“Perspectives of an Open Micer is a three-part series by Buffalo comedian and writer Daniel Patrick Rice. If you are interested in submitting an essay discussing your journey in comedy, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration. Part I of the series can be found here.
PART II: “Why So Serious?”
By Daniel Patrick Rice, guest columnist
So, was your set at the open mic successful? Who knows? For my money, any performance that gets a laugh and yields the smallest retainable nugget of a bit is a successful one, but ultimately the real question for the comic who wants to take the new stuff to the weekend gig is this: Will these jokes translate to the paying audience? For me, it was easy to blur the lines in the beginning. I started out spewing my ideas at weekly “showcases” full of comics who I knew personally and who thought I was funny anyway. We all supported each other, plus there were fewer of us in those early days at Nietzsche’s. Our circle was tight and our ideas about what was funny similar. For me, it was easy to think I was funnier and more seasoned than I was. But, that all changed the first time I took the stage at a comedy club.
About the time I started cutting my teeth as a comedian, Comix Café, Buffalo’s only comedy club in the mid-2000s, was entering its last year of existence. Again, I had luck on my side. I happened to have friends who were regular emcees and features there and they helped me procure a guest spot well before I was ready. As it turned out, I managed to impress the owner with my best five minutes and he hired me to host two weekends. Looking back, it was a sort of trial by fire, but I got out of it with my skin, and at that time I’d felt I’d really earned my stripes. So, with the Comix shows on my resume, I decided to dip my toe into what I thought was the real world, landing a few weekends and one-nighters emceeing in central and upstate New York. It was the six-hour drive one way to Messina and a lonely stay in a hotel room that started to open my eyes to what a road comic must really go through. I came home having netted $10 after expenses, exhausted and enlightened. These were tough shows; it wasn’t home and there were no familiar faces in the crowd. I was there to do a job, and if I couldn’t deliver it was going to be ugly.
For the most part I did well that summer, with the exception of one club owner who told me I was “too laid back” and that if I couldn’t punch up my energy he was going to have to replace me for the rest of the weekend. I respectfully disagreed, considering my crowd work was hitting and I was getting some of my biggest laughs ever (out of my eight-month career). In the end, I told him I wasn’t who he thought he hired and when he tried to pay me for the only show I hosted, I told him I didn’t want his money if I hadn’t earned it, walked out and sped down the 90 back to my “home club” where I recounted the tale to my peers. I thought I’d done something noble then, but I hadn’t; it was dumb and could have branded me with a reputation for not following through. After that, I decided I’d suck it up, no matter how rowdy the crowd or jerky the club owner.
And so, the lessons started to pile up, the most poignant of which was that comedy is hard work. The most revealing being that a six-hour drive is nothing to the guys who commute every Wednesday to Indy or Charlotte or New Orleans for a four-day workweek in a strange town for relatively little pay (at least at first). Being a touring comic, I was learning, is a lifestyle as much as it is a career and as long as I was just knocking around from open mic to open mic in one city without diving full in, I’d never have any idea what that meant.
Through all of this, I kept writing. Over those first couple years, I began to learn how to mold ideas, trim the fat, tag bits and work crowds. All skills that take years to master and which are second nature to the comics whom I most respect.
But, for all the paying gigs and bigger crowds and miles logged, it all comes back to where the tools are forged. None of these things could be possible were it not for that small stage and four-channel PA system in the back of some corner bar. These are the places where some of the funniest people I know have learned their craft. And these are the guys and ladies who work full time day jobs and still manage to hit the stage with fresh material week after week, whether at the open mics or paying shows. It’s these folks who embody what it is to fully utilize the open mic for its intended purpose and why it’s so necessary to do so. Certainly, it’s the love of the game, but moreover, I believe it’s the process; the act of creating and the need for the laugh, even if it’s only one. That’s where the joy is found and when, after all, it truly seems worth the ride.
NEXT: PART III – “FACES AND PLACES”