7 Things I Learned Doing My First Open Mic

On Monday night I crossed an item off my bucket list.

I performed comedy at a Comedy Open Mic Show.

I could stop there. “Guy does something scary he’s always wanted to do,” would be the headline, and you’d nod approvingly and move on with your life. Maybe you’d be inspired to do something scary on your list. Maybe you’d forget I existed in three minutes.

But, there is more to the story. (And being a blogger, I am required by law to tell you.)

The truth is, so many things went wrong on Monday night.

So. Many. Things. 

When you cross an item off your bucket list, you usually walk away with a good story and if you’re lucky, you might even learn something. This is what I learned.

1. The List is Life, Part I

I got to the show 30 minutes before it was supposed to start and put my name on the list. I was number ten. I thought this meant I would be the tenth comic, right where I wanted to be. I was sadly mistaken.

The list gets reordered by the host. Familiar names and proven commodities go first. New guys with weird last names go last. I was 19th out of 20 comics.

This was going to be a long night.

2. Preparation Isn’t Everything

There are 3 levels of performing comedy as far as I see it.

LEVEL 0 – performing in front of a mirror. You can see what you look like and there’s no reactions to distract you. Stop and start and tweak as much as you like. No risk, no reward.

LEVEL 1 – performing for a friend. You have a reaction to deal with (which may or may not be honest), but you’re still able to stop/start if you screw up. Minimal risk, minimal reward.

LEVEL 2 – performing on stage. You’ve got a live, honest crowd reacting to you and if you screw something up you’ve got to keep plowing through. High risk, potentially high reward.

(An actual comic reading this right now would argue that Level 0 and Level 1 aren’t actually “performing comedy” and they’d probably be right.)

All that to say, the only thing that REALLY prepares you for Level 2 is doing Level 2. You can master Level 0 and even Level 1, but Level 2 is a totally different beast.

This is why most people don’t do stand-up. You have to learn on the job.

3. The List is Life, Part II

When you are the 19th comic and the show starts 20 minutes late, you should probably consider the fact that you might not get as much stage time as you originally thought.

No such thought occurred to me, which as you’ll see, turned out to be unfortunate.

4. The Room Plays a Role

Of the 18 comics who went before me, 18 of them were vulgar. (If you never took advanced calculus, that’s 100%.)

I don’t say that to judge – vulgarity doesn’t bother me much – but because of language and content, none of the 18 routines would have been aired on Conan w/out major censoring.

I, on the other hand, had an entire routine blasting Maybelline cosmetics. No cussing, no racist jokes, no sex jokes, and no jokes about domestic violence. I’m not saying that to impress you, because it’s not impressive. It just is what it is.

I believe in my material. I think it’s funny stuff that has the potential to be really good if I work on it. But it was nothing like what this room had been hearing all night.

The fact that I got laughs at all was hopefully a sign that some of the jokes were decent.

5. Have an Exit Strategy

I was ready to bomb. If none of my jokes landed I was prepared to keep going and get through it. I was owning this material.

What I wasn’t prepared for, was to be told to wrap it up 2 minutes into my 7-minute routine.

I had attended the week before and timed the first 2 comics. They each did 7 minutes, so I assumed everyone got that much time. I assumed WRONG.

The host told me after the show that everyone gets 3-5 minutes, which isn’t true unless my iPhone’s stopwatch is broken. I know some comics got more than 5 minutes. But man, to be 2 minutes in and get the warning light? I couldn’t believe it. More on this in a second.

Next time (if there is one) I will be prepared for this. This time I wasn’t.

6. The List is Life, Part III

I should also mention that arguably the best comic of the night was #18.

Someone got to follow the guy who was so bad he lifted up his shirt and rubbed his belly for 20 seconds while his brother stood next to him holding a notebook with his jokes.

Someone got to follow the guy who mumbled 3 bad jokes and was gonged off the stage.

I followed the guy who hosts a comedy show in Philly and absolutely killed it.

So much of life is in how we react to the stuff that happens that we can’t control. And since I’m not the one controlling that list, I just had to roll with it and do my best, regardless of how great the guy before me was. (He was pretty great.)

7. You Might Get the Vuvuzela

I was 2 minutes into my 7 minute set when I got the light. PANIC! Do I jump to my ending? Do I skip jokes and try to get there more gracefully? Do I truncate my act and end it now?

I decided to skip jokes and try to get to my ending. Maybe I could – on the fly – edit down 5 minutes of material into 1 minute of material and nail my finishing joke?

Sadly, I could not. If I had had just another 30 seconds I could have landed the dismount, but instead I got the “Time’s Up!” horn.

As soon as I heard it I waved, said my name, and said thanks. It was over.

I got good feedback from Erica and my friends who were there (thanks Than, Jeff, Kevin), but despite trying to keep my expectations low, it definitely felt like a disappointment.

It was not the way I had envisioned my first open mic ending and definitely left a bad taste in my mouth. To be honest, I didn’t sleep well at all that night; I just kept replaying the routine over and over again in my head.

I wasn’t sure that I ever wanted to do it again, but I didn’t want to go out like that either.

It’s been 3 days now and I’m still processing it.

I still don’t know if I’ll do it again, but I know two things for sure:

1) If I do get up there again, I’m in a much better place of knowing how it works.

2) I’m glad I gave it a shot.

And now I’m going to finish this blog post before someone blows a vuvuzela.