What to Expect on your First Open Mic Night

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So, you’re doing your first open mic! You’re excited, a little nervous (no need to be), happy and we are truly happy for you!

5 things to know about your first open mic:

1) Know the caliber of the mic.

  • Who is the mic for? Is it for people brand new to comedy, more experienced people just working on material, everything in between?
  • Who shows up for it? Is it open to the public, do non-comedians attend? Is it just other comedians.
  • What are the general habits of the comics who show up? Do they actually pay attention and laugh or do they spend most of the time on their phone or in their notes and leave after they’ve performed?

2) Know how it operates.

  • How much time will you get? Typically between three to five minutes.
  • How is the line-up determined? Are you given a set spot on the mic based on when you sign up or is it a lottery? Is everyone who enters guaranteed to go up?
  • What is the cost? In bigger cities, it’s common to have to pay to do the mic (usually $5) and almost all places will have at least a one-drink minimum.

3) Know the layout of the room.

  • Where will you sit? Is there a designated spot for comedians or are you in the general audience?
  • How is the stage laid out? Where do you enter the stage from, how will you get there from where you’re sitting?
  • Where will the light be shown?

4) Know how you’re going to perform.

  • When you get on stage, will you leave the mic in the stand or take it out? If you leave it in, make sure you are close enough to it that it picks up your voice. If you take it out, move the mic stand behind you so it’s out of the way and put it back in once you’re finished. For first timers, it can be easier to just leave the mic in the stand.

5) Know your material.

  • What are you going to talk about? Have an idea of your complete set. Create a set-list that is a bullet-point of the key things you want to talk about. Don’t try to memorize everything word-for-word, but know the general punchlines and practice extemporaneously.
  • Where are the punchlines? Where are people supposed to laugh? Don’t assume they’ll laugh because you have a funny concept, try to anticipate where people laugh because you’ve created a setup and punchline. Put the punchlines at the end of your sentences.
  • How long does each section last? Rehearse, out loud, and make sure you don’t go long.

Just for fun, here are a couple of Dos and Don’ts

  • DO record your set. Ideally with video. Watching it back is how you know how you did and can help you get better.
  • DO come prepared. Don’t expect to just wing it because “you’re funny in conversation.” Being funny in stand-up is different than being funny in everyday life. Rehearse what you’re going to say multiple times, make sure it comes in under time. Write out a set-list and bring it on stage with you.
  • DO keep going. You may say a joke that you think is funny but no one laughs. That’s okay, that’s what open mics are for. Just move to the next joke.

  • DON’T go over your time. Mics only work when everyone stays on their time, otherwise you’re cutting into someone else time. When you see the light, start wrapping up. When your time is up (or the host starts walking to the stage), stop talking. Don’t finish your story or “get to the good part,” just say, “thank you” and walk off.
  • DON’T steal material from other comedians. And don’t compare your first time doing an open mic to having sex. A lot of people do and it’s generally not funny.
  • DON’T take the process too seriously. Some people have a good first set and get some laughs, others don’t hear so much as a giggle. That has no bearing on how well you’ll do if you keep working on it.

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