The Open Mic Diaries — Lessons from My First Experiences in Standup

The Bug

Whenever I start learning about something new, one phrase always pops up from the veterans: ‘catching the bug.’ Over the past couple of weeks I have found myself saying the same thing about standup. It’s fucking exhilarating. For 5 minutes or less, you’ve got control of a room. All eyeballs are on you, and occasionally-paying customers are relying on you to provide their entertainment for the evening. For me, it’s a newer facet of comedy. Here’s what I’ve learned. 

  1. Do It A Lot

This one is probably obvious. I haven’t gotten up as much as I’d like — only 4 times in the past month — but especially in these early stages I’ve noticed real improvements in my work. ‘Noob gains,’ to borrow a phrase from bodybuilders, are when you’re able to make significant leaps in skill because it’s so easy to eliminate your really shitty habits as you slide into your new role as comedian. 

  1. Record Your Set

This one can sometimes be hard to negotiate, but it’s always worthwhile. Whether you’re just recording audio with a phone placed on the stool, or you enlisted a friend or freelancer to record your set from the crowd, knowing what you do on stage is crucial. Like in any discipline, earnest reflection on past performance is a guaranteed way to make improvements. On that note…

  1. Make Notes on the Sets You Record

AKA actually listen to/watch them. It’s super easy to pull up a video, watch, laugh, make some mental notes, and move along. But don’t do that. Instead, get out a pen, or pull up a Word doc, and scribble down some actual notes on your performance. What went well, what went poorly, what to improve. In enough weeks/months/years it’ll be fun to look back and see what trivial things were bothering you early on (or what major things you missed).

  1. Bring Friends

Whether they’re comedians or not, creating a support structure is a great way to keep on traveling down a path you want to travel. Don’t overtax relationships bringing people to dive bars for open mic, but if you can find a core group who’s down to clown around with some comedy, it’s a great way to ensure your continued ability to get up on stage — and have a crowd. Plus, they can provide good feedback if they’re comedically minded. Just be ready to take their comments with a grain of salt if not!

  1. If All Else Fails, Start Your Own Night

I can’t speak for everywhere, but at least in a college town, there’s no shortages of bars. If you’re willing to put in the man hours to create and promote a night of comedy, they’ll be more than happy to accommodate a larger group of customers spending money on their food and drinks. If you’re a student group at a school, you could probably even get a subsidy to help put the damn thing on!

  1. Just Do It

Oh hey, that phrase again (Nike plz don’t sue). No one ever became a successful standup by watching specials on Netflix and thinking they’re funny. At the end of the day, you’ve gotta get up there, minute by minute, to develop your material and your skills. And if you think you suck, don’t worry. You’re in good company. So did every other comedian. Until they started playing in stadiums and starring in movies. 

What are your standup comedy tips?

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