A Comic’s Life: Getting Started Doing NY Open Mics

getting-started-doing-ny-open-mics


Our new series, “A Comic’s Life” focuses on life on the road, performing stand-up. is a young writer and comic, who has been performing comedy full time for two years. He performs nightly in New York City, and tours around the country at festivals, clubs and colleges. Dan is writing a series of articles for “A Comic’s Life”, which chronicles some of his thoughts and stories about being a young comedian just getting started in his career.

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.

Right after finishing college in Chicago, I moved back to New York with the plan to get on-stage as much as possible, seven nights per week. I have the same goal then as I do today: to get good at stand-up.  The week before I moved back, I filled my calendar with open mics, where anyone can perform. I thought that if I wanted comedy to be my job, I had to treat it as such. Every night, I’d scheduled a rough plan of which mics I was going to hit up and in what order. This plan took better shape after I started in NY, as I figured out which mics I found constructive.

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.

I did not enjoy the first six months in New York. I didn’t know anyone in the scene, struggled often, and did little to immerse myself socially. Instead, I kept my head down at most mics, sitting isolated, with my head in my notebook. I’d watch a few comics, do my lame set, listen to the audio of that lame set on the subway, try again at the next mic. And repeat.  I have no natural performing abilities. Zero. Some comics complimented my writing from an early stage. Few praised my presence, nor should they have. A couple comics noted I had a low-energy, deadpan-style. I didn’t set out to be low-energy then; I just had stage-fright, which led me to be stiff.

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.

The ‘do a million mics’ approach may not work for everyone. I’d describe it like studying for a test — some kids studied for weeks to get a half-decent grade, while some crammed the night before to do the same. Everyone needs to figure out what approach works best for them. I wouldn’t dare tell anyone to pursue one route, because everyone forges their own path.  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. New York has some of the best comedians in the world — stand-ups that continuously inspire me and motivate me. When immersed in that level of talent, I quickly realized the depth of my badness. It’s a sink-or-swim reality, where I just have to get better, or I’d be eaten alive.

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.

 


Have your own experiences to contribute to “A Comic’s Life”!?  Write to us at editor@theinterrobang.com

 

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Dan Perlman is a stand-up comedian and writer from New York City. Dan performs regularly at Stand Up NY, New York Comedy Club, Comic Strip Live, and alternative rooms across the city. He has performed in comedy festivals in Brooklyn, Memphis, and Dallas. In 2013, Dan was named Comedy Contributor for Neil deGrasse Tyson’s popular StarTalk Radio show. He co-founded, writes, and stars in the web series, Moderately Funny. Dan also works as a Sketch Company Writer for the Off-Broadway theater group, On The Rocks. Currently, Dan hosts and produces a monthly storytelling show, Hindsight, at Stand Up NY Labs. He also appears regularly on SiriusXM’s Ron and Fez Show. Visit danperlmancomedy.com for more.
Dan Perlman
Dan Perlman
Dan Perlman is a stand-up comedian and writer from New York City. Dan performs regularly at Stand Up NY, New York Comedy Club, Comic Strip Live, and alternative rooms across the city. He has performed in comedy festivals in Brooklyn, Memphis, and Dallas. In 2013, Dan was named Comedy Contributor for Neil deGrasse Tyson’s popular StarTalk Radio show. He co-founded, writes, and stars in the web series, Moderately Funny. Dan also works as a Sketch Company Writer for the Off-Broadway theater group, On The Rocks. Currently, Dan hosts and produces a monthly storytelling show, Hindsight, at Stand Up NY Labs. He also appears regularly on SiriusXM’s Ron and Fez Show. Visit danperlmancomedy.com for more.