My last blog post was about a rambling, confidence-less, and embarrassing open mic set I performed last March when I was apartment hunting in Chicago. As promised in that blog, which was hopefully less ramblesom (I know that isn’t a word) than the “routine” which it described, I will write about an open mic with a happier ending in this blog post. But first a few things:
- It just turned Thursday night. I cannot believe I’ve already been living in Chicago for a week. Does time fly faster here?
- It is amazing to ride a bicycle in Chicago, just so everyone knows. There are bike lanes and NO HILLS! What!
- My last two blog posts (my first two blog posts as a Chicago-dweller) have been my most read posts since I started doing this website. Really, the last two days I’ve had more single-day views than ever, and by a decent amount. Thank you so much for reading this silly thing. Thank you from the bottom of my emotionally unavailable heart.
[CUE FLASHBACK] The open mic known as Three Dead Moose takes place on Sunday nights at the Will’s Northwoods Inn, which is such a confusing name to me, because it sounds like it should either have two apostrophes or one fewer s’s. My roommate and I rode our bikes (NO HILLS! What!) to the “Inn” no problem. Crowded with sports fans, we managed to find the room meant for the local comics. The room was behind a door that looked like a fake wall, which makes the room seem pretty difficult to find to me.
I took a seat on a barstool at a table in the back, the show already in progress. Taking the advice of Pete Holmes from his “You Made It Weird” Podcast (which I’m obsessed with), I decided to not perform, but to watch everyone else go. This, ol Petey Pants suggests, will make a potential comic crazy-stoked for the next show, convinced he or she could do at least as well as what is being watched. I hadn’t done stand-up since early May and I felt that I needed to be fired up before taking to the stage again – I wanted to make a strong first impression as a comic in my new city. So I tempted myself with everyone else’s act. I sat back, studied and soaked it all in. And I noticed some interesting similarities between my hometown open mics and this Chicago open mic:
First, of course, the comic population was varied in talent. I’d say that this Chicago show was much more consistently “on” than some of the open mics I’ve seen in Springfield, Missouri, but that just makes sense. And that isn’t to say that everyone here is better – some of my brilliant friends in Missouri could kill at a mic in Chitown, too. And that’s another thing: I started noticing comedians that reminded me of my hometown comedians. Now, this isn’t to cheapen my friends or their Chicagoan near-counterparts, or to call either of them unoriginal, but I found it fascinating how when comics are finding their voice and their style, they may wind up resembling someone they’ve never met, and may never meet. It was kind of like watching an inside joke only I understood. And that inside joke then told “outside jokes” to everyone else. It made me strangely comfortable. Springfield has a few open mics that draw really nice crowds of “civilians,” or non-comics, or people who don’t hate themselves, or whatever you want to call them (Laughingstock w/ Merr @ The Outland Bar, and The Skinny Improv’s First Saturday Open Mic in particular), but sometimes those crowds are still primarily composed of people just waiting for their time to talk into the mic. This show’s audience was definitely mostly comedians, but they were still laughing, supporting their fellow dreamers.
And then I broke the rule I placed upon myself and signed up to do some time at the end of the show. And it was towards the end of the show; I was close to the last spot. A lot of the comics who had performed earlier that evening already left, and I figured I’d be performing to a crowd I could count on one hand, but then something amazing happened:
No one else left! At a certain point all the comics simultaneously decided to remain in their chairs and see this dwindling show of over 40 comedians to its bitter end. We banded together as comedians and as an audience; we started laughing harder than before, the sets became more conversational, we understood that we had nothing to prove to these people who thought like us and felt like us. We were friends without names; we bonded silently, looking in one direction, without personal interaction. We supported each other with our attention and laughter – banded together like the comic misfits who didn’t care to hit a second, later-starting open mic at the Ace Bar. It was like Whoville after all the presents are gone!
I was introduced (by my correct name this time) and took the stage. I had planned to do a routine that my time in Springfield had helped me polish, but I threw it away. I wanted to talk to my stranger-companions, not at them. I introduced myself, mentioned that I had just moved here [APPLAUSE BREAK], and riffed on the room itself. Actually, the first thing I said was, “What are we doing here?” because I didn’t understand how any non-comics could ever find this place! – not that I was complaining (I really was so happy with what this audience had become). I said that the room, with the small drink bar, its stained glass windows of bears, fish, and moose, and with stuffed dead animals and antlers mounted randomly on the walls, looked like a hideout for Republican dads. (Imagine if Bass Pro was a church the size of a small barber shop. There. You’ve got it.) I talked a little about Springfield, a little about the teaching job I left to come here, told everyone I liked them and I hoped to see them at other mics, and went back to my seat without even using all of my apportioned time.
My set (and many of the other comics’ sets that night) was one that wouldn’t work if repeated at another time or location. On that Sunday, the supportive atmosphere and low-stakes environment generated my set, built it out of improvised honesty. If my performance was recorded, it wouldn’t be one to show off to agents or friends. But still. A few other sets, name exchanges, and handshakes later I pedaled away from Will’s Northwoods Inn feeling far more stoked to do comedy than if I had just sat back and observed.