The Worst Open Mic Experience I’ve Had In A Long Time

A friend of mine who used to do standup told me to let him know the next time I did an open mic, because he said he wanted to get back into standup and go up too. So I found an sign-up-onsite open mic we could both do in Adams Morgan, and we made plans to do the mic.

A shot of my drink and notebook as I waited for the open mic to start.

My troubles started getting to the venue. Since I was leaving my office at 5:30, I had to drive in rush-hour traffic–making for a longer drive than usual. When I got to Adams Morgan, my problems continued. All the street parking was either full or required a DC zone permit (which I do not have); there was also construction blocking my usual Adams Morgan parking location.(I’ve gone dancing in Adams Morgan many times in the past.)
After 25 minutes, I settled for garage parking: $10,00 for under an hour, $15.00 for 1-2 hours, and $20.00 for two hours and up. Great, expensive parking. I get in the garage, and it’s the tightest thing I’ve even seen. I’ve had MRIs before, but this parking garage made me claustrophobic. I spent five minutes angling my car into a parking spot, and there still wasn’t enough room for the guy next to me. My left mirror was inches away from a concrete pillar, yet if the motorist next to me wasn’t two dimensional, they weren’t going to be able to get into their car on the driver’s side. Luckily, someone came and moved another car and I was able to park in another spot.
More trouble: I still had a few minutes before I had to be at the venue, so I decided to play Pokemon Go to kill time (and Adams Morgan should be more of a happening spot than where I live). Yet all I got were a few Pidgeys, a couple Rattatas, and a Spearow or two. I tried to do battle at one of the gyms but I kept getting an error and couldn’t fight. Ugh.
I went into the venue and waited for the mic to start. This went okay. I got a half-priced drink and worked on a bit until the host went up and got the comedy party started.
Something must have come up; my friend didn’t show. I do mics by myself all the time so it wasn’t a problem in that respect–still a bummer though. I was really hoping he’d come out and we’d do a mic together.
It was a tough crowd. I think only two or three people did well (they almost exclusively did crowd work). I don’t know if it was the alcohol or there was something going on with the microphone, but it was hard to understand people at times. I suspect the later, because of the crowd work a comic did. He asked a guy at a table “what he was in to” and he responded with “Women.” Other people groaned and the comic turned to me: “Sir, what are you into.” I responded: “I’m into women as well.” This got laughs, but I could hear someone say “what?” They couldn’t understand me.
Then I bombed. Whatever. I’m just one of the many comics that did that night. I did have one joke in a bit that I’m working on land. That’s probably the only good thing that happened to me all night. I’ll take it.
I stayed for the next few comics that went up; there were only a few left. I thought a couple of them were funny, and they hardly got any laughs from someone that wasn’t me. That made me feel a bit better about my set. I felt bad for a new comic who unfortunately chose this mic as his first. He bombed, as most new comics do–even in front of “warmer” audiences. He didn’t even do his full time, just thought *to heck with this* and got off stage. I hope he tries again at some point.
After the mic I closed my tab then went to the bathroom. When I came back notebook was still there but my pen was gone. My pen was gone! It writes horribly, but it’s a novelty pen. I like it. I constantly joke that you can steal my jokes, but please don’t steal my pen. I asked the bartender if she had seen my pen. Apparently she grabbed my pen (out of my notebook) after somehow thinking it was the bar’s and returned the pen to me. Did she somehow think that was the bar’s pen? It’s obviously not the bar’s–and it was IN MY NOTEBOOK! Did I not tip her well enough (five bucks for two rum and cokes) where she thought she needed my pen as well? I don’t know, but I got the pen back, and for that I am happy.
I probably won’t hit up this mic again anytime soon. I should note that none of this is the host’s fault. He’s a really nice guy that I hope I see around again. And his night was arguably worse too; his mother was there to see him perform.
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Respecting the Establishment in Comedy

I used to tell a story, a story about when I tried out for the improv team in college. When I tried out, the guy who ran the group was explaining some of improv’s “rules.” One of the rules he told us was that you shouldn’t do what’s known as pimping. Pimping is when someone comes up to and says something like, “Ouch, my arm is broken!” And you reply with, “No it’s not!” A lot of times this is explained as the “yes and rule,” where an improviser will make a statement and you’ll agree and add on to what they said.

