What’s this about?
This is not an “Open Mic For Dummies” instruction manual. It’s about what you need to know and do if you don’t want to be an open mic dummy.
Who am I?
My name is Sudarsan Ramamurthy. In the Chennai comedy circuit, I’m known as Soda. I’ve been pursuing stand-up comedy for more than two years now. My first open mic was in October 2014. I run Chennai Comedy. You can look it up here.
How do I qualify to talk about open mics?
I wouldn’t be bragging if I said I’ve done the most open mics amongst all the comedians in the Chennai circuit. But, let’s just say that if you’re an open micer/comedian from Chennai, there is no way I haven’t heard of you.
What is the difference between an open micer and a stand-up comedian?
Every stand-up comedian is an open micer. But, every open micer is not a stand-up comedian. Not unless he/she has performed in multiple non-open mic shows (ticketed shows, auditoriums, corporate and private events) without having to blow or kiss someone’s unmentionables.
The most important and obvious difference is: all stand-up comedians are funny; all open micers are not.
It takes anywhere from six months to a year (subject to consistency, perseverance, luck, and size of balls) for an open micer to become a stand-up comedian. Just because you got to perform for five minutes in a ticketed show – even if you’ve done less than five open mics – doesn’t make you a comedian. It just means the scene is growing, there are more shows happening, ergo more slots to fill. Pure and simple.
What is an open mic?
An open mic is an event, usually held in an indoor space where anyone can get on stage and try their luck with whatever talent they possess. In a stand-up comedy open mic, it is strictly for people to test and/or practice their jokes in front of an audience who hasn’t paid too much to watch them and therefore isn’t judging them. Or, that’s what we all think.
Rules of Engagement
Anyone who has to perform, must register themselves before the open mic. The registration may be done at the venue right before the open mic, or interested parties may have to call/message to a given number. It is important to find out which one of the aforementioned protocols need to be followed.
⦁ Time Slots and Content Restriction
Each performer is given a maximum of 4-5 minutes of stage time. There’s usually no content restriction, so swearing and offensive language isn’t a problem. But, that doesn’t mean you say “Fuck” for four minutes. It’s also obvious that your material has to be 100% original. If you’re going to come and recite internet jokes, stay home and use those to pick up bots on Tinder. Don’t copy other comedians, either. We will know. We will find you. We will roast you.
Basic Open Mic/Stand-up Comedy Jargon
A host is the anchor/presenter of the show. But, do not mistake the host for an MC. The host of an open mic or stand-up comedy show is usually a comedian. They keep the night going and perform their jokes to keep the energy up between performers. There are two kinds of hosts: a) ones who are so funny, it doesn’t matter if the other comics aren’t. The crowd already loves the host. b) Ones who are so bad, the audience will definitely find the others funny.
The duration of one’s performance is called a slot. Typically, open mic spots are 4-5 minutes long. A guest spot is usually slightly longer (8-10 minutes). Guest Spot is also code for “You’re not getting paid, but we’ll let you perform in our show.” A headliner spot is at least 25 minutes long.
The headliner is touted to be the main event, the star performer, the guy whose face you put on the poster because you know people will jizz cash to see him on stage. So, if someone says they’ve got multiple headliners in one show, they don’t really know what they’re doing. The headliner must perform last. The main reason is, you don’t want people to leave right after he/she is done performing. There has to be a build up to the final act. You cannot have multiple finishing acts. That’s a premature ejaculator’s excuse.
⦁ Time Out
A nicer way of saying “You’re done. Get the fuck off the stage.” It may be a light flashing, someone holding their hands up in a T, or just flipping you off until you get the message.
For The Audience
As someone who has come to watch a comedy gig (free or paid entry), there are some things you need to keep in mind, if you don’t want to end up making a fool of yourself.
⦁ Offensive Content
Censorship and stand-up comedy don’t always go together. So, expect to be offended. Accept the fact that this show isn’t about you. Yes, you may have paid for the ticket and therefore might feel entitled. You are entitled to a seat, and some humor. That’s it. Don’t try to call attention to yourself, unless the performer picks (on) you. There will be swearing. Your mother, father, family, relatives living and dead will be referred to. Don’t take it personally. Laugh it off. Go home. Tell you friends about it.
Here’s how a stand-up comedy show’s disclaimer would read:
“IF IT’S FUNNY, TAKE IT AND FUCK OFF. IF IT’S NOT FUNNY, TAKE IT AND FUCK OFF ANYWAY.”
⦁ Picking On Audience Member(s)
As the phrase goes, “picking on” someone seems to have some negative connotations. That’s not always the case with stand-up comedy. When someone picks on you, it need not be with the express intent of shaming you or making you look stupid in front of a live audience. It could also be just to get to know you better. Yes, some comedians are nice like that. They care about who has paid to watch them and how they can make you come back each time. Bottom-line: The front row isn’t as dangerous as you think it is.
