How to be a Comic – Should I Test Material At Open Mic’s?

When I started out, I thought that I needed to write a KILLER FIVE-MINUTE SET OF MATERIAL. Eventually, I realized that I needed to craft a KILLER ACT (stage presence, likeability, vulnerability, crowd work, etc.) that leveraged KILLER material.

A killer act is developed by spending time on stage, getting more comfy, etc. But how do you create killer material?

Testing Material at Open Mics

scientist

I thought that you could go to an open mic, tell jokes, and keep the ones that hit.

Not true.

Here’s an example of how a bit can bomb at an open mic but do well with a show audience.

Poor Shoes at Open Mic Poor Shoes at Show (Hard Rock)

So what does this mean? Does that mean I can’t trust open mics to tell me if material is good or not?

Kinda sorta, but not exactly.

Kinda Sorta…

Research scientist conducts experiment.

To gauge whether something is funny or not, we comedians penguin to open mics. The challenge is that the open mic crowd is often not representative of the people that go to paid comedy shows. Open mic crowds are dominated by comedians, who don’t laugh nearly as much as humans do.

Would Sony ask a group of 90-year old’s if they liked Playstation? Of course not. Sony doesn’t market Playstations to 90-year old’s. They ask their target market, men between the ages of 12-40, how they feel.

The open mic experience is similar in many ways. The open mic crowd is much different than the ‘show crowd.’ The show crowd paid money to be there. The show crowd just wants to have a good time. The show crowd isn’t busy preparing themselves to deliver their own material after you’re done your set.

So fuck an open mic, right?

Not Exactly…

angry scientist beaker

There are confounding variables at work that obliterate the above pseudo-experirant (that’s right, experirant).

  • Was I likeable to the open mic crowd? Was I more likeable to the show crowd? Because if I’m not likeable, chances are they won’t laugh.
  • Was I vulnerable to the open mic crowd? Was I more vulnerable to the show crowd? Because if I’m not vulnerable, chances are they won’t laugh.
  • Moreover, the ‘poor shoes’ material used with the show crowd was noticeably more polished and better delivered.
  • I saw a guy tell a few jokes I didn’t like, and I stopped paying attention. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. The sixth joke might’ve been the best, but he’d already lost us. Where you put the joke has a big effect on if it hits or not.

So How Do I Approach Open Mics?

angry scientist beaker

Broadly speaking, the perfect set involves:

  • Strong Start (I like to start with improv to show the audience vulnerability).
  • Fostering Likeability in the first 10 seconds.
  • Audience Interaction (my opinion).
  • Killer material.
  • Strong End.

Therefore, these elements must be in play before one can accurately judge the reaction to material at an open mic. If a crowd doesn’t like you, even killer material will fall flat. Therefore, you’d have to wait till your next open mic to test the material again.

Fuck me, that said, sometimes great material transcends everything. For example, that open mic crowd featured in the above clip didn’t find most of my material funny, but laughed at, ‘Some of you guys black out when you drink…I black out when I eat.’ So who the bombaclat knows…

It should also be noted that, as my homeslice Nitish Sakhuja mentioned to me, you have to test material out 3-5 times before you know if it’s funny or not.

So what can we take out of this maddening argument?

Lessons Learned

scientist

  • Don’t throw out material if it doesn’t hit the first time. Try material out 3-5 times before you decide if it’s good or not.
  • If they don’t like you, their opinion is largely, but not entirely, invalid. Killer material can transcend one’s likeability.
  • You may not need open mic’s forever. Quinn C. Martin, a 10-year veteran, didn’t test any of his one-hour Quinnsanity set at an open mic. He’s cultivated an audience that loves his material. In essence, they’ve been testing him for the past 5 years, with the fans sticking and the non-fans non-sticking. What a stud.
  • BELIEF IS THE CAUSE. This one’s HUGE. When you know that a joke will hit, it transforms the entire way you deliver it. You take your time, relish the words, and revel in the laughter that ensues like a kitten in Cottonelle ass-paper.

A compelling argument for the use of psychedelics,

Michael Jagdeo

About Michael Jagdeo

My name's Michael Jagdeo, and I refuse to write about myself in the third person. I'm a Comedian from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. In addition to honing my stand-up comedy act, I maintain this blog and write the weekly comedy article for blogTO.com.
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