 

After this spiel (which came with a stimulating visual demonstration acted out by some improvers), the guy asked the lot of us if we had any questions.I raised my hand and asked, “Since there’s pimping, are there hos?” I swear everyone in the room burst into laughter–everyone except the guy running things. I didn’t make the improv troupe, and I used to tell that story saying something along the lines of you’d think that guy would have a sense of humor, right? I mean, after all, he does improv.

 

However, doing comedy has taught me why what I did was wrong and why he had reason to not laugh. Improv is about team work. You don’t tell jokes at the expense of the scene. One thing I’ve noticed watching good improvers doing a scene is that a lot of times there will be a character that’s not really that funny, but that character will work really well because it sets up the other characters to be funny.

 

There’s an unwritten rule of comedy that you don’t trash the venue. This doesn’t just apply to not making fun of the bar that’s nice enough to let you perform open mics at the same time every week; it also applies to the folks who dedicate the time and energy to put things together. It’s not even a question about whether or not they have a sense of humor. Comedy, behind the scenes, is a business in some form or another. That bar that lets you do open mic, for instance, will stop being so nice if the comedians are driving away people who would otherwise patronize the place. Part of not doing doing just that (driving people away) is having a show that’s run smoothly, and in order for a show to run smoothly, comics will need to show respect to any rules put in place.

 

So when I made my joke about pimping and hos, what I was really doing was communicating that I was 1) not a team player and 2) a potential liability since I was already making fun of the rules. I made other excuses as to why I might not have made the improv team, but the truth is I just wasn’t that good.

Improv CAN Help Your Standup

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a comic tell another comic that the only way to improve your standup is to do more standup. They key word here is “only.” Doing more standup is key to improving standup, but this completely discounts how improv can help an aspiring comic get better. Let’s take a look at some ways that doing improv will help
you do better at standup.

You Get More Comfortable on Stage:

Okay, so sometimes I hear some comics admit this one. The premise here is that you’re not the only one performing at a time. Plus starting improv is generally billed as a fun, exciting, and low-pressure activity; it’s not seen as a performance. During improv you are part of a team, and you’re all in it together. Being on a team allows the improviser
to take some chances without running the risk of ruining the scene. Taking chances in standup is riskier since if what you say doesn’t go as expected, there aren’t any teammates around to jump in and “save” the scene.

Improv Forces You to Think Funny:

I can tell you that the biggest struggle in writing a bit is finding a funny way to look at something–a funny spin if you will. Improv helps with this. You’ll have a scene that will start normal and need to find a funny twist to it, with no preparation beforehand. This forces you to come up with funny ideas–a skill very, very useful for writing standup. As an added bonus, since improv has its differences from standup, you’re exposed to different ways to make something funny. For example, you may have a basic scene that starts with two people dating in a diner, and you want to enter the scene. Instead of thinking of a funny line to say, you have to consider the whole character you’re going to insert. Who are you? What’s your motivation? While considering a character doesn’t 100% translate into standup for everyone, it offers a fresh look at creating laughs.

Committing:

Fear of commitment–this doesn’t ruin relationships; it ruins many what would otherwise be good jokes. When you commit to a joke, you don’t hold back anything: singing, doing actions, emotions, or anything else. Becoming a character when doing improv forces the improviser to commit to being their character in the scene. Standup isn’t so different. Your character is the same every time you perform, and so is the scene. Do your jokes come from anger? Then don’t hold back your anger. Do your jokes come from confusion? Then be confused. Actually, the only difference I see between the two forms of comedy is
that one form of committing to a joke is planned, while the other is spontaneous. If you learn to commit to comedy spontaneously, then you should be able to do it knowing ahead of time what it is you need to commit to.

Act Like you Care:

This is very similar to the last point I talked about, committing, except the difference here is how you convey what you are committing to. Improv helps your acting skills, and it’s easier to commit to, say, being angry when you, like, have some sort of friggin’ clue to convey that you’re angry to the audience. And I mean actually angry, not just saying you are.

