How to Survive Your First Open Mic

Article by: Holly Johnston

You've been saying that you're going to try comedy. Your friends and coworkers keep telling you that you need to. 

Or maybe the only person insisting that you're funny is that voice in your head… 

You're ready to bite the bullet and do your first open mic. 

The vibe of many open mics, honestly

We're here to help you show up to your first open mic confident and prepared. For 3-4 mins, you'll live your dream (and quite possibly your nightmare). 

Let's talk about it.

The first 'mic' can be anxiety-provoking, especially if you don't know what to expect or how to prepare. 

The best ways to find out where and when the open mics are:

  • Ask a friend who does comedy / message a local comedian on social media

  • Search Facebook groups or Instagram pages

  • Search websites that host local entertainment events and info.

Once you know which mics you want to attend, figure out how to sign up. 

Each mic varies based on where it is and who runs it. It'll either be an: in-person signup, email signup, website signup, or signup via Facebook messenger or Instagram. 

Sometimes online registrations are required a few days to a week in advance. Ask another comedian or the host if you need clarification. 

Next up: Time your set.
It's okay if you go under, but trust me, DON'T go over.

Show up with ideas. A set list keeps you organized and adds structure to stage time. Determine which jokes you want to test. It doesn't have to be perfect; it's a cheat sheet. 

Chances are you've watched a comedian do crowd work, or you've said, "I'm a riff person."

Crowd work or riffing is not as easy as it looks. You still need to develop those muscles. 

The best way to start flexing your comedy muscles is to write material, and learning different types of joke structures is an excellent place to start. Record yourself talking out your ideas if that feels natural. 

Introduce Yourself & Make Friends

Once you find the open mic you want to attend, show up on time, and don't be shy. Comedians are welcoming and supportive, especially if it's your first time.  

Sometimes "the hang" is the best part. Socializing during and after the mic is an excellent opportunity to network and get to know other comics.

  • You'll also get the chance to watch many comedians and learn different styles of comedy.

  • You'll discover which comedians you admire (and which ones you want to steer clear of).

  • You'll meet absolute characters- trust me. But it's fun to immerse yourself in this insane community of misfits. 

Here's a list of open-mic slang: 

  • Bump: When someone puts their name ahead of someone already on the list

  • Bomb/Eat Shit: Terrible set

  • Murder/Crush/Kill: Having a good set

  • Hack: Someone who lacks originality, does overdone material 

  • Hot Crowd: A good audience

  • Cold/Tight: A challenging audience

  • Riff: A joke thought of on the spot

  • Tag: A joke that adds a bit to make it funnier

Comedian Holly Johnston on stage

Manage Expectations

You should know a few things about open mics: they suck. 

Mics usually take place during the week, but there are exceptions. You'll rarely get an audience, and even rarer, you'll get a good one. 

Most often, the audiences only have a few "real people," which is how comics refer to non-comics. 

Don't expect the audience to give you a standing ovation. They most likely won't; they'll either be drunk, watching the game or scrolling Facebook. 

Most of the time, mics will be at bars, coffee shops, restaurants, or clubs on slow nights. There are mics where packed audiences pay and enjoy the experience like a real show. 

Don't count on it, and nobody's first time is that good. Think of it as a milestone. 

It's your first opportunity to introduce yourself as a comedian (even if that introduction is just the back of a Mexican restaurant). It's nerve-wracking and uncomfortable, but worth it.

Watch the Light

When you have one minute left, the host will flash a light - usually, it's a phone flashlight. 

Even if you're 'crushing,' you still need to get off when your time is up. (Pro tip: if you take the mic out of the stand, put the stand behind you.)

Prepare to get hooked

There's a reason why comedians uproot their entire lives, quit jobs, and live in shabby apartments to pursue stand up. It's addicting and can be fulfilling, and it's a sacrifice but one with excellent benefits. 

Don't be surprised if, after your first set, you get an urge to hit every open mic in your city—anything for that sweet-sweet adrenaline rush. 

You'll get 'bit by the bug' and want to consume anything and everything comedy. 

If that's the case, check out the best local comedians and nationally touring headliners at Big Laugh Comedy shows. It's an exciting journey. Congratulations on making the first move, and good luck. 

How'd your first set go? Let us know in the comments.
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