How To Be A Great Open-Micer – Tips From Stand-Up Comics

At a time when everyone wants a slice of the stand-up pie, we asked people in the comedy circuit what their advice would be for newcomers
How To Be A Great Open-Micer – Tips From Stand-Up Comics

That the stand-up comedy business is on the rise, is not new information. With newer comics entering the fray, there are also more open-mic events in cities. These are shows where newcomers try their hand at stand-up and established comics get a chance to try new material. Whether it's Urban Solace in Bangalore, Mumbai's The Comedy Ladder, Brown Bread Collective and Grin Revolution or Delhi's The Wiral Mic, there's never been as many open mics or aspiring comics looking to get on stage and attempt a tight 5 minutes.

At a time when everyone wants a slice of the stand-up pie, we asked people in the comedy circuit what their advice would be for newcomers.

Sumukhi Suresh, Comedian, Writer, Actor

  • Kanan (Gill) had once told me there are two types of comics. Those who are very good writers, and those who go up on stage, wing it, and then come back and write. If someone tells you you're not supposed to wing it and you should write first and then only go onstage, that's a lie. So figure out which one you are.
  • Until you're sure what kind of feedback works for you, don't ask for it. Especially with women – they doubt themselves on a daily basis. If you tell men they suck, they'll say, 'You suck.' If you tell a woman, she'll say, 'Why? Tell me, I'll fix it.'
  • Everyone thinks comics chill a lot. You know when I chilled last? Two years ago. Comedy is not chill, especially if you want to stay relevant. Even now I'm harsh on myself because I haven't been active on YouTube. I have three projects that I'm shuffling and I still feel like I'm not doing enough.

Kaneez Surka, Comedian

  • There's a comedian in America called Alingon Mitra. On his Instagram page, he would upload his favourite stand up clips from different comedians and break down all the sets and why they're funny. It's not a review but more of an analysis. I found it so informative. Just someone explaining stand up in a way it's never been described before. He also says being funny is just the first level of a joke. Beyond that, it should either make you think or feel. He says your joke can land in three places – the armpit, the heart and the brain. If your joke is just an armpit joke, people will laugh but it won't be memorable. If it's armpit plus heart or armpit plus brain, it's an elevated joke. But if it's all three, it's a transcendent joke. So it's not just about sounding funny, it's also about what else can you add. And that has really impacted my approach to writing.
  • My one pet peeve is when people go over time. They (open micers) don't take time seriously and what happens is you saturate the audience and ruin it for the people after you because you're taking the time and energy of other people's acts.
  • It's about learning the craft. I'm learning something new, that's how I approach every show. Don't put so much pressure on being great. I'm going to stand up school and every time I'm going to an open mic, I'm going to class.

Jeeya Sethi, Comedian And Founder of Comedy Ladder (Open-mic organisers)

  • Watch a few open mics before registering so that you know how long the show is, who's part of the open mic circuit, etc. Some newcomers perform in only one room and then give up way too soon. One show can't decide if you are good or not. Ideally, you should hit all the open mics in the scene.
  • Record every set and listen to it later. Add the funny and remove the unfunny – this way you will soon have a tight set.
  • When getting on stage, the mic stand should be moved completely out of the way. Breathing every few minutes really helps to calm your nerves. Enjoying yourself is key.

Navin Noronha, Comedian

  • Watching (comedy) online is the best thing to do. There are great shows like Green Room by Paul Provenza. Watch a lot of stand-up documentaries and behind-the-scenes stuff. There's a brilliant documentary series on YouTube called Modern Comedians about a few mid-level American comedians and the grind they go through.
  • Don't copy others. There are comics who talk exactly like Abhishek Upmanyu or Biswa (Kalyan Rath) because they think it works. This guy once came and did a word-for-word Jerry Seinfeld bit in Mumbai. He said he's Jewish on stage. That's how bad it is.
  • There's a girl in the Mumbai circuit who would not change her material, not even a line, for a year at every open mic. The same set would bomb every time. If you're not taking stock of what you're doing and reworking and realigning your set, then what's the point?
  • There are also open micers who write different sets for different days which makes no sense because you haven't tightened the first set and you're already trying different things. This was advice Kunal Kamra gave me when I first started. Take your first 5 minutes and polish it to death. That 5-minute set should kill to all crowds in every case. And then you move on.
  • When trying a new bit, try and hit the stage with that bit for at least 5 shows. By the 6thshow if the bit isn't working I'll organically move onto other lines. But I do keep a make a note and keep at it until I can bring it back later or talk to other comics to see if I can make it funnier.
  • Even if you have a four-minute slot, it's okay if you do only 2 or 3 minutes of something you're sure of. You don't have to fill the time for the sake of it.
  • There are a lot of times when a joke you really like is not working so I just keep it aside for a few months. If I really liked it, I will definitely come back to it. If I have lost interest, I will stop doing it. I feel the filter should not just be whether it's working for the audience or not, it should also be whether you believe in that joke.
  • Bombing does affect you, it totally spoils your day. But once you've had a few experiences like that and bounced back, only then you really get used to it. You bomb no matter how much you try but you will also bounce back. But open mics are supposed to be bad. They're not supposed to be great or polished. Even the senior comics trying new bits make mistakes. It's a show that's literally organised for mistakes.

Balraj Singh Ghai, Founder – The Habitat (Comedy And Music Café in Mumbai)

  • You must always arrive on time, which is usually 30 mins before the show starts. If you can't come for a show you need to inform them well in advance. Whatever the emergency, even if you're stuck in traffic or rains, the worst thing you can do is not inform the organiser.
  • If you want to make a request for a specific place in the line-up, coming early always helps. But there is no 'right order'. What does make a difference is you just need to be aware of the impact of the order on the audience. The later you go, the audience may be more saturated, and earlier they may not be warmed up.
  • When someone else is performing on stage, pay attention. Don't be on the phone or going over your notes. When you're at the open mic, you have to be there 100% and respect the other performers.

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