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Stand-up Comedy: 5 Tips for Your First Open Mic

Your friendly neighborhood slacker. Chill Clinton likes to write about film, music, collectibles, and more.

The Comedy Open Mic

Comedy open mics offer opportunities for all comedians, whether they are seasoned professionals or complete novices, to get experience telling jokes on stage and trying out new jokes. They also open doors for comedians to be paid for their comedy skills by booking shows.

If you have a passion for making others laugh and are ready to take your comedic skills to the next level, there is no better way to improve than by taking the stage and trying your hand in a real-life stand-up setting that is open to anyone who wants to sign up.

However, making the most out of your stand-up experience requires some preparation that goes beyond writing a few jokes. Check out this list of five tips for stand-up newbies to help you succeed at your first open mic, and be prepared for the triumphs and challenges you will experience as you perform your first comedic sets!

How to Prepare for an Open Mic Stand-up Set

  1. Attend a Few Comedy Open Mics Without Performing
  2. Don't Invite Your Friends to Your First Few Performances
  3. Be Authentic, But Also Be Willing to Stretch the Truth
  4. Challenge Yourself to Keep Your Set PG-13
  5. Be Prepared to Bomb

1. Attend a Few Comedy Open Mics Without Performing

This may go without saying, but if you are interested in performing at a comedy open mic, you will definitely want to attend multiple open mics as an audience member first. Of course, feel free to sit back, have a few drinks, and enjoy the talent of the performers, but also be sure to take in details about the performances you see succeeding—and those that don't succeed.

When you watch a performer who you aspire to be like, take note of their posture, cadence, and the types of jokes that evoke the strongest response from the audience. Of course, who you focus on will depend on the type of material that appeals most to you.

For example, if you want to tell political jokes or social commentaries, notice how those comedians carry themselves, how rapidly they move from punchline to punchline, and the specificity of the commentaries they are making.

If you intend to tell pithy one-liners, focus more on the comedians who tell punchy jokes. Notice how their demeanor differs from comedians who tell longer-form jokes, and focus on the degree to which narrative or observation impacts the content of their jokes.

If you feel confident enough to do so, consider bringing a small notebook where you can jot down your thoughts. However, be careful not to transcribe the jokes of other comedians, because you wouldn't want to be accused of "stealing" their jokes.

2. Don't Invite Your Friends to Your First Few Performances

This is a widely known tip among aspiring comedians, but many comedy newbies are surprised to hear that it's not a great idea to bring your friends, family, or spouse to your first few performances.

Your first few performances will feel extremely uncomfortable, and if you want to improve, it's best to embrace that discomfort. When new comedians pack the room with their friends, they are impeding their growth in multiple ways.

First, open mics are generally not well attended events, with the majority of people in the room being other performers. By packing the room with even a small group of friends, you will not have an authentic experience. Your friends are there to support you, and will laugh at your jokes no matter how good they are.

But if your goal is to one day grow as a comedian and perform at a paid show, this will not help you improve. The vast majority of the room at a paid show will be people who don't know you and don't care about you, and you will need to genuinely earn every laugh you receive. Therefore, it's best, when practicing, to have as authentic an experience as possible by performing open mic for a room of strangers.

Additionally, you will benefit my making connections with other comedians in your local scene, and if you bring a group of friends, you will not be as likely to branch out and speak to other comedians, and other comedians will be less likely to approach you.

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These relationships can be invaluable as they will provide you with a ton of information, like where you can perform, and you can receive honest feedback regarding your set from other people who have a passion for the craft.

3. Be Authentic, But Also Be Willing to Stretch the Truth

Many comedians draw material from their lived experiences. Some of the funniest jokes can emerge from stories about things that have happened in our lives.

Drawing on these lived experiences can be an amazing tool for comedians at all levels, but at the same time, comedians ought to be willing to stretch the truth to create the most ideal narrative to support their tone and punchline.

For example, I have a joke that involves me being broken up with by a former girlfriend. It's largely based on a true incident, but in the joke, she breaks up with me face to face when, in reality, she broke up with me over the phone. However, the joke is best imagined when the audience can picture me rushing over to her house to get broken up with, and even though that didn't actually happen, it allows me to draw on an authentic and relatable experience, and present it in the funniest way.

It's a comedy show. Trust me, there will be no fact checkers.

4. Challenge Yourself to Keep Your Set PG-13

When new comedians begin performing stand-up, there is a tendency for some to focus on especially taboo subjects and use excessively vulgar language. Of course, comedy clubs are extremely permissive environments where performers are largely welcome to talk about whatever they want so long as it isn't overtly bigoted.

However, great comedians thrive in being able to create humor out of seemingly mundane observations about the world around them. Though many comedians can expertly wield more crass subjects, newer comedians can better cut their teeth by challenging themselves to stray away from subjects that will easily evoke strong reactions as they hone their storytelling and delivery.

Additionally, if you've ever seen a comedian bomb on stage, it is all the more difficult to watch them bomb when discussing transgressive topics than when they're talking about walking their dog or going to the grocery store.

5. Be Prepared to Bomb

When I performed at my first comedy open mic, I spent weeks planning my set. I wrote and rewrote jokes more times than I could count, practiced in front of the mirror endlessly, and perfectly planned every beat of my five minute set. And not surprisingly, I nailed my first performance.

But then there was the second one.

Riding high off of my stellar first performance, I only gave myself about a week to prepare. I thought all of my jokes were just as good as the first set, and I got up on stage and absolutely bombed. I got a few laughs towards the beginning, but after messing up the delivery on a punchline I had spent nearly a minute setting up, my performance took a sharp nose dive.

Things eventually got so bad, I cut the last 30 seconds of my set after nearly two minutes of silence, broken only by a few polite chuckles, and was mortified.

But honestly, I don't regret having that experience.

When attending open mics, you are there to practice, grow, and make mistakes. You will watch other comedians bomb and you will bomb as well. Fortunately, I have many more successful sets than failures, but like all comedians, I occasionally have terrible sets, and that's simply a component of being a performer.

Before attending an open mic, get comfortable with the likelihood that, in your first few performances, you will not likely perform very well. However, the difference between those open mic comedians who succeed and grow, and those who never progress in there craft, is how prepared they are to cope with failure.

If you find yourself bombing in front of an audience at an open mic, rest assured that everyone there has been in your place before, finish out your set, don't get upset with the audience for not laughing, and prepare yourself to get up again at the soonest opportunity!

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