Learn Something From Others:

You can learn from others in standup (and I cannot recommend it enough that you should), but there’s an aspect of learning from others in improv that’s different from learning from others in standup, but also important. In standup, you learn techniques from watching others perform, but with improv, you can learn from your teammates as you perform. Another standup is performing different material (they better be, right?), but your improv teammate is in the same scene as you. This makes it way more relatable.

Off the Cuff:

It should go without saying that improv helps you think better on your feet–after all, you are a “standup” comic, am I right? (obligatory “this guy gets it”)–but this is more than just dealing with that heckler (and I should note that there are things about dealing with hecklers that improv won’t teach you). You never know when something unexpected will
happen during your set. Will you be able to react in a way that’s funny?

In summary

Please, for the love of all that is good on this Earth, don’t quit standup to do improv for months, and then come back and expect to be great at standup. My recommendation is that improv helps to supplement your standup. Supplement…this means do this AND standup. It will help the performance aspects of your act and help you think in ways that help generate material.

Why I’m Happy With Tonight’s Stand-Up Set

Tonight I performed some bits that I’ve been working on and that I performed this past Saturday–and I’m thrilled with how it went. No, I didn’t kill. But to me that doesn’t matter.

ZebaSetList

My setlist for tonight.

When I watched the video of my Saturday set and saw myself perform, the biggest note I made was to improve my delivery. I got a lot of laughs on Saturday; that’s good. My delivery, though, makes me hesitant to share any of it. (I still will though.) I stumbled through a couple of words (literally skipped four words in a sentence at one point, and kept going), I rushed through some parts, and I didn’t have much inflection in my voice.

Going into tonight’s set, my goal was to not do any of that. I didn’t capture any video, but I did record the audio. I hardly made any of those mistakes; I sounded a lot better—like I’ve been doing this for awhile.

I added some new parts to the jokes I told on Saturday, and not all of them got a lot of laughs, and not all of them got laughs at all. One bit I told got dead silence, but on the recording I could hear one guy cackling loudly and to me that makes a joke worth it. I’d rather have one person love a joke than have a lot of people sort of like it, just a little bit.

I was especially pleased since I bombed horribly a week ago at the same venue (more on that in a future post). The second bit I did (first on my setlist) was the one I failed at last Thursday, although it’s a completely different bit than it was a week ago.

Another nice thing is that I don’t have to wonder if it’s my delivery when I listen to the recording again and hear silence. It’s my word choice, and all I have to do now is figure out if the audience doesn’t follow or it’s just not funny.

I Did It For The Story: The Powerball And Why There’s Benefit To Doing Things That Seem Like A Bad Idea

I decided to play the Powerball this past Saturday. And while, yeah, I did hope to win, I understood that I probably wasn’t going to win. I’d have better luck with Comcast customer service than I would with the lottery, but that didn’t stop me from playing.

I played because it was something a lot of people were doing and I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to be able to talk to other people and be able to say, “Yeah, I didn’t win either.” It’s a shared experience.

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My tickets for the Powerball lottery

As it turns out, shared experiences can make good comedy—especially when you don’t win the jackpot. After spending 100 bucks for 50 chances to win, I was able to match three of the “powerball” numbers. That was good enough to net me a prize of 12 dollars.

Where does the comedy come into all of this? First of all, the shared experience means that others can relate to my struggle. There’s nothing worse than getting on stage, telling a joke, and having the audience look at you with a blank stare because they can’t relate and don’t understand what you’re talking about. I can go on stage, say “hey, I played the Powerball on Saturday,” and people will think hey, me too!

The next part can get tricky: Now it’s time to find the humor in the situation. Not winning the jackpot actually helps my cause. Numerous stories about people winning the lottery show that other people can be resentful of lottery winners, so we don’t have “our millions” working against us. That is good. We lost; we share the audience’s frustration.

So where is the humor? I start by looking for what was odd about my playing the lottery. First, we have the 12 dollar payout—not exactly the 900 million. The contrast is a good jumping off point, and there is more than one direction to go with this: I could be overly proud of my winnings, I could decide to invest the 10 dollars I get after tax, I could contact the local news organizations and ask if they want to interview me.

