A young man — probably around 20 years old — nervously stepped on stage at Stanford & Son’s Comedy Club in front of a half-filled audience. It’s open-mic night at the Kansas City club, meaning anyone can come on stage and try their hand at stand-up comedy for three minutes.
He told his first joke with a big smile on his face, nodding his head to cue the audience laughter, but it didn’t come.
He moved on to his second joke, this time with a more nervous grin and shaky voice. Still no laughs.
He quickly wrapped up his third and final joke, fumbled the microphone into the stand and walked off stage to a less-than-generous applaus.
This kind of occurrence is common at an open-mic, but even if the laughs aren’t coming, the events can be beneficial to amateur and seasoned comics alike.
Whether they’re trying to make a tough crowd laugh, getting advice from fellow comics, or simply gauging their talent, comedians know how to use open-mics to their advantage.
“Open-mics are good because you get a direct response,” said Andrew Frank, an amateur comedian from St. Louis. “The people in the crowd tell you exactly how good you are and exactly what works, and you just have to do a million shows and your jokes take form and become something that is consistent.”
Open-mics aren’t just a training ground for jokes though. Frank says surrounding yourself with other comedians is an essential aspect of the shows as well.
“Comedy is a huge community. The city that you start in, those are your friends, that’s your social circle and you have to trust each other,” he said. “If you’re hanging out with funny people all the time, you’re going to get funnier.”
While it is common to see most of the open-mic performers socializing after an event, some comics prefer to get their advice from other sources.
Chris Blaski, a radio host-turned-comedian from Kansas City, found that getting advice from his fellow comics after an open-mic wasn’t very beneficial.
“I don’t bounce a lot of ideas off of other comics afterwards because every comic is in love with their own material,” said Blaski. “Now in comedy, there’s not a lot of things that haven’t been done yet, so you try and find something that’s new and different.”
Instead of using open-mics as a networking opportunity, Blaski found the show could be more beneficial as a learning tool, especially when the laughs were in short supply.
“You get that moment of temporary discouragement, but you learn from it,” Blaski said. “To me, whether I do well or I bomb, it’s an opportunity to learn and hopefully come back and do better.”
Even though the comics may be the main attraction at an open-mic, the audience is arguably the most crucial aspect of the show.
Open-mic crowds are notoriously difficult to make laugh, but three-year stand-up veteran Wes Van Horn says that makes the chuckles even more valuable.
“At an open-mic, they don’t want you to succeed, they want you to fail,” he said. “If you can get an open-mic crowd to laugh, that’s ten-times harder then making a room of 300 people laugh who paid their money for the sole purpose of laughing.”
Open-mic nights serve as tools not just for the new-comers, but for more experienced comedians as well, something Van Horn says the audience doesn’t usually understand.
“If you’re at an open-mic, they just think you’re some jackass who got up on the mic,” he said. “A lot of us are trying to get it good so when those big shows come up, we’re not bumbling over our material.”
The laughs at an open-mic may not be as abundant as they are for a sold-out headliner, but comics like Blaski make it clear that the shows offer plenty of passion.
“I’m not trying to sell out the Sprint Center,” he said. “If I can just do comedy clubs like this the rest of my life, I’m perfectly cool with that.”