This week, Dan writes about getting started doing NY open mics.
“Just Google ‘New York Open Mics’ and go to as many as possible.”
One comedian gave me that advice when I turned 19. I’d asked for guidance and when he said that, I took it as a blow-off. I’d wanted some shortcut, custom-made for my benefit. In hindsight, that’s some of the best advice I received.
Starting out, I had major stage-fright. My voice used to quiver when I’d speak in high school. I remember trembling in HS English when I had to stand in front of the class and talk about The Picture of Dorian Gray. I didn’t want to be afraid, though. Stand-up is what I’d wanted to do from a young age. I’d filled up enough notebooks, listened to enough albums, read enough interviews to know that I loved it. I pushed myself to get on-stage until I numbed myself to the fear.
Every night, I’d scheduled a rough plan of which mics I was going to hit up and in what order.
It took months to figure out a solid routine, getting the timing right, learning the different sign-up rules of different mics — e.g., which mics are e-mail sign-up, which you can show up late and still perform. Some rooms force the comic to sign-up in person, while some allow others to sign you up ahead; some mics are lottery (random order), and some are first-come-first-serve. I used this calendar approach, because I knew if I left it to the day-of to decide on a plan, I wouldn’t do anything. It’s like getting an exercise schedule. If left to the last-minute, people opt-out. Folks rationalize it by saying, “Eh, I’m tired today,” “I should do laundry,” “Maybe tomorrow,” — whatever excuse that’s just punting commitment. I’d already punted for years.
I have no natural performing abilities. Zero. Some comics complimented my writing…few praised my presence, nor should they have.
Unlike smaller cities, where Open Mic Nights may have a real audience, the mics in New York are almost-exclusively comprised of comics. Some comics complain about this fact. It’s true that certain stuff may work for comedians that wouldn’t work for an audience, and vice versa, but there’s without question, gains that come from performing in these settings. At these mics, I can be seen consistently by peers, try new material, hone older stuff, get on-stage in many different settings in front of many different circles of comics.
On nights I don’t have a booked show, I can still get on-stage at five mics, which has hopefully helped accelerate my growth. Even the mics with only a few comedians there, I found helpful, as it forced me to be more conversational. Often, when you are just starting — especially if someone’s more comfortable writing — the comic just gets on-stage and recites their material, book-report style, with no awareness of what’s going on around them. Doing mics or shows for smaller crowds, more intimate settings, helped me snap out of that quicker than I would’ve otherwise.
For me, getting on-stage constantly helped me get more comfortable on stage, become more comfortable socializing off-stage, feeling like more of a part of the New York scene, and become a little better at stand-up.
One positive I’ve noticed, after doing it every night for some time, is I could start to feel myself getting better in spots. Certain sets, I’d note to myself that I could do things on-stage — sell jokes, construct bits, communicate ideas more effectively, efficiently, with better results, than I could do a few months prior. These moments, though only for myself, are some of the most rewarding, because it means I’ve grown. And it makes me look forward to months from now, when I can unlock different skills. It’s like a video game character unlocking a new level. Though unlike the game character, stand-up takes way longer. There’s no cheat-code. Fortunately, though, there’s room for failure, and re-tries.
Dan Perlman is a stand-up comedian from New York. Follow him on Twitter @danjperlman.