Open Mics are no exception. There is a protocol to it, a certain way of doing things. If you are familiar with the Chicago Open Mic scene you know there is a ton of new hopeful comedians that attempt this art/craft each week. To help this newbie influx, we wanted to put together a brief list of unwritten rules that might help new folks get acclimated to the Chicago scene.
1: Note book manners:
Many new comics bring a notebook on the stage to help reference material and that's fine, but don't just stand there and read your jokes line by line (seen it happen many times). That will kill the energy of the room and you'll never learn the finer nuances of timing, delivery etc.
Any host worth salt is going to work hard to keep the energy of the room high and get each comic they introduce a lot of nice loud claps. Your only job during that introduction is too shake the hosts hand (and maybe comment on what a swell job they are doing before you get into your material). That's it. Simple right? You'd be surprised how many comics fuck it up. Too many newbie comics run up there and blow by the poor guy/gal. Nothing is more awkward then watching a hardworking host extend an arm for a handshake only to have the comic run past them and dive into their set. I know your nervous but take a beat, look your host in the eye, and shake their hand. It's a simple gesture, but it means a lot.
Some comics are high energy and like to move around, which is OK. But don't pace. And by pace, I mean walk rapidly around the stage back and forth with no apparent purpose. It just looks weird, like your seeking a magical exit from the stage or worse yet a caged animal that needs to take a piss. Relax. Focus on your material and let movement come naturally.
4: Be a good audience member:
This should be a no brainier. Be quite and attentive. Clap. Laugh appropriately. Don't talk to your friends, don't text or use your cell phone. And never heckle. You would be shocked how many newer comics fall into these traps. Just think about how you want folks to act when your on stage, then be that .
So important, yet frequently overlooked. Your job is to tell jokes, which means the audience needs to hear and understand what you're saying. But if you are rushing through material and practically hyperventilating up there, the audience will have a hard time understanding. Breathing normally will slow you down naturally and help create a healthy pace. Relax, have fun, breathe.
6: Cursing is not material:
This should be self explanatory. Don't just get up there and drop F-Bombs. The phrase "Shit, goddamn motherfucker" is not a set-up or a punchline. Let's be clear, I'm not a prude, not saying don't ever curse during a set or that a good comedian must always try and keep it clean (although this can have it's benefits). But have a purpose to your profanity. It should be an accessory to your material without overshadowing it. Let it be the punctuation mark to your punchline not the punchline itself. A good test for this is if during a set, you cant tell if your cursing too much... then you probably are.
7: Stay after your set:
This is somewhat related to being a good audience member but I felt like it needed its own section. Nothing is more obvious then a comedian running out right after a set. We know folks have jobs in the morning or another mic to hit up, I get it, we're all busy. But try to stay for at least a couple of sets if you can. Think about the comic who has to to go up at the end of the night. That could easily be you. You'd appreciate a couple of more bodies in the room right? It's just good Karma. And guess what? If you keep bugging out after all your sets... producers notice that, and you may find yourself getting bumped later and later. Might not be fair, (especially if you got there early to sign up) but it happens. Just saying.
And that's just the basics. Want more in-depth tips? Check out some totally unsolicited advice from a great Portland comedy blog. Most importantly get out there. Chicago is full of really nice, supportive comics (for the most part) and fans, so work hard and have fun.
James Allen Kamp