Adventures in Open Mic, Volume 1


STARDATE: Tuesday, April 19, 2011
VENUE: Funny Bone Westport, St. Louis

I can fade this shit in five minutes flat.

Tonight was the first in what should become a weekly tradition now that I’m back in St. Louis — open mic night at Funny Bone Westport. More than 30 comics showed up, and only 16 were picked to perform. I was one of them, and I’m pretty sure it was only because I wrote on the sign-up sheet that I had two to four friends coming to see me. It’s good to have friends.

The open mic comedians are corralled into the corner balcony. If you want to sit at a table with your buddies, you become a paying customer. No employee pricing on drinks, and the two-drink minimum applies. Now, I quit drinking six months ago, and I wasn’t keen on the idea of paying three bucks for a 16-ounce off-brand bottle of water or a 10-ounce mug of Coke filled to the top with ice. So I went the O’Doul’s route.

Drank up my two bottles of nonalcoholic brew and felt a little bit loopy for a few minutes afterward. It gave me the idea to play a sadistic trick on my wife — drink a six-pack of O’Doul’s, come home, kiss her on the mouth and pretend to be half-drunk, then burst into phony tears because I took a tumble from the wagon. That is, if I didn’t get pulled over on the way home and flunk a sobriety test due to sheer lack of coordination. (“Step out of the car, Beer Breath.”)

As the show’s starting each week, the FBW people post a roster of which open mic comics have been picked to perform and in what order. I was listed 14th, third to last. Open mic people get four minutes onstage. Throughout the show, sprinkled between every three or four comics, they bring professional comedians up, and it seems like they’re allowed to perform for up to eight minutes.

Not sure if it was intentional on FBW’s part, but the funniest open mic comedians went up first. Then there was a stretch of four or five in a row who sucked. Not helping matters at all was a table of four seated just off stage left. Two girls, two guys and probably 32 cocktails between them. They talked loudly amongst themselves and heckled the comedians.

I haven’t yet had to deal with being heckled — hell, at open mic at Donnie B’s in Springfield, no one can even sit close enough to the stage for the comedians to hear them — but five or six different comics told these people to shut the fuck up, in those words, and were completely ineffective at accomplishing the task. A bouncer finally went over to the table and talked his bouncer talk, and they still wouldn’t shut up.

To make matters worse, these guys heckled the funny comedians and left the sucky ones alone. I was praying for their noisy-ass intervention when a 50-year-old weirdo who’d never set foot onstage was in the middle of reciting his two-minute poem about a Boy Scout with a tick on the head of his penis.

(ASIDE: 50 y/o Weirdo Guy prefaced his set by announcing, “My therapist encourages my sense of humor. He told me I should confront my antisocial behavior by getting onstage and doing standup comedy.” Yeah, your therapist is laughing AT you, not with you… I dunno, though. Uncomfortable silence during bad open mic always really cracks me up. We’ll see if he reappears next week.)

This being my first of many weeks of trying to make a splash in big-city comedy, I brought what I considered to be my A-material. It was a cut-down version of an eight-minute set I did earlier this month when I featured for the Beards of Comedy. I had about 20 of my friends there that night in an audience that totaled 25 people, and all this material killed. Naturally. Real friends laugh.

About half of it killed tonight, and the other half was met with near-silence. In my defense, just before I went onstage, the MC announced that the show was almost over and plugged the party at the bar next door. So I took the stage as everyone was paying their tabs and discussing their plans for the rest of the evening. During my four minutes, the drunk-heckle table was only one element in a suddenly conversation-buzzing room.

"This is a nightmare! All of my Scientology literature is OUTSIDE the bubble!"

The good news: I’ve finally managed to bring to the stage a John Travolta impression I’ve been doing since 1996, and it has gotten great responses all three times I’ve used it. And the only new joke I did, about the recent death of the inventor of the video game cartridge (“When he flatlined, I wonder if they took him off the hospital bed, shook him and blew into him”) was my biggest laugh-getter.

The bad news: I still get thrown off when a joke that I expect to do well just tanks, especially if it’s one that’s worked during past performances. I like to be relaxed and full of confidence. When I get that thrown-off feeling, I tend to rush through my material more, and my connection with the audience slips. I also chronically tend to under-prepare, which makes me worry about forgetting things, which also makes my performance suffer.

Tonight begins a new era, though. Not only am I easing into a better home venue, but there’s an open mic every week instead of once a month. This will give me four times the practice and keep me more steadily focused on writing and honing new material and finding new angles or taglines to older material. I am excited, and I am optimistic, but what I really need to be is just plain funny.

One Comment to “Adventures in Open Mic, Volume 1”

  1. Sounds awesome. Love the Travolta caption. just remember your material is good, even if the audience fails to always react. So no need to let silence tank the rest of your routine.

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