A local comic thought it would be a swell idea if I wrote something on what is and isn’t acceptable at an open mic. So, that is what I am doing. Before we get into the meat and potatoes of this though, I need to talk about a couple of things. Not all open mics are the same. In New York, looking at your phone is a no-no, but it may not be a big issue somewhere else. Portland may be more strict on what you can say on their stages then say an open mic in Montana. What you have to do is research! find out what is cool and isn’t cool and go have fun.
Respect the light: Open mics are made to help comics work on their material. What a lot of comics don’t realize though is that these places are also businesses and they are in it to make money. That is why almost every open mic has a light. The light alerts you to the fact that your time is almost up and you have to wrap it up. The light is important because it helps a show move along. Just imagine if there was no time limit and 20 comedians! The show would be four hours long. You will also see real comedy shows using the light to let comics know their time is up, so it is best to pay attention and respect it now.
If it is your first time at a certain open mic, ask about the time given to comics. Make sure to adjust your material accordingly. Don’t try to shove eight minutes in a five minute timeframe. If you are at four minutes and 20 seconds, just call it good. There is nothing wrong with leaving a little time on the table (it’s called giving time back to the club or mic). If you write your jokes into your phone, then you can just set a timer. Let’s say you have five minutes at an open mic, set your timer to four minutes and five seconds. That gives you five seconds to get on stage and when the timer goes off you know you should wrap up the joke or try a shorter one. Ask where the light is located. The light may be someone’s cell phone or it may be a built in light. Saying that you didn’t see the light, is not a good excuse. Going over the light is a great way to be asked not to come back and it is a great way to not get booked.
Some words are off limits: You may think you have a first amendment right to say what you want where you want, and you would be wrong. If you are at someone’s place of business, they can restrict what you can and can not say while you are in their. I have seen it time and time again where a newer comic will go up and say cunt, or nigger, or spic and get banned from the open mic. If you are not sure, go ask someone who has been there before. If that doesn’t help, just watch the show. Are people up there just saying whatever? Then it may not be an issue. I know one club in Spokane did not want comics saying the word “cunt” on stage. His explanation is that women don’t like the word and that will turn them away. That is all the explanation you need. Respect their stage, or start your own stage.
Stick around: Here is the thing. Comics need people to perform for. If you have performed in front of a crowd, it is in bad taste to leave as soon as you get off stage. I thought this was a personal gripe, but it is universally disliked. Look, everyone has things to do. You may be going to multiple open mics or you have work early in the morning, but you have to consider other comedians. If you have to leave and be somewhere else, it may be best to not come to the open mic. Comics who do it a lot often get put to the back of the list as to keep them there. I think this is a good way to keep comics who bail around or it makes them not sign up for the open mic.
Use your own stuff!: A lot of people see open mics not as a way to develop as a comedian, but as a way to gain approval. So, it isn’t rare to see a comic walk up on stage with material that they didn’t write. Open mics for comedy are not like music open mics. How well you repeat a famous Carlin bit will not be seen in the same light as if someone can belt out an Aretha Franklin tune. Another common no-no is to repeat jokes you have seen on Facebook memes. If you saw it on Facebook, it is likely that many, many people have also seen it. You may get a laugh, but comics that write and work on their own material may not like it at all.
I think these are some good tidbits to help you succeed at open mics. This is not a final list of course. If you have some suggestions, put them in the comments section and I may do another article on them. Thanks for stopping by!!