Stage Time Is Just As Crucial For Young Comedians As It Is For Young Bands
Posted on April 28, 2015
April 28, 2015 | by Jodie van de Wetering
The comedy and punk scenes have a lot in common – it’s a crossover Jonathan Diener has looked at for The Runout before. We’re all in the business of pouring something raw and visceral and sometimes ridiculous at our audience, and hoping for a reaction.
We’re also inventive about getting stage time.
Stage time matters for the greenest of comics because, as a standup comedian, the audience is your instrument. You can be witty, you can be insightful, you can be a walking wikipedia of pop culture references with a mind that moves at twice the speed of sound, but if you can’t engage the 20 blank faces in front of you, you’re not going to be able to make them laugh.
And just like any other instrument, you can’t really learn if you don’t have one to practice on.
That’s where open mics and amateur shows come in. They’re where we get up when we’re so new we’re not sure which end of the microphone to talk into, fumble through our first crap jokes about dicks and weed, read off our notes, forget our lines, and die a hundred horrible deaths on the long road to not sucking as a comedian. They’re also where we make friends with other comics, where we’re exposed to new and different comedy influences, and if it’s a mixed mic, where we get to hang out with musos, performance poets, improv ninjas, and other creatives, anarchists, and misfits.
And when you’ve done just enough to realise how much more you need to do to grow as a performer, you want more. When normal people who are scared of public speaking ask why one would conceivably get into standup, it’s hard to explain. How do you put into words just how good it feels when a big, warm, generous laughs roll around the room and washes up the walls while you stand back and think, I did that. It’s addictive. And very soon, you realise you’ll move heaven and earth to get more.
But mics only happen when they happen, and there are only so many spots on the bill. Maybe you’re in a smaller community, or one that just doesn’t happen to have that sort of live scene. Sometimes, it’s just not as easy as putting your name down and turning up.
So it’s not uncommon for comics to think about running their own room, even if they’ve only got a handful of open mics and unpaid gigs on their own resume.
More power to you. Go forth and create something glorious.
I’d never done any open mics at all before I made my first step towards what would eventually become Allsorts, the fortnightly mic we run in Rockhampton. I’d been a public speaking nerd about 15 years earlier, which had turned into a couple of bumbling attempts at talent night comedy, and then… nothing. I loved comedy, and longed to perform, and did precisely nothing about it for a decade and a half.
There are a lot of reasons for that, from making my day-job career happen to mental health shenanigans, but a big one was that the opportunity didn’t exist. For a long time it didn’t occur to me that if it didn’t exist, I could create it.
You don’t have to wait for a venue to spontaneously decide they’d like a comedy club or an open mic night. You don’t need to wait for the leaders of your local scene to decide to split off a new room, or the self-appointed gatekeepers of the local arts community to make it happen.
You, Mr I. Nevaherdovim, can do it yourself.
You don’t need a certificate of competence in event management to get started, just a shred of common sense and a willingness to put in the work to get the event off the ground and keep it running.
Approach your dealings – with other performers, with potential venues, with anyone and everyone who might be able to help – in terms of why it’s good for them. You’re interested in stage time. The venue is interested in bums on seats and drinks in hands. The other performers are interested in their own acts. The media is interested in something interesting to fill column inches or airtime.
And ultimately, that means you all want the same thing: a successful show.
The University of Google will quickly help you figure out the details – what sort of audio rig you’ll need if the venue doesn’t already have their own, whether to take sign ups in advance or on the night, how to decide your running order, the best way to MC the show. Details. You’ll work it out. Work with what you have and who you know. If that means you end up in a back room of a laundromat with a wobbly mic stand and a PA borrowed from some guy who used to play pub rock in the ‘80s, that’s still stage time. Wallpaper the town with flyers, contact the press, plaster your show all over Facebook.
Get yourself an audience. Learn to play your instrument.