Exit Stage Left!
You’re clear! You bustle passed the MC as he retakes the stage through a darkened green room to the corridor backstage. Your adrenalin is still pumping as you hear the MC working the audience back into a comedy froth depending on how your set went. Everything gets quiet. You’re alone.
Your first set is over.
Your first open spot is a lot like a first date. You work so hard to make that first outing a success that once it’s done you’re stuck as to where to go from there.
Here are things to do while you’re still at the gig.
Watch the other comics and see what you can learn about delivery, timing and material choice. Adrenalin is great for creativity; just don’t expect to start brainfarting comedic genius right away.
Silence is Golden:
Its common sense but I’ll say it anyway. While another comic is on stage, you – and your rent-a-crowd – need to shut your pudding-munchers. Save your chatter for the break. A noisy comic is seldom a working comic.
During the break, while getting notes on your set, ask about other venues. Places that support trying out new material are better than established gigs that have the odd open spot. If you struggle/die in front of a paying audience that wanted a comedy show, you’ll find it tough getting booked again.
Open spots have attempted to start their own comedy nights to create a space to practice. The problem is that – sorry to be blunt – a lot of open spots aren’t any good. If a line-up of those open spots die enough times, people will stop attending that gig, thinking that all comedy nights are the same. It doesn’t help the industry. Rather, get as much stage time as you can, at any gig that will allow you to learn your craft.
Open mic night is appealing to them because they don’t have to pay anyone or promote the event. Also, they usually give performers their quietest evening in the hopes that the comedy will drum up some business. It’s the “If They Gig Here, Cash Will Come” business plan. Door deals are a bad idea for that reason. Either the venue should guarantee a set fee for the show or there is no comedy. A set fee forces the venue to take an interest in promoting the gig. If you’re going to try to run a gig solo, at least ask for advice from comedians already running gigs first before wandering off without a map.
Blunt again. Sorry. Rape jokes don’t work. Stop that! A lot of new comics like the idea of being the dark horse/edgy comic. The problem is you’re neither Batman nor Bill Hicks, yet. Try learning your craft before you unleash the hounds of mediocrity. When choosing material, talk about what you find funny. Try a gag at least three times before shelving it. Above all, do material you like performing. It’s going to be your set for a while.
Make your life easy. Look smart; wear what’s comfortable and what won’t distract the crowd from your set – unless your set needs that.
If you must wear a costume make sure your set motivates what you’re wearing; otherwise it’s just a diversion.
Any headgear you wear must not obscure your face. Your expression, especially your eyes must be visible to the audience so they can connect with you.
Comics want to be rock stars. I’ve had guys tell me to introduce them as MC-13 and Magic 44. When starting out, all open spots are called Fred. When the MC brings on an open spot, your first name or full name is all he needs. If it’s hard to pronounce, make a plan, one that doesn’t involve your superhero alter ego.
You might “feel” like you deserve more work, another shot or a paid spot. Guess what? The booker might not “feel” the same way. In the end, talent is talent. If you deliver the goods consistently, or at least show improvement, you’ll get booked again. The rest is up to the promoter. There are only so many spots, paid or otherwise.
Be ready to deliver your set when asked. There are tons of willing pretenders keen to try. Many venues only give you one shot. Make sure you’re prepared. Craft a tight, polished 5-minute set. Then do it again and add it to your existing set. Keep doing that till you have a headlining set of 30 or more minutes in length.
Leave yours at the door. Actually, leave it at home, in a box buried in the backyard with a tag marked “DO NOT OPEN IN THE PRESENCE OF ALCOHOL”
A sense of entitlement, a bad attitude, poor gig etiquette, arrogance and not showing up for a gig are all ways to ensure that no one will book you more than once. If you arrive at a gig thinking your shit doesn’t stink… it does, and it’ll show especially when it spatters your set.
That’s it. Next time I’ll start answering the frequently asked questions I get from open spots.