No one bombs at
an open mic
Just because your joke didn't work at a mic, doesn't mean it's not funny.
Published in July 2019 | Free Standup NYC
Article by: Andrew Bayroff
Open mics are a necessary evil for any stand up comic. It’s how we test new material, hone our cadence, and find our voice for each joke. It’s how the comedy sausage is made. It’s ugly, and sometimes downright unbearable. But let’s make one thing clear, these are not shows and no one bombs.
Wikipedia defines “open mics” as:
An open mic or open mike (derived from the expression "open microphone") is a live show at a coffeehouse, nightclub, comedy club, strip club, institution or pub at which audience members who are amateur performers or professionals who want to try out new material or plug an upcoming show are given the opportunity to perform onstage. Read complete definition here.
I have heard countless beginner, and some experienced, comics declare either on or off stage, they bombed. Crashed. Had an awful set. Nothing worked. This thought can take the comic in many directions: not going to do comedy again, I suck, I don’t know what I’m doing, and so on. For the sake of this article, and basic attention span, I am going to concentrate on the most important comment of all: My jokes didn’t work.
All art and entertainment are subjective. Period. Not everyone is going to like your music, get the meaning behind your painting, or understand your interpretive dance. And stand up comedy is certainly no exception. It is a brutal art form that takes years, decades, to master. I say all of this to illustrate my point: not everyone is going to find your jokes funny. If a paying audience member doesn’t find your joke funny, which happens at every show to every comic, chances are the other comics sitting in a dark room for a mic, on their phone, not really paying attention to you, just waiting for their precious 5 minutes on stage won’t either. Actually, your joke may be hilarious, it’s a mic, loosen up.
“If comics used open mics as a litmus test as to how funny
their jokes were, there wouldn’t be stand up comedy.”
We need to remind ourselves what open mics are: a place to try new, old, experimental, material in front of other comics before we add it into our regular set. Hearing the words come out of your mouth, how they sound, changing the order of the joke over multiple mics, cutting, cropping, word-smithing until you are happy with the joke and reaction you are looking for. Period. No one bombs. No one had a bad set. And while your joke may not receive laughs while on stage, mics are an amazing source to receive feedback from other comics as they can suggest potential tags, punchline, or callbacks. Eventually, though, learn to trust your own opinion of your material. That said, if you get a real laugh out of an open mic crowd, an honest laugh, well then, that equates to a standing ovation from a real audience. It’s part of the new math, just trust me.
There have been multiple instances where one of my jokes did not “do well” at a mic. Not even a chuckle. But because I believed in the joke and knew, just knew, it was funny, I added it to my set list for my next show. And luckily enough, I was right. The joke worked better than expected. That’s not always the case, of course, many jokes either need more work and love, or, to be blunt, it’s just not funny and needs to be rewritten from the ground up, or simply archived. What’s the old saying, kill your babies? Kill your joke, you’ll be a better comic for it. That is why we have mics.
Let’s also discuss how mics have changed throughout the year. When I started stand up, all you needed to do is buy a coffee or a different menu item from the cafe/bar and you get yourself 3-7 minutes on stage. Three to five dollars at most. Yet somewhere between here and there, mics have become a business, a money maker for a few select people, with sometimes a page-full of rules and regulations. How and why did open mics become so complicated? Not only have some mics become a business, but some mics are now considered shows. Which, in turn, removes the basic idea of what an open mic is: to try new material. Make it any more serious than that, you lose the concept of what a mic is there for in the first place.
In the end, open mics are worth different things for different comics. Jokes, networking, socializing, hearing other material, or listening to a different perspective. Whatever “it” may be, have fun. And remember, when it’s showtime, and they finally call your name, it’s you on stage, not the other open micers. It’s you delivering your premise and punch, not the comic who was on Instagram. It’s just you and your jokes.
Mark Anthiony Remirez
"In the end, open mics are worth different things for different comics."