Louis CK said “comics are musicians who play the audience.” Learning how to do stand up at open mics populated only by other comics is like trying to learn how to play the saxophone by practicing on a recorder. You need an audience. There are a few solutions to this problem. Hustling for guest sets/hosting gigs at established clubs, producing your own shows, and going to music/performance art/crazy people open mics. Musicians are better than comics at open mics, they come to have a good time as opposed to torture themselves, they stick around, drink, and pay attention to what other artists do on stage. Compared to comics they’re saints.
There is something alluring about sharing the stage with musicians, spoken word performers, people reading out of their diary, and homeless people. The benefit of these rooms is that there are “civilians” to practice on. The downside is that these open mic’s are a hot bed of unpolished talent, raw crazy, make believe instruments, and half baked ideas that sounded cooler when the “artist” was high. And, unlike comic open mics, they are also filled with long “experimental” music pieces that sound like cats dying, fake orgasm noises, and “real” moments that involve real tears and real awkward. Musicians, spoken word performs, and poets tend to be more generous (mutually masturbatory?) than comics. There is a lot of hand holding, unconditional support, and kumbayah moments that can go on forever. All this un-ironic sentimentality, and by 3am my inner child is jumping up and down screaming “YOU ALL SUCK!”
I’ve taken enough theatre classes to feel at home in these crazy cozy basements. My ego feels nuzzled and stroked, I feel safe to experiment. And even if the 8 minutes on stage isn’t “worth it” by any measurable standard, I’m earning my merit badges, which I’ve been told I can turn in later for “pity coupons” “I’m better than you” badges, and “insert funny anecdote here” moments on talk shows.