Two Buck Yuks: A matter of degreesWritten by Keith Bergman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When you go to a traditional comedy show, there’s a format to the proceedings. You’ll see a host, or emcee, who starts the night off, makes some announcements and does a little material, usually while the crowd is settling in and placing food and drink orders. It’s the low rung on the club-gig ladder and it can be a thankless job. Then the middle act, or “feature,” gets 20-35 minutes to get everyone laughing and enjoying themselves. The headliner comes up and, on a good night, takes the warmed-up crowd and knocks the show out of the park. Open mic night is another beast entirely. You may have a host who brings up each comic — or each person may just introduce the next one on the list. And it can be chaos. In bigger cities it’s not uncommon to see more than 30 people on the sign-up sheet, with various audience members coming, going, talking through the show and getting drunk. If the show is not exclusive to comedy, you may see someone working out their new R-rated material between a folk singer and a slam poet, often to everyone’s dismay.
One common newbie mistake is to think you’re ready to make a move when you’re not. In Georgia I talked to an open-mic regular, 10 months into doing it, who confidently boasted of his 90 minutes of material. I have no doubt that this guy could stand in one place and speak words into a microphone for an hour and a half. But based on the 10 minutes I saw that night, I wasn’t eager to hear the other 80.
Most comedy fans have witnessed someone out of their depth at a show. It can be a hapless emcee bombing right out of the gate, or an unknown comedian headlining before they’ve developed enough material or the skill to hold a room’s attention. It can be career suicide — impressions are hard to shake, once formed. I know people who haven’t seen me perform since my first year, and the jokes of mine that they still associate with my act embarrass me now.
It’s the great life conundrum, comedy-style: You’re not as far along as you probably think you are, but you’ll never know you if can take that next step unless you walk off the cliff and see if you’ve figured out how to fly.
Two things I try to keep in mind — the world will generally let you know where you are in the pecking order and no matter where that is, even taking your first steps into the open mic spotlight, others are standing in the wings wishing they had the cojones to make that leap. I’d rather be the doofus on stage going down in flames than the guy in the back wondering what it’d feel like to try.
Keith Bergman hosts the Two-Buck Yuks comedy show every Wednesday at 8 pm. at The Blarney Event Center, 601 Monroe St. D.K. Hamilton headlines Sept. 25, while Dave Landau tops the bill Oct. 2.