5 Things You Never Want to See at an Open Mic

I'm going to be co-hosting my own comedy show in Los Angeles, and Dan O'Brien and Michael Swaim are going to perform at the first show, along with a bunch of other great guests, and you can buy tickets right here (buy one get one free if you use promo code CRACKED)!

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Don't you hate it when people spend 2,500 words being coy about the fact that they're selling you something? Far be it from me to do that. I will tell you right now, that first sentence up there is the entire purpose of this column. That's not to say you should stop reading. I'm a professional -- this is going to feel really good, trust me. But still, I'd love it if you'd check out that show I just mentioned!

To give you some background, I've been doing stand-up comedy, albeit sporadically, for about a year now. After six years of writing jokes on the Internet, it seemed like a reasonable thing to try. Like anyone else hoping to get into stand-up, my first time onstage was at an open mic night. If you've never heard the term, it's exactly what it sounds like. There's a microphone on a stage, and just about anyone is invited to perform. Sometimes it's only comedy, sometimes it's only music, sometimes it's an awkward mix of both, with a few prose-spouting hippies thrown in for bad measure.

No matter the format, it's almost always an awful time, and if you want to be a comic, it's an awful time you have to force yourself to have over and over and over again if you ever hope to spend enough time onstage to not be terrible. Open mics are the AA meetings of comedy, basically. And just like a gathering of "reformed" alcoholics teetering on the brink, if you hang around open mics long enough, you're going to see some truly awful things. For example ...

#5. "Funny" Homeless People

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This isn't even something you have to hang around a long time to spot. If you're at an open mic and didn't pay to get in, someone around you is homeless. The only question is whether they're going to remain a spectator or pay respect to the silly dream that got them living on the beach in the first place by getting onstage and slurring a few jokes. And it's the latter that's actually the best case scenario, because homeless people make fantastic hecklers. In fact, the very first time I ever tried stand-up, I was heckled by a man who I swear to this day had to be a hobo. Granted, he was wearing a North Face jacket or something, but whatever, rich people give clothes to charity, too; this bitch was homeless. And he had the nerve to heckle me. Here's video evidence:

Right, that video is damn near 12 minutes long; I don't blame you for not watching. I promise you the exchange in question is there somewhere, but that's also video of the very first time I tried stand-up and watching it hurts my head, so I can't tell you exactly where. I was supposed to do three minutes, but having no idea what the laser pointer the old man was shooting at my face was all about, I just kind of rambled for as long as they'd have me. I'm better now, I promise. Don't let this video keep you from buying tickets.

As for that heckler, he's in that video. I made a joke about 50 Cent, and he yelled out, "I got 50 cents right here!" or something to that effect. I told him it looked like that was probably half his rent and that he should keep it. It got a good laugh. I felt kind of bad about the joke for approximately as long as it took me to remember that homeless people don't have feelings.

I also think they might be at least partially responsible for the next thing you don't want to see at an open mic.

#4. A Cover Charge

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Don't get me wrong, there is definitely some leeway here, and I've formed my own theory that it is at least in part because of those aforementioned homeless interlopers that some open mics charge a cover. For example, there's an open mic near my apartment that charges a $1 cover. No drink minimums or any of that fun stuff, just $1. Because it's located where homeless people love to be (Santa Monica), I've always assumed that it was meant to keep them at bay. Maybe it's for something else, I don't know, it's a dollar.

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Ya heard?

But that's also about as much as I'd be willing to spend for nothing more than the chance to maybe tell a few jokes. Once you get up into the $5 neighborhood, you'd better get a drink with that or something, because there are legitimately great comedy shows that cost way less, and most open mics are absolutely free. If an open mic is generating a ton of cash, it's probably because someone is getting robbed.

On the bright side, that someone is probably just one of your friends. The open mic has an ugly cousin called the "bringer show" where comics are promised stage time provided they bring a certain number of people with them. All of those people, of course, have to pay the ridiculous cover and are subject to the two-drink minimums that you'd get at a regular comedy show.

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"They're mostly water!"

The difference here is that most of the "entertainment" is invited because they know a handful of friends who were willing to attend the show, not necessarily because they're funny or talented. That said, if you really want to do stand-up and you live in some tiny town where the one open mic that charges a $15 cover is your only option, then by all means, go tell jokes there and see if you're any good at it. If you are, move.

#3. Washing Machines

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You may recall that, for a few months last year, I lived in San Francisco. It was my intention to start really hitting the open mics regularly once I moved there. I was used to living in places that had one (or sometimes no) comedy club, so my opportunities to do that kind of thing had been limited. I knew it would not be that way in San Francisco, and I fully intended to take advantage of it. But like I told you before, San Francisco is a strange place. So I shouldn't have been surprised when my first attempt at taking in an open mic landed me at a place where people wash their clothes.

Granted, it was a laundromat slash cafe slash bar slash comedy club, but still, it was mostly laundromat. There were kids doing homework while their parents washed clothes and such.

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Not as much dancing as the stock image sites would have you believe, though.

The place is called BrainWash, if for some reason you think I'm lying, and it's actually kind of popular. There's nothing more popular with me than hating big crowds in small places, though, so I never actually told any jokes at BrainWash, instead choosing to spend most of my time hating that there was nowhere to sit. I regret that now, because who knows when I'll be able to say that I told jokes at a laundromat again unless I just walk into a fucking laundromat and start telling jokes, which I suppose isn't the craziest dream.

But it was too much dream for my comedy "debut" in San Francisco, so after one jokeless visit to BrainWash, I never went back. But I did check out another open mic in San Francisco a few weeks later. The results were ... San Francisco.

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Adam Tod Brown

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