This is a recount of my experience at Open Mic Night at Spirits Bar & Grill, which is hosted every week by Jo-Anna Downey, one of Toronto’s leading comics.
Stand up comedian Approaches Venue
Using both google maps and a compass I stumble my way through the dark to Spirits Bar and Grill one block from Church & Bloor. I enter and try to hide my anxiety because I don’t know where to go.
I walk through a door and see Jo-Anna Downey, but I’m too flustered to muster up anything more than a meek, “Hey” and walk away. Smooth, Mike, smooth.
This is the singularity
I take a two seated table right in the front; no hope of masking my singularity here tonight.
I get a Coke – jeez, what’s worse than a grown man alone in a bar? A grown man alone in a bar with a Coke with a straw in it. I wonder if I remove said straw I my cool meter would go up; but then I realize that there is ice in the glass. They don’t use post production cooling additives in mead.
I notice that the banner behind the stage bears the comedy network emblem. My mind gets a boner; Jo-Anna Downey is for real. I gotta do whatever it takes to get on her good side!
Too much, Too Soon?
I feign the need to use the ladies room so I have an excuse to wish Downey good luck on the show, but she’s conversing with someone, probably a comic. I walk back to my spacious (what I mean to say is lonely) table for two.
There’s a fine line between presenting yourself to vs. bothering the gatekeepers of the open mic scene. My neurosis constantly has me worrying about which spectrum of that continuum I’m closest to.
Today’s line up of comics KILLED. They had the place roaring. I think to myself, “These are professionals.”
One performance that struck me was delivered by Kathleen McGee. I saw her last night at Standing on the Danforth and she faced a tough, 40+ white crowd. Tonight, with the EXACT SAME MATERIAL, she KILLED with the 25-40 year old downtowners. Fascinating! And she was able to relish the jokes more. She got into it. Wall to wall the crowd was in the palm of her hands.
To Customize or not Customize
It reminds me of something Chris Locke said to me after I agonized over whether I should craft different acts for different audiences:
“I wouldn’t worry about which audience it’s going to be. Just write what you think is funny and work that in every room.”
Not going to pretend I have any answers at this time. There probably isn’t one, anyway. BTW, good Lord Chris Locke is hilarious.
I’ve mentioned before that I believe improvisation is the hallmark of all great comedians. As I was watching each comedian, I was thinking up jokes that would tie into their jokes if I were to go on stage after them.
For example, Jo-Anna mentioned that they call her the Queen of the Carpet. If I followed her, I would’ve mused, “Queen of the Carpet” sounds like a lesbian porno show. If I saw two signs on the way here, and one said ‘Queen of the Carpet’ and the other ‘Open Mic night at Spirits’ I would’ve chosen to ‘Queen of the Carpet’ in a heartbeat.”
Another lady said that the host of, ‘Man vs. Food’ died. That’s a gimme, “Clearly, once again, Food has dropkicked another victim into oblivion. Ladies and gentlemen, in the competition of Man vs. Food, Food reigns supreme.”
Agonizing over Comedic Improvisation
I drew up 4-5 jokes and tortured myself trying to memorize it as if I was going up next. But after the show I though to myself, “I don’t need to go crazy to show my chops.” As long as I improvise a bit, and most of all KILL, that’ll impress the audience and the booker.
Peace to the middle east,