I remember my first open mic very well. It was a 4:00 afternoon mic at what was then known as The Village Lantern in Greenwich Village NYC. I remember being nervous. I remember most of the people that were at that mic also. Most of them are still doing comedy. There is a constant ebb and flow of people that start and quit the comedy scene but in general, the people doing afternoon mic’s are pretty committed. Afternoon mic’s are usually just the first stop of the day.
My first mic went ok. The biggest hurdle is getting on stage and staying there for the full five minutes. A lot of the fear is from never being on stage before and just having done it is a huge mental victory. Anytime that you take a hiatus from comedy the hardest part is getting back up on stage. Since you’ve never been on stage before, the fear and sense of unknown is probably at an all time high. The great thing about your first mic is pretty much regardless of how it goes, you now know you are capable of getting up there and that’s a very important step.
I think it’s good to go on stage with a plan if it’s your first time. You should have a joke or a story or at least a subject you want to talk about. These are not absolutely necessary. It’s totally fine to just go on stage and talk about your day or yourself or something that bothers you. In the beginning taking risks and having no plan is probably to be avoided but these are not set in stone rules. As you get better and more experienced the opposite becomes true. You learn way more from failing then you will from doing well and this is an important thing to consider and appreciate especially in the beginning. I really believe that the most important thing about your first open mic is just getting on stage.
At the time of my first mic I had one joke that I liked. I lead with that which was a good instinct. I didn’t use any notes which I think is the way to go. You learn more from trying to make something happen than from just reading half baked ideas from your notebook. Even if you have no joke to say you can just talk about what you’re experiencing in the moment. This on its own can generate a laugh and at the very least will comes across as relatable, logical and should resonate with the other comedians. Anytime I’ve seen or been myself bombing on stage the worst thing you can do is to not address it. If you just keep plowing through your material nothing will change. Your best bet is to address what is happening. Throw in a “I thought this would go better,” or “This was gonna be so different in my head.” Something that shows you’re aware of what is going on in the room and that it’s affecting you as a human being.
When I first started I had a system I used when I went to open mic’s. A lot of what I talk about with this early stuff is going to be recalling what I used to do. It might not be what I do now but I will try to remember what my approach was then. What I used to do was remind myself of four things; remember your first joke, remember your joke order, speak slowly and don’t forget to breathe. I think this is still fine advice. I think for your first open mic having a joke you can fall back on is a good idea as well. This is something you can use if you forget what you wanted to say next or if you have extra time. It is good to finish strong however. A lot of new comics think that stories are the easy way to be funny on stage. In generally the comics at open mic’s are not really listening and a long story is just going to be confusing. Stories have to be relatable and funny quickly or else people will just not pay attention, especially at an open mic. You should try different things though and what works for me and my observations may be very different than yours. A lot of your early stage time will just be coming to your own realizations about what works for you and what works for others.
You will see a lot of people leave after their sets. I don’t recommend this as a policy. Maybe once you have been around a bit and you are going to another mic or something you might want to leave after your set but I think you lose too much by always doing this. When you are new you can learn almost as much about stand-up from watching other people. It’s no substitute for your own stage time but there’s really no reason not to watch other people. It’s supportive and will help you learn as well. I think a lot of comics develop this selfish me first attitude which eventually comes back to bite them. You may think that stand-up comedians are mean or unpleasant but in my experience this is untrue. A lot of us are introverted but we also seek a sort of sub culture community in our pursuit of stand-up comedy, at least I definitely do. After the mic you can talk to other comics, introduce yourself and familiarize yourself with the scene. In the long run this will pay off in many different ways. When you are new it is very hard to come by genuine stage time. Find out who is running their own shows, talk to them and go support their show. Your efforts will not go unnoticed.
As I said throughout this post the most important thing about your first open mic is that you go. It is almost irrelevant how you do. Just get up, see how it feels, see what works, see what doesn’t work and go from there. At some point you definitely want to record yourself on stage. I waited a year or two before this became a habit with every set I did but there’s no harm in starting on day one. It’s a powerful tool that will only help you. It will also show your peers that you are serious about what you are doing. When I was first started this comic that had been around for a while told me the best thing you can do is bomb. When he told me this I scoffed at it. I was like no way. I’m gonna kill it every time. I’m gonna always do good. Yea right. That dude was spot on. Stand-up is all about failing, improving and getting back up again. I truly believe that.