My First and Worst Year: Open Mic Hell
It can be pretty lonely going to an open mic when you’re starting out, especially if none of your friends are comedians. I missed the boat when a wave of my friends had just quit a year prior. I think they were just depressed by the overall experience or had moved on to better things. Eventually, I ran into a couple of people that I knew, but we didn’t hit all the same mics.
You venture out to these open mics, sign up on a list or throw your name in a bucket for a lottery draw. Echoes Under Sunset was typically swamped with 40-50 comedians. If I was way down the list, it could be hours before I got up. Then by the time it was my turn I might have an audience of 2 because everyone either bounced to other mics, or were just hanging out in the other room, charging their phones and socializing. I’d marvel at comedians that dropped in and were immediately put up. What the fuck? Why do these motherfuckers just get to go up and bounce immediately after? I've been waiting for 2 hours!
It made my blood boil.
Sometimes I'd go to an open mic early and the host would show up with the list. Then I'd go to sign up and there would be 10 people on the list already! What the FUCK?
All part of the game. This would happen for a number of reasons. People are texting the host for an early sign up- friends hook friends up, especially when everyone's trying to hit 3-4 mics a night. Or maybe it's a comic with a higher status- someone who's been in the game longer, so they get the respect and are granted "pop-ins". A few of those comedians would drop in and then shit on the venue in their set. Like it was beneath them to do that open mic.
Occasionally I'd luck out, get up early, and see a lot of comics in the audience...looking down at their phones, not supporting at all. Maybe just frozen in a grimace. I realized that all of this was just part of the grind. I think it's personal, but it's not. I'm just not funny.
Some mics feel like cliques, where the support isn't there unless I'm already in their circle. More than likely, I just suck!
Comedians in the open mic scene have witnessed the same cliches pass through a million times. The young cocky guys that want to be shocking. The misogyny. White guys that think they can drop the N-word because their favorite comedian did it. Comedians that can't take the silence so they start screaming at the audience. And not at other comics, they're screaming at customers- just innocent people that happen to be there.
I saw a comic walk up to someone who was studying and scream in his ear. Just some student who didn't care that an open mic was going on because it was a fucking coffee shop. Lot of these open mics are in random places and customers might feel like they're being held hostage. I saw a young comic scream at an elderly man to suck his dick. Others have called audience members cunts. Long sets devoid of jokes.
Familiar topics range from:
1. Fat women should be grateful that I want to fuck them!
2. Midgets are ridiculous.
3. Homeless people are gross.
4. I'm fine with gay people, (my cousin is gay) as long as they don't try to fuck me in the ass.
5. Rape, molestation, 9/11, Hitler, and incest.
6. Passive aggressive rant about (insert race here)
7. Bitches be crazy.
8. A woman having her period (a disgusted man's perspective)
9. Asians are bad drivers. (occasionally told by a comic of Asian descent)
10. Dude, that's so gay.
11. Hitting women.
12. Aids. (very popular)
One of my favorite segues was at Rockpaper Coffee- a mic where the darkest of souls would gather to charge their phones. This dude named Glenn just said horrible stuff about women for a few minutes and then he transitions with,
"I just want a girlfriend."
I remember there was an avant-garde asshole at The Palace. We'd perform upstairs in this Chinese restaurant (it's still going) and this one dude starts yelling down at a family that's just trying to celebrate their kid's birthday party. The comic is doing this violent hacking cough, flailing his arms, jumping into the wall behind him, and leaning over the balcony to yell at the party. He picks up a potted plant and all this soil spills out over the floor. It might sound hilarious as I'm describing it, but nobody was laughing. The host was livid. Of course he leaves without helping to clean up. One of those real artistic performers.
I change my mind, that guy was fucking brilliant. I think his name was Crispin Glover.
That's the thing, I end up meeting people that respect those kind of performers immensely and I have to question my judgement all over again.
Oh, I see, he's emulating unfunny incarnate, I just didn't get it!
I've seen so many long, ranting monologues. There's never a shortage. I'm so depressed. I want to kill myself. Comics shitting on everything they're not. Shitting on religion just because. Comedians rolling around on the stage, screaming, doing their version of an uncomfortable Andy Kaufman set. I subjected my girlfriend to a few of these mics.
I've become a little desensitized to the appalling behavior and just come to accept it. Most of these morons will be gone in a year or two, or they'll change their strategy from attacking the audience to writing actual jokes.
I'm friends with comics that have done these things. That's on me. I have conflicting emotions because you meet really nice people that have done awful things on stage. You should be able to express yourself at an open mic right? Maybe they just needed to get that shit out. I've definitely embarrassed myself countless times, but I firmly believe that I sink by myself. I hate comics that attack the audience because they can't handle their bombing.
With that said, I'm sure I'm due for a meltdown in the future.
Besides, that last bit killed at Flappers, so fuuuuuuuuuuck you pregnant lady, your unborn child's a cunt!
...sorry about that.
This might cheer you up, here's a picture of Jared Levin playing to a totally empty room!
So I would spend hours trying to get up at various places. Sometimes there's a drink minimum. Maybe a $5 entry fee. Some mics are absolutely free. Average 3 minute sets. Some were 4-5. At Marty's you could do 20 or more. That's not necessarily a good thing.
To add to the insanity I'd see these crazy people getting on stage.
They're clearly not serious about doing comedy, and now they're robbing me of stage time! Motherfucker.
I took it really personally. Anyone who didn't seem to care about stand-up just got under my skin. I was taking the metro blue line to the red line from Long Beach up to Hollywood, which would take anywhere from 90 minutes to 2 hours. Then I would wait around for an hour or two to MAYBE go up (lottery draw, mixed with drop-ins and employees) and then some careless fuckhead employee at the Improv automatically gets to go up? They didn't even write any shit! They even said it three time during their set,
"I didn't write anything."
