What to Expect from a Stand-Up Comedy Open Mic

An open mic is a way to get stage time. Stage time is the most important thing in a comic’s career, because if you’re not on stage, you’re not a comic. Some open mics are free, some charge a cover; however, the price is rarely over $5. An open mic isn’t going to break the bank. With open mics, you get what you pay for. Whether you are an aspiring comic who has never been on stage before or a seasoned veteran of the stand-up comedy world, an open mic is a valuable resource in building your set.

For the newcomer, the first time at an open mic will go something like this: you show up at the comedy club, and if you reserved a spot via email, you simply pay the $5 and sit in the audience. If you haven’t booked in advance, you will have to sign-up for the walk-in or alternate list. This generally means first-come-first-serve for stage time after all the booked comics have gotten on stage. If you don’t make it up, the producer will usually refund your money.

Once you’re signed up and sitting in the audience, the MC will take the stage and start the show. Most MCs will introduce themselves, introduce the club, explain the ground rules of the mic, and read off the order of performers that have spots on the mic. Generally, the MC will do a few minutes of his/her own material, then he/she will bring up the next comic. If you do not hear your name called, you can quietly and politely walk over to where he/she is sitting and ask if you’ve been included. If there’s not enough room for you to take the stage, he/she will be able to tell you at that time, or if there was an oversight, the MC can add you to the list then.

When it comes to your time, if you pay $5 for 5 minutes, you will most likely get a light from the MC when you have one (1) minute of stage time left. There is no penalty for ending your set early. If you’ve done all of your material or feel like leaving the stage, just announce that you’re finished and hand the mic back to the MC.

Most mics are a first come, first serve basis, but it is at the discretion of the MC to create the lineup. He/she also has the power to give you more time than you signed up for if circumstances allow (eg: the mic isn’t packed). However, if you get less time than you paid for, you should address this with the MC or producer – preferably after the show.

Now for the fun part: when you’re actually on stage, you can say or do whatever you want. It’s your five minutes; you paid for it. An open mic can be used to work on brand new material or simply to practice a rehearsed act in order to prepare for an upcoming show. Here’s a tip: record every open mic you do.

When you’re performing new material, recording the set helps to understand which jokes work and which ones don’t. This can also help you be less wordy. It’s best to make the set-up of the joke as concise as possible and emphasize the punch line. An open mic is also a guide to help you find out what jokes don’t work. You can rewrite these jokes and deliver the jokes a different way, or ultimately discard the material. The whole idea here is to take all the ones that work and get laughs to start creating an act that you will be doing at shows with a live, paying audience. Speaking of audience, most open mics tend to be full of comics who are in the same boat as you. Sometimes, your best jokes won’t get even the slightest giggle at an open mic. A lot of comics simply don’t laugh at their peers. Don’t take this as if you’re bombing.

Most times, an open mic is really a workshop for you to hone your craft. However, the upside of this, is if you can get a crowd of seasoned comics to bust out laughing, you know you have a really good joke. You may want to use that joke as your closer.

Some mics may offer a round of feedback after each set (if time permits). Many times comics can help you write a punch line, a tag, a call back, or tighten up a set up, and you should take advantage of their advice. If there is no feedback round, wait until after the mic and ask the MC or some of the other comics if they have any ideas for your material. If they tell you they didn’t pay attention to your set, don’t take offense.

All in all, a good MC will set the tone for a good mic. If you find one you like, take advantage of the situation to improve your craft.

In upcoming blogs, we’ll discuss the comedy terms (set-ups, punch lines, closers, etc.), but if you have any questions, email me or leave a comment.

Author Brian Roth has performed at Gotham Comedy Club, Broadway Comedy Club, Stand Up NY Comedy Club, New York Comedy Club, the People’s Improv Theater (PIT) and other clubs in NYC. He hosts the #Rothcast on BlogTalkRadio. 

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2 thoughts on “What to Expect from a Stand-Up Comedy Open Mic

  1. I’m a 45 year old Hispanic breast cancer survivor. All my life I’ve been told I’m funny. I have “quick comebacks”, “a bit cynical”, “a bit of sarcasm” here and there, but never offensive. I’m not necessarily looking to become a stand-up comic, but … since it’s likely that I’m going to die of breast cancer someday, as a bucket list item, I would like a ONE TIME opportunity to live out this dream. I’m just curious to see if I could make an audience of people that don’t know me laugh as easily as my friends, family, and co-workers. I’ve done public speaking before. I know I won’t get hit with stage fright. And if nobody laughs, oh well … The experience will just be fun. I live near New York City. Can you offer any suggestions of a club with Open Mic?

    • Yvonne, I apologize for the delayed response. I run an open mic at Greenwich Village Comedy Club on Wednesday nights. Sign up is at 5:15PM, and the mic starts at 5:30. It costs $5, you get a minimum of 5 minutes stage time and a free drink. It’s perfect for beginners and seasoned comics, and you’ll get feedback and pointers for your “set”, along with a great opportunity to network with other comics and get booked on shows. Also, check out badslava.com for other open mics in NYC that suit your time table.

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