When I was starting out in stand-up comedy, I knew that comedy was all I wanted to do. But when people asked me, “So what do you do?”
I would say to myself, “Can I call myself a comedian?”
And yet I knew, that’s what I wanted.
That rush you get on stage! There’s nothing like it!
But how do I get from doing it the first time to really being a comedian? I mean really being a comedian.
Back then, I didn’t know anything about open mics and other opportunities to get on stage. I just took a class and performed at the graduation show.
I wanted to do this comedy thing all the time and I wanted to do that NOW! Because I wanted to be able to tell people with confidence that I was a comedian.
I found out from another comedian in my class that there were these things called open mics.
I also found out that there was a magazine that posted a lot of those mics; where they were and what times, etc.
In L.A. a lot of open mics were posted in L.A. Weekly and Backstage West, two magazines that focused on the arts, pop culture and alternative culture.
Today there are websites that keep databases of comedy clubs and open mics. I’ll list those later in this post.
Every week, I would comb through these periodicals looking for mics. I would follow up with phone calls to be sure they were still scheduled for the published times and I started going regularly.
But I couldn’t nod my head “yes” yet when I asked myself, “Can I call myself a comedian?”
There were some good open-mics and some bad ones. There were some where it was a lottery–where you would put your name on a slip of paper and drop it into a fishbowl, and you could get called and you might not get called–and there were some that were first come, first served. You would just put your name on a list and they would call you up based on the order you signed up.
Applying Business Philosophies to My Comedy Endeavor
I had read some business books and started applying some business philosophies to my approach to developing this new “business.”
I started signing up for the open mics that brought me the best R.O.I. (Return on investment), because after all, I was investing money in gas, sometimes drinks and most importantly of all, my time.
I started choosing the mics that were the most efficient. Which ones could I do that I could ensure that I would get some stage time. I don’t have time to sit around for 3-4 hours and not get some time at the mic.
I kept a calendar of the good ones and I would use that calendar to “map out” what my week looked like.
But how many mics should I do in a week? How many times should I go on stage?
All I wanted to do was be a comedian. How can I call myself a comedian?
My mother used to say, “Visualize yourself on the stage every night. Visualize yourself doing comedy on one of those comedy shows.”
So I did and I did one better, I WAS on stage every night. Sometimes I would miss a night during the week. But I was blessed to have a place in New York a block from the Comedy Cellar.
When I was living in New York, I was doing four mics, sometimes five mics a night.
It became clear that I was what I was doing. I started to feel like a comedian because that’s what I was doing every night. I spent more time doing comedy, writing comedy, hanging out with comedians than anything else. I was living what I wanted to be.
There was no time to be anything else!
Now I felt like a comedian, people saw me as a comedian. Now could I nod my head ‘Yes’ when I asked “Can I call myself a comedian?” Damn right I could!
Within a couple years after amping up my mic time I did “A&E’s ‘An Evening at the Improv’,” my first spot on television, that led to other spots on TV, a job writing for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and decades touring 45 weeks out of the year.
Now I do corporate gigs, club gigs and run a course teaching others how they can do the same.
Not everyone has that luxury to live in the live comedy Mecca of NYC and be able to do 4 to 5 mics per night, but the goal is to put in as much time as you can doing what you want to do.
One of my students was in the game for about 6 years then totally jumped to the next level in a two year period of time, wound up on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert and started doing other regular shows on Dry Bar Comedy, Roof Top Comedy and traveling the world.
I asked her how did you get so good so fast? She said, “Fourteen mics a week.”
So if you want a number, that’s a good one. Can she nod her head ‘yes’ when she asks herself ‘Can I call myself a comedian? I would say, ‘Yes.’
But you don’t have to set a number. Just get up at the mic as many times as you can. Refine your set. Develop a tight five minutes.
Watch as many comedians perform on late night TV as possible. See what they are doing. Shape your set. Go to open mics and do it.
Just Do It
Success Guru Dr. Wayne Dyer said, “Go for it now. The future is promised to no one.”
There are so many comedians who spend their time in self-doubt, “Am I ready?” “Will they like me?” “Can I call myself a comedian?”
There’s a philosophy in business that should be applied to your own endeavors in comedy. That philosophy basically states that your product is never going to be perfect. You should develop your MVP; Minimum Viable Product then put it out there, then improve it. Put it out again, then improve it.
Want to improve faster? Get a coach, refine your skills, then put out the product again new and improved. Then do as many mics as you can to make it the best possible set you can make it–the whole time knowing that it still could evolve to something better.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been paid yet, if you’re doing the work. If you are immersed. If you’re living, breathing, writing, reading, doing everything you can do to be a comedian, then you can call yourself a comedian.
Open Mics & Club Resources
Here are some links that might help you find what you need with regard to open mics, clubs and shows. Be sure to contact any of these venues to be sure they are still operational.
Keep in mind, keeping a comedy database up to date is very time consuming. The folks that run these sites are doing the best job they can do, so be sure to do follow-up research.
https://badslava.com – This website is a great resource for open mics and shows all over the world. Slava does a great job with this database.
https://comedybureau.com – The Comedy Bureau posts L.A. Open Mics, L.A. Shows, N.Y. Open Mics and N.Y. shows.
https://dead-frog.com – Is an online magazine focused on stand-up comedy. It also has a resource that lists many of the comedy clubs in the country.
Hope you find this helpful!