“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 email@example.com for consideration. Part I of the series can be found here and Part II can be found here.
PART III: “Faces and Places”
By Daniel Patrick Rice, guest columnist
In a community as compact as the Buffalo comedy open mic crowd, it seems everybody knows everybody. I usually duck away from the scene for a month or two every year for a variety of reasons, but whenever I return with my batteries recharged and new material to try out, there are always new faces in the crowd. And there is usually at least one who’s got something special going for them.
Part of the fun of the open mic is getting to watch material being worked through from the outside. It inspires empathy between performers and as a result spawns kinship between people who might otherwise be total strangers. If you come off stage having done well, the other comics (those who aren’t off in a corner working feverishly through their own upcoming sets) are usually genuinely happy for you. By the same token, if you bite it, there’s nobody there who doesn’t know that feeling, too. It’s a relationship that levels the playing field and allows the gems to shine. For those which never do, it can be a harsh reality to behold, but at least it’s honest. And fair.
Through my years of visiting the open mics in Buffalo, there have been many upstart rooms which have come and gone. Those that have endured have become the bedrock of the ever-burgeoning scene here. Nietzsche’s in Allentown was the starting point for many of this newer generation of comics, present company included. These are the folks who have, in many cases, spent their Tuesday nights at the “Doin’ Time” showcase week in and week out. That particular open mic is now the “Rust Belt Comedy Showcase” headed by “Doin’ Time” alum Rick Matthews and started back in the spring of 2006 with a committed dozen or so of us working out new jokes every week and polishing our stage presence.
Not too long after “Doin’ Time”, came the mainstay that is now the “Ubermensch Comedy Showcase” at Mr. Goodbar on Elmwood, a show which recently moved to Sunday nights and is run by veteran Buffalo-based comic Mark Walton. These two rooms have flourished while many others have not. It’s an accomplishment which underscores the importance of having a friendly place to perform where it’s just as okay to bomb as it is rewarding to knock it out of the park. These stages serve as the comedians’ training wheels on a proving ground where we may take the turns as hard as we’d like and remain whole if it doesn’t pan out on a particular night.
There are many comics in Buffalo who have achieved success—Rob Lederman, Dan Pordum and Matt Bergman to name a few—who were veterans years before many of us ever considered taking the stage, but when it comes to the new generation in the Queen City, one name stands out.
Kristen Becker, a touring comic and national success in her own right, is the founder of the “Doin’ Time Comedy Showcase” where so many good things have budded and sprouted for Buffalo comedy. She is regarded by many as the matriarch among crops of stand-up comics, plenty of whom have become quite successful locally as well as regionally, and who credit much of their achievements to those Tuesday night marathons in Allentown.
Becker is now the General Manager of Helium Comedy Club which took residence in the Cobblestone District in December of 2012, due in no small part to her own efforts. The club is representative of a huge step forward for comedy in Buffalo. Helium, which is attracting coveted national headliners, puts on a weekly Wednesday open mic and gives comics who haven’t had the pleasure an opportunity to experience a real club atmosphere from the stage. It also gives the vets a fun place to work out material before a true club crowd.
For all the great things happening here in Buffalo, I’d be remiss to not mention some of the guys in Rochester, Bryan Ball and Jimmy LeChase in particular, who have been holding down the comedy fort there with the long-running weekly “Boulder Comedy” open mics.
These two hubs, plus many towns around and between, represent plenty of performing opportunities throughout Western New York. Among other places, I’ve performed in Batavia, LeRoy and Fredonia and have always had a blast. It’s a web that is spinning itself stronger and more visible by the week, drawing national attention and shining light on some of the harder working comics and promoters who are the lifeblood of comedy in the region.
Comics do comedy because we love it. Of course, we all have our own motivations. Some folks aspire to the national stage, a few have gotten there. Many of us simply enjoy the atmosphere or maybe the process of writing and performing. Some have more productive things to do on a Tuesday or Sunday night yet choose to come to the showcase. Why? Because it’s where we can go to cavort with others of our ilk.
So, when it comes down to it, after all the writes and rewrites, the tanking a set or killing it, the ego-inflation or self-doubt, there lay one singular objective and that is to make people laugh. And we go to school to do that; a place where the pupils are also the teachers. Our classroom is the open mic and comedy our curriculum. We are part-timers and full-time students, but there are no spring breaks and no summer vacations, which is fine with the open micer. Laughter takes no holiday.