The next thing is spending 100 bucks on 50 chances to win. Why did I spend so much? To get better odds. Really? The odds of winning the jackpot is about 1:300,000,000—so 50 tickets increased my odds to about 1:6,000,000. Oh, yeah, those odds are so much better…

There’s also the really long line I waited in to buy my tickets. (Everyone else and their mothers were buying Powerball tickets as well.) There isn’t necessarily humor in that without doing some digging, but I do know that no one won the jackpot, which means convenience store employees are sputtering various curse words to themselves. The contrast between the optimistic customers and the jaded employees is a good place to look for humor.

If you take anything away from this post, take away one humble man’s opinion that sometimes you’ve gotta live a little and share experiences that other people are going through. Share in other people’s struggles and you’ll find possibility for humor, which is it’s own reward.

 

First Comedy Writers Group Tonight

I wrote last week that I wanted to go to the local comedy writers group since I thought it would help me find some different venues to perform at. Well, tonight was the night! I went to my first group meeting.

It was a great experience. I know I wrote that I thought the number one thing was finding other venues to perform at and not my material. Well, I decided to pick the brains of the other members on a bit that has been frustrating me for some time. I’ve had many personal brainstorming sessions, and I’ve come up with next to nothing to show for it.

In about ten minutes, the other writers in the group had some great ideas for me to work with. It was very eye opening. I knew there had to be a wealth of material there somewhere–there just had to be. And it’s one thing to see a pro comic performing their bit. Yeah, you know they put in a lot of time and effort, but it’s completely different when you take your material–something you’ve been digging into and have found nothing–and see all the comedic potential it actually has. I was afraid the bit was a lost cause. Not anymore.

I think what helped so much was that I’ve only been exposed to how I perceive my bit. I’m writing about my father, who was a gym teacher, waking my sister and I up very early to go running in the morning while school was out for the summer. My reaction had been something along the lines of, “I’d have rather have had a vacation.”

When I shared the idea with the group, they made the connection of my father teaching gym and making my sister and me run in the morning. I also found out they didn’t have the same experience in gym class (I always liked it); they hated gym class. It gave them a very different perspective, and I realized the audience will probably have this perspective as well. I hated getting up early in the morning myself, but it hadn’t occurred to me to make the connection to the audience’s potential hatred of gym class.

And as far as different places to show my work, there’s already an opportunity. The organizers of the group want comics to come up with sketch ideas. Then the comics will come up with their ideas, comics will act out the skits, and the skits will be taped. This is going to be very cool.

Why I Decided I Should Start Going To A Comedy Writers Group

There’s a local comedy writers group that I haven’t gone to in over a year. I stopped going mostly because it’s about an hour away from where I’m living and it starts at a time that would keep me from doing anything else that evening. Those aren’t good reasons, I know, but I convinced myself that I was better off writing my own material.

I changed my mind after this past Sunday.

I have gotten halfway decent at writing my own jokes, but while I could get better, that has nothing to do with it. This past Sunday I got invited to an art festival called Artomatic that was being held in Hyattsville, MD.

Artomatic2015Logo-slider1

Artomatic was the name of the festival I got invited to. It was great; I hope to go back next year.

Sunday night was comedy night, and the girl who invited me figured that since I’m a comic, I’d enjoy watching the other comics. I did. But I also left there wishing I had performed as well.

I’ve gotten to a point where I enjoy myself on stage: I have material that I know works and I’m comfortable speaking in front of a crowd. So far all of my performances have been at open mics. (Some call themselves “shows,” but that’s a subject for another post.) Like any comic, I’d like to do some paid gigs. Performing at festivals would be good stepping stone to achieve that end, right? I think so.

Anyway, While I was watching the comics, I noticed someone toward the front of the crowd; it was a guy who helps run the comedy writers group. I realized that if I had been going regularly, I’d have known about this event. And I figure that if I start going I will learn about other events I can perform at.

The possibility of getting paid perform sometime in the future seems like a huge upside for my comedy career. The downside? The downside is that I won’t be able to do anything else Monday night. So basically all I have to do is plan ahead so there isn’t anything else that I have to do Monday nights. Seems like a no-brainer to me.