Thou Shalt Not Be A Douche: Open Mike Etiquette Part 1
Etiquette. Everybody knows ’em: Cover your mouth during a sneeze. Don’t chew with an open mouth. Smile politely and roll your eyes when an old person lays a HUGE FART! It’s etiquette, my friends, the mysterious rules that hold civilization together. (Aside from laws, religion, government, technology, and money, I guess.)
Etiquette is a funny thing. The rules are generally unspoken, (although the internet knows them). You won’t find yourself in court if you ignore etiquette, but you do reveal yourself as immature or inexperienced at best, and an asshole at worst. Either impression is not really conducive to furthering your stand-up career.
To put it simply, nobody likes a rude boy.
(Maybe Rihanna does.)
I tried to hit the ground running when I started stand-up, by reading lots of comedy books about etiquette. Like any sub-culture, some stand-up comedy etiquette is obvious, and some only comes into focus with a better understanding of the system. You can do things the hard way by ignoring etiquette, or have an easier time.
The following is a list of etiquette suggestions that I find most comics follow (myself included). Those comics that consistently ignore these basic pointers are the ones who I occasionally hear complaining (in a loud, obnoxious voice), that they can never get booked at a certain room, or that other comics ignore them.
1) Don’t expect something for nothing.
A friend of mine had an experience recently that illustrates this point. He was setting up before a show, stressing to get everything done in time. A comic approached him and said, “Hey, I want to get on your show.”
My friend was a bit irritated that the dude didn’t offer to help before asking a favour. But he held his temper and said, “Hey, I’m super busy right now getting ready. Why don’t we discuss it after the show?”
The other guy said, “Oh, I’m not going to stay for the show, just email me when I can get on.”
He was not booked. People go to the effort of producing shows to mainly promote themselves and their peeps, not you. Become a peep. Go to the show. Give them some support before you ask for a favour. If you don’t care enough to watch the show one time, why would the organizer care about you? An added bonus is you get an idea of what the room is like before performing.
2) Show up at least 15 minutes early
Ignore this point at your peril, as latecomers often get bumped for unbooked comics who show up early. Think about Google mapping the venue if it’s your first time there.
Once I got tricked by this street in Toronto called Dundas. It abruptly changes direction from East-West to North-South and I went the wrong direction coming out of the subway. I was over 30 minutes late, and ruined my first impression with the organizer. I felt like a chump.
3) Buy a drink if you can afford it
Shows get cancelled if they don’t make money for the venue, so if you can, support them in this way. Plus you get a drink. Nothin’ wrong with that, son.
4) Don’t go over your time
Find out if there’s a signal for time running out, (often a red light or waving cell phone). If they have no system to let you know, try to err on the side of caution.
Open mikes often have long, punishing line ups. Don’t make it worse by going over time. Going over is a clear statement that you consider yourself better than everyone else. Plus it’s a slap in the face to the organizer who has to keep to a timeline.
5) Don’t trash the show onstage or off
It’s simply bad form. Do it in private if you must, but away from the venue, unless you never want to get booked there again. Would you go to a dinner party and make fun of the cook? It’s rude as hell. Only Mr. Rude can get away with that, ’cause he’s a pimp.
6) GOOD SET, BRO.
You will probably hear the words “good set” a lot at open mikes. It doesn’t necessarily mean the other comic thought well of your act. Consider this as the equivalent of asking “how’s it going?” You don’t expect a long-winded answer, it’s almost rhetorical.
If you stop each person who says it and go “Oh, you know, it wasn’t my best, I meant to do this, but then this happened, and I normally…blah blah,” you will train them to avoid you in the future. Just say thanks, or even better, “you too.” If someone really wants to hear about your set, they will make it clear.
7) Follow up with the organizer and indicate your interest to perform again
A simple thank you email goes a long way, and sets you up for your next gig at the venue.
Come on back tomorrow, where we’ll look at 7 more etiquette tips for open mikes.
I’ll end it off with this bizarre video about male restroom etiquette: