You Know WHAT you want... But do you have the right TOOLS to achieve it? HumorMall is dedicated to helping YOU achieve your dream.
(This piece was originally published on Van Gogh-Goghs Sketch Comedy Group's web site: Sketch comedy, web parodies, humorous essays, and more from this Los Angeles comedy group. http://vgg.com/blog/)
As of April first, 2009, the Van Gogh-Goghs are no more. "We’re calling it quits and breaking up. "
After living here in Los Angeles and attending many, many open mic nights and listening to many, many stand up comedians, I have decided to distill my accumulated knowledge into the following handy guide for anyone who wishes to perform stand up comedy at open mic nights. I present it here as a public service.
First of all, you don't need to memorize your act. This is a common misconception. Just make notes beforehand and put them on the stool when you get to the mic. If you forget or misspeak a punch line, simply stop the act, turn your back to the audience, and consult your notes. Take as long as you need.
Help yourself to a beer or three before going on. This will help you "loosen up." If you don't like beer, try smoking some marijuana cigarettes, or ingesting powdered cocaine nasally via a straw in a bathroom stall. If you don't have a straw, you can roll a dollar bill into a tube! It's important you feel your creative best, so use whatever works for you, whether it's meth amphetamines or horse tranquilizer. You'll also want to keep a beer handy on stage to swig between jokes while you wait for the gales of laughter to die down.
You don't need to rehearse your act. People who tell you this are just jealous of your talent and trying to "psych you out" - DON'T FALL FOR IT! Your extremely hidden natural funniness will spring forth once you are in front of an audience. How could your natural ability to amuse co-workers and friends in casual conversation fail you when confronted by a room full of angry drunken strangers and an improperly grounded microphone? IT CAN'T! It's that simple!
Obviously, every comedian's act is going to be different. But here are some touchstones you MUST make jokes or humorous observations about. If you have no material that fits into the following categories, then you should just give up on ever making it at open mic nights and go get a real job in comedy.
Demean other races and nationalities. Boy, people from other countries- what's up with that?! This can be a bottomless wellspring of comedy gold. For one, there's almost a DOZEN different countries! And people live in all of them! Try to concentrate on two or three of the most prevalent nationalities in your area. In fact, check the audience for some. If you see some, be sure to point them out, repeatedly, after each punch line. However, remembering all those different countries is hard. To make it easier, you may wish to lump them into races.
Key points to remember (in no particular order):
The audience should be screaming in hysterics by this point. In fact, after you've been rolling on this topic for a bit, you don't even necessarily have to have jokes anymore. Just express your honest and forthright opinions about whatever lesser race irritates you most!
Demean the other sex. Many people are unaware of the differences between men and women. You must enlighten these poor, ignorant people. While on stage, make it your personal crusade. Impress upon the audience the supreme superiority of whatever sex you happen to be. Use your own bad experiences with the opposite sex to make broad sweeping generalizations about them. Your significant other will be happy to be held up as a comedic example, especially about sexual matters. Speaking of bad experiences....
Mine your personal tragedies for comedy gold! If you were brutally beaten or raped, share your story with the audience. This will make the audience feel "at ease" with you and help them laugh more. And after all, they came to laugh, didn't they?
Bodily functions! Everyone has them! This gets the audience on YOUR side as you point out, hey, we're all human beings, here, right? Bring the audience together and celebrate humanity's essential oneness with a good fart or turd joke.
Audience participation. Audiences love to be involved! That's why they sit there passively. They're just waiting for you to involve them! They're just shy! Go into the audience and pick people at random. Look for people avoiding eye contact with you and ask them some personal questions, such as their name, their occupation, and their deeply held religious beliefs. Then make a joke about it! If none springs to mind, just joke about how ugly and stupid they are. The audience will thank you - with laughter!
WHAT TO DO IF NO ONE'S LAUGHING
No laughs? First of all, this will never happen in a million billion years. But sometimes, in extremely rare cases, you may not hear the enormous whooping guffaws from the audience you so obviously deserve. Here's a handy checklist to see what the problem might be:
Let's say you've checked all of these possibilities and it isn't any of them, but the audience is still NOT LAUGHING. Obviously something is very, very wrong. And it's the audience. You have just got every comedian's worst nightmare: an audience full of complete morons.
Statistically, the chance of your audience all being complete morons is very low. And yet it seems to be a problem endemic to open mic nights. Scientists believe that open mic nights may actually attract idiots. So be on your guard! If a joke doesn't get a laugh, first express disbelief that they aren't laughing. Feel free to shake your head. Then stop your act - you must get to the bottom of this.
Follow this procedure:
Explain the joke to the audience, in case they're so incredibly stupid they don't get it. Any joke is enhanced by explanation! Explain the explanation, if you have to.
Point out to the audience that this exact same material killed, KILLED last week. They're sure to laugh, once they know how well this material has worked in the past.
Point out how ungrateful the audience is being. Remind them how lucky they are to be being entertained at all, especially for a measly $10 cover, $10 drink (two-drink minimum) and $10 parking charge. Insult the audience.
Harangue them. Try to shock them out of their stupor by telling them what a bad audience they are. Tell them it's all their fault. They should straighten up and fly right then.
If after all this, they still don't laugh, you have every right to be bitterly angry at these troglodyte philistines. It's not fair that you should get stuck with such a stupid, stupid audience.
Since there's no point in trying to perform when angry, vent at the audience until you feel better. Also, this may generate nervous laughter. Once you feel you have vented your feelings, then and only then, should you move on to other material.
If you follow all of these simple guidelines, I guarantee you that you will continue to perform stand up comedy at open mic nights... forever!
At the 'Zoo' Don Stevens and I ran a tight ship. We were maniacal about comics staying within 5 minutes for their sets. So we could put 30-50 comics up on our Tuesday open mike night. (No matter how bad a comic is, it's hard to empty a house in five minutes - - - at least in the early evening)
The above piece struck a chord with me, since I've literally seen thousands of open mikers. At the least, figuring on 30 comics a week, times 52 weeks (the 'Zoo' never closed, not even Christmas eve) well, there's more than 1500 open mike performances right there in one year. Any way - most open mikers are open mikers because they perform like open mikers.
Early in her career former student Rene Hicks once said to me "Cantu, I want to tell some of these people 'Take Cantu's class - not that he' ll necessarily make you funny but at least you will be able to handle the basic stage techniques like how to tell if the mike is on without saying 'Hello, is this thing on? 'a hundred times in a five minute set?'")