material.

While there certainly be more “performing” related issues that I haven’t thought of, here’s yet another one:

4. Under no circumstance should a “virtual” comedy open mic scenario be given the same weight as any live and in-person performance - not even close.

Being in a room standing in front of a group of strangers as a comedian attempting to cause laughter to happen an average of 4-6+ times per minute is simply NOT the same as any sort of “virtual” engagement with people.

Not only that, there are critical aspects of a live stand-up performance that cannot be worked on effectively in a virtual environment (ie: comedy timing).

Unfortunately, I believe that many will either assume or be misled to believe that these virtual comedy open mics are are essentially the same thing as a live one – leading to huge shock and disappointment when a live audience performance actually happens.

Then there’s this one last thing that may be of interest to some…

5. The virtual comedy open mic scene expands the likelihood that an individual's stand-up comedy ideas or material can be stolen.

Keep this in mind:

Theft of an individual’s stand-up comedy material by other comedians is bad enough in a localized area.

So imagine making your best comedy ideas and material available for a local (or even a nationwide) audience of comedians or anonymous audience members who want to be comedians and are looking for ideas and material they can easily snag.

Can you think of a better environment for a comedian's ideas or stand-up comedy material to be stealthily stolen? I sure can’t and stand-up comedy thieves don’t even have to leave home to do it.

Now I decided to ask artificial intelligence (ChatGPT) about the downside to virtual open mics and this is what it produced:

  1. Lack of live audience: As you mentioned, a virtual open mic lacks a live audience, which can make it difficult for comedians to gauge the audience's reaction to their material. This can make it challenging for performers to test and refine their material in a way that is effective for live shows.
  2. Technical issues: Virtual open mics can be plagued with technical problems, such as poor audio quality or connection issues. These issues can make it difficult for comedians to perform at their best and can be frustrating for both performers and audiences.
  3. Distractions: Unlike in-person open mics, virtual open mics can be plagued with distractions, such as chat messages or other notifications. These distractions can make it challenging for comedians to stay focused and deliver their material effectively.
  4. Limited feedback: With virtual open mics, it can be difficult for comedians to receive feedback on their performances. While some virtual open mics may offer the opportunity for comedians to receive feedback from the host or other comedians, this feedback may not be as comprehensive or useful as feedback received from a live audience.
  5. Lack of networking opportunities: One of the main benefits of in-person open mics is the opportunity for comedians to network with other comedians and industry professionals. Virtual open mics may not offer the same opportunities for networking and building relationships in the industry.

In all fairness, ChatGPT will also provide advantages associated with virtual open mics as well. But note that the AI did not produce the same list of negatives I did. That's because...

ChatGPT is not trying develop a stand-up act. It's never been on stage. All it can do is pull from a database of knowledge and if the information it is pulling up for you is wrong...

Wrap Up

Like I said earlier, having video conferencing sessions with a select group of other comedians to develop stand-up comedy ideas and material is a great idea provided there are ground rules that help prevent theft the stand-up ideas and material disclosed during these meetings.

But as far as the virtual comedy open mic goes…

Like everything else it is a personal choice whether or not to get involved with that sort of activity.

All I can do is report what I know from a professional aspect and let the potential unsuspecting victim decide for themselves how they wish to proceed.

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