It is important for an audience member to understand the stand-up comedy interpretation of the word “heckling”. It means any verbal interruption that is not part of the script. It doesn’t matter if you’re agreeing to what is being said, or aggressively trying to throw the performer off – you’re heckling. Different comedians have different ways of dealing with hecklers. Some ignore them, some entertain them, and some will slaughter and destroy the very soul of this imbecile mortal who thought they’d get away with a heckle.
⦁ Laugh, Clap, Cheer, Make Some Noise
While there are some ground rules and guidelines to keep in mind, a comedy show is after all about having fun. So, when you are asked to make some noise, don’t fucking raise your hand like someone is taking a roll call. Okay? Good.
⦁ Phones, Chitchat, Babies
Turn them all to silent or vibrate, whatever tickles your fancies. I have had shows where the audience was so enthusiastic, they’d laugh at the first joke, and start discussing it WHILE I’M STILL PERFORMING! Just laugh and/or clap, and we’ll know you’re enjoying the show. Nothing more, nothing less.
For Open Micers
⦁ Before The Open Mic
Be there on time. Register. Take your seat, or walk around, or do whatever it is you do before a show. Don’t stand around in groups and indulge in chitchat like it’s a school reunion – unless there’s no space inside, and you’re going to go in just to perform and get out. If that’s the case, keep your voice low and don’t let the audience feel what’s happening outside is more fun than the actual open mic.
⦁ Preference of Slot
Unless you’re a pro, you don’t get to choose what slot you get. “I’m bringing friends. They are on the way. Please slot me somewhere in the middle.” Fuck you. Your friends should’ve been here. If they’re not, their loss. It’s not a private show where you’re performing just for your friends. Even if there’s no audience at all, perform to the other comics. Respect the stage. Respect the people who will share it with you. Respect the audience.
Even pro comics register in advance and ask nicely. If you’re going to throw your weight around, it means you’re not serious about sticking around for long.
Here’s something that I’ve seen a lot of new guys do. They think just because they’re watching someone else, they can fuck with the performer’s flow. Motherfucker, you just forgot your jokes when you were on stage a minute ago. It’s like whipping your dick out before your balls have even dropped. Don’t heckle someone if you don’t have the skill to back it up. Let’s see how you feel when you’re up there trying out a set for the first time and someone thinks it’s fun to steal the show.
Compete outside, collaborate inside.
⦁ First In Last Out
Get to the open mic as early as possible. It doesn’t matter if you’re the first ever. There’s a lot to be learnt. Help the producers set up the sound system. Figure out how a mic works. Do sound checks. Ask questions. That’s how you earn friends. You earn friends, you earn favors. Favors can get you slots. Slots gets you stage time. Stage time is what makes you a comedian. Get on stage as much as possible.
Unless there’s an emergency, or a flight/train/bus to catch, stay until the end. Talk to the comics. Build your network. Be an open mic whore; to the point where your face is cemented in their memory and they feel like something’s off when there’s an open mic and you’re not there. That’s how I’ve started, and I’m still an open mic whore. Maybe an open mic escort, at this point.
⦁ Don’t Hold Grudges
Artists, especially stand-up comedians, aren’t the easiest people to work with. Difference in opinion, perception, and beliefs is the fundamental birthplace of stand-up comedy. Open mics will expose you to all kinds of people – performers and audience alike. If you really want to trash talk about someone, make it funny. That’s how roasts were born.
⦁ You Are Not Entitled
Get it into your head. The open mic is not a stepping stone to get shows. The open mic is where you keep coming back to hone your skill. “Bro, I’ve been doing open mics for five months. I’m not getting any shows. That other guy started after me, he’s done two shows already! Fuck it. I’ll start my own thing, and produce my own shows. One day, I’ll run the scene and show these motherfuckers how it’s done.” If that’s how you’re going to be, then fuck you. You didn’t get shows because you’re not funny yet. That other guy is. Put your head down, get funny, and there’s no reason why you won’t get shows after that.
It’s not a job. It’s a career. You build it in your own time. You are not entitled to anything. Doing a lot of shows isn’t the mark of a comedian. Being funny is. Performing in a show because you’re producing it, is like masturbating – you might have a mind blowing orgasm, but you’re giving it to yourself because no one else will.
⦁ Respect The Venue
Start on time. End on time. Do not give the venue any reason to complain. There is literally no reason why anyone should let you do something as unpredictable as stand-up comedy in their place of business. So, be grateful to that and make sure you give back. Encourage the audience and comics to order food and drinks. Make sure you give them good visibility and branding. These little niceties will go a long way.
⦁ Don’t Piss Off The Audience
Especially at an open mic, it’s important that you don’t scar the audience with something that’s not funny and therefore unnecessary. If you’ve picked on someone, acknowledge that they’ve been a good sport, or speak to them after the show to make sure they didn’t take it the wrong way. These are the same people who might one day buy tickets to your show and make you rich. Don’t fuck with them too much.
The open mic is a great place to watch comedy happen. The expectations are low, so you get to push yourself and experiment as much as you want. You also get to witness so many different styles, so you won’t latch onto one person and end up imitating or emulating them. Always give back to the scene. Remember, you wouldn’t exist if there was no platform to start with.
If you have any more questions, comments, or suggestions, feel free to get in touch.