GREAT! Now there's this ancient vaudeville fuck doing his act from the 1940's. He's getting out the shoe polish....DEAR GOD.
I actually heard a Tammy Faye Baker and Monica Lewinsky joke- I couldn't believe it.
It's just one of those things, there's certain people you only see at certain open mics over and over- like The Laugh Factory, The Comedy Store, or The Ice House. Same weirdos popping up. A woman singing some horrible song and rambling incoherently about her life story. The dude with the huge sombrero that kept clearing his throat and fucking with his phone during everyone else's set. There was also a conspiracy theory guy that would bring charts on stage.
Most of the hosts just embrace these people. Just give them their time and move on. Maybe these mics are keeping them from doing something worse. Or maybe it's keeping them alive. Pretty dramatic, but who the fuck knows.
One guy showed up to The Ice House to battle his fear of public speaking. He would break down and cry almost every set.
Some open mics encourage feedback from other comics after your set. It's a great idea that a lot of people take advantage of. I was never crazy about it because I'm stubborn and I hate most comic's material, so why would I want their input? I do like technical notes about what I'm doing on stage, but I'm a stickler for what's written. No one can improve my 9/11 dick joke, it's the best one clearly.
Then I found myself giving unwarranted advice to comics that didn't ask for it. Jesus Marty, you're barely a year in. What the fuck do you possibly have to offer?
There is a light at the end of the tunnel. I gradually made friends. It took awhile. I struggle to be myself in front of other comics to this day because I care too fucking much. I come off like a phony and I know it, but I'm trying to let it all go. No one is thinking about me! They're probably thinking, well that guy sucked, or not this piece of shit again, but that's probably it. They're worried about their set.
The Comedy Store patio mic was instrumental in finding my voice a bit. Very thankful to Josh Martin for hosting it. It was the 50-yard line for an open mic week. Wednesdays AND Thursdays at 4pm, which is really early for a week day mic. It left me plenty of time to hit some more mics at 6 or 7pm. When I was taking the bus everywhere, it meant a lot to get those two guaranteed mics in every week. I started to loosen up because of this place. I felt a camaraderie here. I really bonded with some good people.
There were so many distractions- the street noise alone. Every few minutes, a bus would pull over to take pictures. TMZ and Rasta buses. Double decker buses. Just a bunch of tourists on vacation getting bombarded with worthless information about The Comedy Store and now they were staring at us. So we would try to make something of that moment. Or I might just say something lame, lose my place and never recover. Some comics screamed at them. We'd hear the occasional request of,
"Tell us a joke!"
One time I took the challenge and told a quick joke to a bunch of tourists on a bus and got the laugh. That felt like the accomplishment of the year for me- Sean K. was just clowning on how I was gonna choke and then under the gun I got the laugh.
One time a bunch of dudes in a party bus asked a comedian to hop in for a ride.
He did. We never saw him again.
PJ Stansbury would wander into the mic, drinking PBR and promptly shit on everybody during his set. He's what most moms would call a "potty-mouthed troll." I had no idea he was a paid regular. This guy was spewing so much toxic bile I was stunned to know his name was on the fucking wall. First impressions man. They never last. Now he's just a potty-mouthed troll that I happen to like.
Pauly Shore would occasionally pull into the driveway to do business at the Store and give us a wave.
Sometimes pedestrians would participate in the madness. They could hear us from the street, so they'd yell shit out as they walked by. Heckling would take place too, or on a couple of occasions a shouting match. It was always fun to see people stop in their tracks and then actually come in for a few minutes to watch. The bar was open after all.
That particular mic was a great training ground and there was just something about that energy outside on Sunset Blvd.
There were the audition mics like Flappers, that could lead to an audition, which would lead to those bringer-type shows.
Or you could stand outside the Laugh Factory for a few hours and sign up to perform the following week! Also an audition type scenario that could lead to longer sets and showcase consideration... don't hold your breath.
Always a sober moment when some beautiful person in a fancy car rolls down their window to question the line of 15 comics, standing outside the Laugh Factory.
"Who are you waiting for, what comedian?"
"No, we're waiting to sign up- WE'RE the comedians."
"Oh." (sympathetic wave, drives off)
Some of the comedians are in lawn chairs. One guy is eating a sandwich from the deli next door. An old man is talking our ear off about his "comedy career" back in the day. They cut the line at 15, but the 16th person is waiting anyway- just in case. They're going to be disappointed. No exceptions.
I'd sit around, try to write a joke for a minute and then give up. Someone would start a conversation with me. Or hand me their dog for this picture.
That's the only good thing I really have to say about standing outside the Laugh Factory. I meet good people. I won't meet the owner, Jamie Masada. At least, not any time soon. He's in the Bahamas or something. Which is a good thing, I'm still terrible. He was there once out of the 7 times I've done it. so I eventually grew bored and got involved with other things.
I'll end this entry with another painful artifact. I can't bring myself to watch this again, but I'll post it.
I was interested in the Flappers podcast, the "FlappCast" because the owners/hosts had on a lot of comedians that I knew. Anyone could do a short set. Plus they booked some pretty good guests to sit in and give feedback. Very much like the KillTony podcast except nothing funny happens.
I take that back, GT's appearance, which I must hunt down. They were so shocked by his performance. Nothing like an eccentric, hated, ticking time-bomb comic to blow the lid off an unsuspecting room.
So I found out how to sign up and made a fool of myself. I remember being so disappointed that they didn't get me. That I was doing these outlandish bits; an over-the-top impression that couldn't be serious. An over-the-top story that couldn't be true. When I talked to them I felt like they hadn't even listened to me.
Not that any of my material was good, my shirt alone sealed my doom.