That’s a good question because open mics can be scary and intimidating.
My suggestion is to go!
You cannot let fear win. We get better at what we practice. If you practice avoiding fear, then you just get better at avoiding fear. But if you practice facing fear, then you get better at facing fear. Either way you’ll end up mentally scarred, so get something out of it.
Here’s what I did when I first began going to open mics at the Holy City Zoo in San Francisco and later at the Comedy Store in Hollywood. I’d get so nervous in my stomach for two days before an open mic it was difficult to think about anything else.
So I made a deal with myself: “I’m going to go to this open mic, but I’m not going to perform. I’m just going to watch.”
When I got there and watched a couple of comics, I realized, “I’m funnier than almost all these people.” I’d get mad at myself, sign up and I’d do those three minutes.
This was the deal I had to make with myself in order to just show up. After a few of them, I was still scared, but I was no longer intimidated as I understood the reality of the situation. Find your way to show up.
To prepare yourself to go to an open mic, have some material. At least have a minute or two. It’s better to be able to go up with something to talk about. It’s even better if you have some jokes.
Now that you’ve gotten yourself to the open mic, Sign up and find out if you get to perform that night. Next, evaluate. Take some time to check out the dynamics of the circumstances. Ask yourself,
“Is anyone paying attention to the comics?”
“Is it possible to get a read on my material?”
If the answer is “YES,” then by all means try out your material.
If the answer is “NO,” then this means all the comics are sitting in the back of the room and working on their material. Once in a while when one of them likes a joke he’ll blurt out, “HA!” In this environment, you’re not going to get a read on your material. So don’t do your material as you’ll get very discouraged. You’ve worked hard on the material so why try to make a non-audience laugh. You might as well perform for a room full of chairs. They may be out there, but they’ll never laugh.
Also, beginners often take this non-communication from a non-audience to heart and get down on themselves, “Maybe I’m no good. Maybe the jokes aren’t funny. I wonder if I can get some pity sex?” And you might get some pity sex, but you’re not going to get a read on your material.
Open Mics Alternative
Set the material aside for another time. Get on stage with the lights in your eyes and the mic in your hand and rant. Be brutally honest about what’s bothered you that day. Complain about what’s in the news. Trash everyone and everything, except the club as you’ll want to perform there in the future.
The idea is to practice saying what you really feel and think. Every comic out there is striving to discover that pure honesty with a sense of humor. Practice letting that voice in the back of your head, come out of your mouth without evaluating or editing.
Stand up there for the three to five minutes and just go off on whatever comes to mind. Enjoy the cathartic freedom to say what you’ve always been too afraid to say.
It doesn’t matter if they don’t laugh.
It doesn’t matter if they don’t listen.
It doesn’t matter if they’re even there.
Only your honesty matters.
But I’ve got to tell you, if there’s a chance for those comics sitting in the dark to listen to you, it’s brutal honesty.
When you don’t care is when you’re going to be your most authentic self. To go through that gateless gate that you’ve allowed to hold you back. Fear is the gate. Honesty is the freedom. Practice telling your truth.
I hear your internal voice, “But what if I offend someone?” You will offend someone and it’s none of your business. You’re not there to take care of their feelings. Besides, they’re comics, they have no feelings.
Next, something will happen you won’t expect: When you say some terrible, awful, cruel, vicious, sadistic truth. You’ll think people will dislike you for it, but instead what you’ll discover are peers. Comics and audience members will say to you, “I thought that same thing, but I’ve always been too afraid to say it.”
Comedians say the unsay-able. They become the voice for all the things that everyone thinks, but are too scared to admit it to themselves, let alone say it publicly.
So remember to first evaluate. If it’s a supportive room, then try to get a read on your material. If it’s a room full of chairs and lost comic souls … rant.
The more you perform at the open mics, the more you’ll get comfortable in a very uncomfortable circumstance. Performing at open mics is a phase you will need to go through.
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