“Be honest, does this shirt make me look like a hospice nurse? Do I look like it’s my job to help people die?”
I almost always start a set off by insulting myself, it’s a cheap and easy way to get a laugh and disarm the audience. It’s safe to assume that everyone at an open mic is a comic waiting their turn. I have a worst-case-scenario imagination, so I go on to assume that everyone hates me because (a.) they’ve never seen me before so they think I’m a nobody wasting precious stage time or (b.) they have seen me before and they’re not in the mood for a buzzkill feminist lecture. If I let them know that I agree with them, that I am indeed pathetic or worthless, they’ll hopefully be flattered and let their guard down.
When I checked myself in the mirror earlier that night before leaving my apartment, I thought that the boxy, floral Uniqlo top I was wearing made me look, in a word, unfuckable. I considered changing, then thought about what, specifically, was so awful about it, jotted “hospice nurse” down in my notebook and left. So I wouldn’t be breaking any hearts that night, what else is new. At least I had a solid opener.
Lovecraft is an H.P. Lovecraft-themed bar on Avenue B that hosts a Triple Threat Comedy open mic on Wednesdays at 8 PM. The open mic is held in one of two occult-themed basement rooms, one dungeon-like and one decorated with Illuminati imagery, but the event itself is entirely unpretentious. The host is funny and approachable and runs a tight ship despite getting (or at least seeming) cartoonishly drunk as the night goes on. He introduces every single comic as “the one! the only!” which is somehow still charming even though I’ve been there several times now. Comics usually get 4-5 minutes in exchange for the one-drink minimum, and it’s easy to sign up in advance on their website.
Triple Threat Comedy is a “comedy brand” who pride themselves on “producing the most supportive open mics for the up and coming & professional comedian,” which I would characterize as totally fair. Even I don’t feel intimidated there, and many of the comics actually watch and are forthcoming with laughs and applause. The crowd is pretty homogenous week to week– white, male, 25-35– and the style of comedy I see there is pretty basic stand-up. The jokes are mostly funny and only casually offensive. I’m usually laughing, but I rarely see anything new or different that really excites me.
Back in Virginia, I got bored with my jokes really fast. While I rarely did anything other than a 5-minute open mic or a 10-minute workshop show, I tried out a lot of weird stuff. I played instruments, sang jokes over a karaoke track of “Cowboy Take Me Away,” used props and signs, stripped down to my underwear. One night I progressively got ready for bed while hosting an open mic, changing into my pajamas in between sets, brushing my teeth or putting a green mud mask on my face while calling up comics. Looking back, I was probably really obnoxious and maybe a little too irreverent. In New York, even though open mics are ostensibly for trying out new things, the stakes always feel too high. I find myself doing more and more jokes about my imperfect, undeserving self– my bad clothes/body/personality, something embarrassing I did, a mistake I made– because the odds that will get a laugh seem higher. It seems hard to write a joke anymore unless the punchline is something I hate about myself. That’s not the road I want to go down.
I’ve been using the buddy system to get back into the open mic habit. Since my very funny friend Marshall Finch (pictured above in the dungeon room) and I have been going to mics together over the past few weeks, bombing hasn’t felt like the end of the world. Sometimes it even feels like the teachable moment it should be (Lesson: Don’t even MILDLY critique Bernie Sanders in Williamsburg). I don’t know if I’d say I feel “welcome” at Lovecraft, but I do feel at the very least “tolerated,” which is an exciting development. Lovecraft might not be the place to show up with props or karaoke tracks, but I plan to keep going until I start dreaming up ways to incorporate costume changes, dance numbers, and light ventriloquism into my set again.