Once you have three to five minutes of stand-up comedy material (aka jokes) to perform – get up on stage and try out your stuff! Start going to open mics. Most open mics have a five minute time limit. Some open mics are free, some you have to pay for. I officially started going to open mics in July of 2012. I went constantly. Most open mics can be rough because you are performing in front of an audience full of comics. Sometimes these comics pay attention, and sometimes they are looking at their notes and thinking about their own sets. Sometimes they are just staring at you and wondering if you are wearing underwear. I personally think that these kinds of open mics are not really a great way to find out if your jokes are funny. They can be good for other reasons such as meeting fellow comics, practicing saying your set out loud without looking at your notes, and, occasionally…happy hour drink specials. But even though I don’t LOVE these open mics, I’m so thankful that I went to so many before my first show.
Not all open mics allow you to video your performance, but I’ve always been able to make an audio recording. If you have an iPhone you can just turn on the Voice Memo app and set your phone on the stool on stage. MAKE SURE TO RECORD YOUR SETS! It is so helpful to have that recording when you are fine tuning your set the next day.
There are several open mics happening every night in Los Angeles! I log in to two websites on a regular basis to find out which ones are happening each night: thecomedybureau.com and badslava.com. One of my favorite open mics is a free one run called Mouthy Pants by Kym Kral and Whitney Melton at The Other Door on Tuesday nights at 8pm in North Hollywood. The crowd is super supportive and they have a DJ. Not many open mics have music for you, and once you get used to being introduced with music…you really miss it when it’s not there.
Speaking of “supportive audiences”… I encourage you to be a supportive audience member. Watch the other performers. Be an active listener. And if you think something is funny: LAUGH! I used to be more of a SMILER rather than a LAUGHER. Once I began frequenting open mics, however, I forced myself to learn how to laugh out loud. Your genuine laughter is a true gift to the person on stage and to the rest of the audience. Laughter is contagious!
I also do a lot of open mics at HaHa Cafe Comedy Club because they have them every night and you have an option of doing a 10 minute set ($5 for 5 minutes, $10 for 10 minutes). They also have a plan where you pay $100 for a month of unlimited 5 minute sets. But that deal really only makes sense if you go there 7 nights a week.
It’s kind of important to note that some clubs have “open mics” that are actually “auditions”. At these you go up and do a tight three minute set and the bookers for the club are in the audience. This is awesome and they happen weekly…but BEWARE! I’ve heard the same advice over and over regarding these “audition-open mics” – you never have a second chance to make a first impression, so save those for when you are really ready.
At the top of this post I said I started doing open mics this past July…that’s kind of a lie. I actually tried doing stand-up comedy ten years ago at an open mic in Chicago. And, as I left the stage my first time, a guy grabbed my arm and said: “you’re lucky you’re hot!” Ummm… Disgusting and thanks. It took me a decade to try it again. Don’t let that be you. Lots of people will try to give you advice. Take what you want and set the rest free.
On that note… I had a fun opportunity to ask comedienne Erikka Innes a few questions and I wanted to share her answers with you below. Enjoy!
Hey Erikka! How did you get started in stand-up?
I took a class in the Bay Area. The class was helpful for me because I had stage fright. The class forced me to perform in front of people.
So…would you recommend that people take a class?
It depends on the person and what they want to do. Some people are better at doing things themselves, whereas some people learn faster in a class environment. If you’re really nervous and want to see if you even like stand-up, a class can really help with that. I don’t think it’s good to do only classes, though. You should also do tons of open mics.
You’ve been doing this for seven years! Do you still go to open mics?
I do open mics all the time because it’s a great way to test new material and experiment.
How often do you change out your material?
It depends. I like to change it as often as possible, but it varies based on what else I’m working on.
If your best friend wanted to get into stand-up, what advice would you give them?
You just have to be stubborn and persistent. Stay focused on what you’re doing and what you want to accomplish because that’s what’s important. Don’t get caught up in worrying about what others are doing, whether they are doing more than you or if they’ve gotten to places you haven’t. It can be a long process, you have to want it enough to keep working on it. If you’re just starting you should be out performing as much as possible!
If you could start over again, is there anything that you would do differently?
I would have gone out there and done a lot more sets.
Is there any specific advice that you would give to a woman getting into stand-up?
Just be a person doing comedy. There are things, as a woman, that will make it harder. There are some things that are easier. One person will list off all of the things that are harder or easier, and then the next person will tell you the exact opposite. Is there a difference? Probably. But you have to find your own way to deal with it based on the person you are.
Any thoughts on how to handle all of the feedback and advice one might get when they are brand new?
If it works for you, take the advice, if it doesn’t leave it. Try not to take advice personally if you don’t like what someone is saying.
Erikka is a nationally touring comedian and award-winning writer. Her twitter handle @nerdgirlcomedy is recommended by the San Francisco Weekly as a top choice to follow if you like to laugh. Erikka can be seen several nights a week at Flapper’s Comedy Club in Burbank, CA and can be heard often on the Sirius/XM Laugh Attack program “Get Off My Lawn.” She also co-hosts the popular internet radio show “Grand Theft Audio” on RadioTitans.com on Monday mornings. For more Erikka, please visit her website: erikkainnes.com