A couple of weeks ago, we decided to force our intern, Spencer, to become a stand-up comedian (jump to Part 1
, Part 2
, Part 3
, Part 4
). Spencer’s spent his time studying stand-up comedy and preparing to perform at an open-mic night, despite his fear of public speaking and his striking resemblence to an nerdier 14-year old Matt Damon.
Inexplicable phobias aside, Spencer followed through with the plan on Tuesday night. He got up in front of a crowd of angsty, self-loathing comedians at an open-mic night and told jokes for 5 minutes. Our plan for the evening was simple: the first thing we had to do was to psych Spencer out, and get his nerves going. The second thing we had to do was get Spencer some alcohol, to calm the nerves that we’d successfully agitated. On the way to execute Step 2, we interviewed him to see what was going through his abnormally large head. As you’ll see, he was a little nervous:
I’m sure that every open-mic night works a little bit differently, but here’s how the one that we went to worked:
Everyone who wants to perform puts their name into a box. At a given time, the room fills with dozens upon dozens of sweaty, scruffy, self-loathing comedians of all shapes and sizes. The person who’s running the open-mic draws names from the box, and then awkwardly reads them off while someone sitting next to him fades the music (a discman plugged into a speaker) in and out around his voice.
After about fifteen or twenty names have been called, they stop, and that’s the list of comedians who are performing for the night. Lucky for us, Spencer’s name was called early on, and most of the uncalled comedians gradually and begrudgingly cleared out. The room cooled down a little, and everyone felt their self-esteem rise a slight bit, and then the comedy began.
The open-mic that we attended exhibited all different types of comedians. Some were funny, some were not. Some were normal dudes, and some were crazy old bag ladies with homemade pants who’s act consisted of reading from old newspapers and talking in gibberish. The girl that went before Spencer was a first-timer, just like him. She did a decent job. Her jokes were okay, but it wasn’t the right crowd, and she was met with awkward stares and mumbling. Then, after a cautionary word of warning from the MC about how hard it was to do open-mic for the first time, it was Spencer’s big moment:
As you can see, Spencer did an excellent job. We were all nervous, especially after the MC’s dark, cryptic warning to new-comers. Spencer won the crowd over with his first joke, though, and he was off to the races from there. We never doubted that Spencer’s jokes would be funny. We did have some reservations about the crowd, though, because comedians, like terrorists, tend to be pretty harsh to people they don’t know. It appears that Spencer’s spritely, youthful energy and innovative perspectives appealed to them, and they wound up loving him. Spencer summed up the entire experience pretty well in a post-show interview that we conducted, about 10 minutes after he’d left the stage:
So, that’s basically what it’s like to take the first step into the world of stand-up comedy. Keep in mind that we lucked out like a perverted janitor at an all-girls lesbian training camp. Spencer was an excellent candidate for the experiment and everything fell into place perfectly, but if your first stand-up experience goes half as well as Spencer’s did, then I’d say you’re doing pretty well.