I often hear people say that they think the hardest thing to do would be to get up in front of a group of strangers and tell jokes. After doing a comedy open mic night, I can safely say that is not true: getting up in front of a room full of comedians is much harder.
Stand up comedy may seem difficult to break into, but if you look closer, there is a whole group of people who have other day jobs and hobbies who frequent open mics just to try their hand at the craft. To make it as a comedian is something entirely different – but if your interest lies in simply gaining some confidence on stage and making people laugh, anyone can get up and try. The beauty of an open mic is that you don’t need experience. The downside? Expect some tough crowds and some silence at the precise moment you thought you just hit a hilarious punch line.
My first time doing stand up was at the Comedy Connection for a Sunday Showcase. After my set in front of a huge audience filled with enthusiastic drinkers, I thought I was on my way to stardom. That’s the thing about an audience filled with non-comedians – they want you to entertain them, so they are easier to please. Most people only go to a comedy show for a date here and there or to see a headliner they loved on an HBO special. Every joke is new and clever; if everyone around you is laughing, the energy of the room is contagious.
The next time I tried my hand at open mic was a recent Wednesday night at the Speed of Thought Playhouse (SOTP) in North Attleboro. There, I found myself faced with a different feeling altogether. Most of the audience was other people coming to tell jokes, so many were only half watching as they mentally prepared for their own stage time. Others had already gone up and are still thinking about how they could have better delivered that Batman joke. Finally, you’re left with the people at the bar who came for drinks – not comedy – and while they’ll laugh if you hit a topic they can relate to, they’re not exactly searching their souls for a chuckle.
I had some material that had gone over well before, so I feigned some inklings of confidence as I stepped on stage. Yet I noticed that with a smaller room, the vibe was different than I was anticipating. Suddenly I could see each individual face of the people waiting for me to make them laugh. Maybe this all sounds terrifying and the thought of getting up in front of people waiting to judge you sounds insane, but there is something really wonderful about it all. The few jokes that get a laugh feel like they were truly earned – nothing is fake. The moments when you fall flat on your face, although tough at first, are the ones that allow you to really see what you need to change and improve. After your set you can mingle and talk to other more experienced comedians; they’re helpful and supportive (albeit a bit self congratulatory). Comedians are definitely a bunch of narcissists, present company included.