Back in the 1980s, we called them “open stages.” These days they are referred to as “open mics,” as in “open microphones.” Or, for comedy insiders, they are sometimes just referred to as “mics.”
It’s where the vast majority of stand-up comedians first cut their teeth and develop their acts. As the name implies, it’s usually just a microphone on a mic stand on a stage where anybody can get up and try out three to five minutes of material – stories, jokes, one-liners – to see if anybody else thinks they’re funny.
For most open mics in Minnesota, you don’t need any experience to perform. You show up early, you sign up, you get on stage. You get three minutes, sometimes five – or for veteran performers, seven to 10 minutes, depending on the venue. There are exceptions, of course. Some open mics are curated. You may have to register online, or you have to sign up several weeks in advance. Some mics only contain a few spots for beginners. And if all the spots are filled, then – better luck next time, Comedian. Sign up earlier.
Open mics are notorious for brutal bombs and awkward acts. An open mic is not for the weak of heart (as performer or audience member) or for comedians without a thick skin. But many open mics are a ton of fun and well worth the price of admission (often, that means free). In fact, despite the potential for witnessing a brutal bomb, I would encourage any fan of comedy to take in an open mic or two.
Here’s why: In addition to the occasional first-timer who stumbles badly, there’s going to be a rookie who lands a few decent jokes. Honestly, it’s fun to see, especially if you have any empathy for people just trying to exercise their funny bone.
More importantly – at least from my viewpoint – most open mics also include a number of polished professionals, promising newcomers or decent hobby comics working out a new premise or trying to refine a bit that’s got some promise. Even if that new bit doesn’t hit on all cylinders, it’s always interesting to me to see where they were going with the premise, the mental connections they make (or were trying to make), and the twist or turn that a good comic will build into a joke.
Is everything at an open mic comedy gold? Almost never. But that’s the difference between an open mic and a weekend show with paid professionals. Open mics are hit-and-miss. Regular shows feature material that’s been proven to be funny. But the open mics are still worthwhile entertainment as long as you come to the show with realistic expectations – and the knowledge that the content at open mics can often be pretty edgy, blue or offensive, depending on your perspective.
In my opinion, any comedy show set up in a room completely separate from the main room will be a better place to perform and watch comedy. You want active listeners and people in the space specifically for comedy. People who have come to a bar to watch the game on the big screen or chat up the bartender are almost never a good comedy audience.
Note: Audience turnout is also hit-or-miss, depending on the mic. You can have 50 people show up or five (plus comedians). More often than not, there are just as many performing comedians in the audience as there are “civilians.”
Think you’re funny?
Maybe you think you’ve got what it takes to be a stand-up comic. Or perhaps you believe you have a good sense of humor and want to see if a crowd of strangers agrees. Then I encourage you to give it a try.
There are two schools of thought on your first attempt at an open mic.
School No. 1: Bring a half dozen friends (or more). They’ll probably laugh because they like you, even if your jokes aren’t great. Then you can always say – with a mostly straight face – the one time you did stand-up, you were awesome. It might also give you a better appreciation of what’s required to be a professional stand-up comic.
School No. 2: Don’t bring friends! If you bring six friends and nobody laughs … you may never be able to look at yourself in the mirror again. Hey, nobody said comedy was easy. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
Sidenote: Everybody bombs at some point in their amateur or professional comedy career, even the greats. The same jokes that crushed one night will get crickets on another night. Comedy is not an exact science. That’s part of what makes it simultaneously agonizing and exhilarating.
Where should I go?
The Twin Cities is a great comedy market. In addition to several top-notch comedy venues that have quality performers on a regular basis, there are enough open mics that you can get stage time every night of the week if you so desire.
Top comedy clubs have open mics, of course, including Acme Comedy Co., Comedy Corner Underground, Sisyphus Brewing in Minneapolis, House of Comedy at the Mall of America, and Laugh Camp in downtown St. Paul. These places almost always feature seasoned comics polishing their acts, as well as newcomers. However, it can be harder to get on stage because everybody wants stage time in those venues, and there are only so many slots.
But there are other great open mics at venues that are not regular comedy clubs, where stage time might be easier to get. Places like Orale Mexican Eats, The Moose Bar & Grill, The Saloon, Keg & Case Market, Jameson’s Irish Bar, The Underground Music Café, The Terminal Bar, Can Can Wonderland, and Blarney’s Bar & Grill, among others.
In the clearing stands a boxer
Jon Stannard is a local comedian and the booker and host of the Monday night open mic at The Moose Bar & Grill in northeast Minneapolis, one of the best mics in town. It’s held in a little basement room that regularly has decent crowds and features many top local professionals, in addition to newbies and in-betweeners.
Stannard started the open mic there in June of 2021. The regulars and coaches at the boxing gym where he works (Jon’s a boxer; heckle at your own risk) regularly hang out at The Moose, so he approached the bar with the suggestion of a Monday comedy open mic. They had nothing going on Mondays, so they loved the idea.
Jon’s open mic has flourished and is unique because it features a mid-show headliner (rather than waiting until the end to bring on the hired talent) and a rapid-fire lightning-round competition at the very end where a handful of comics – those who didn’t get in the regular lineup and who are up to the challenge – have just 30 seconds to fire off their best jokes. The winner gets a free drink and an extended set before the headliner the next week.
Try it. You’ll like it
The bottom line: An open mic will rarely pack a comedy punch equal to a showcase at a regular comedy club or theater, but periodically it makes for a cheap and fun night out and a chance to see comedy while it is still in “development.” And if you’d like to hit the stage and see if you’re as funny to a room of strangers as you are to your two closest friends from high school, give it a shot.
Have I piqued your interest in open mics? Comedian Mike Brody keeps an up-to-date list of open mics on his website. Check it out.
Upcoming comedy shows in the southwest suburbs (NOT open mics):
Nov. 18/19 Chanhassen Dinner Theater, Chanhassen Stevie Ray’s Comedy Cabaret
Dec. 1 Mystic Lake Casino, Prior Lake Jeff Foxworthy
Dec. 30 Fat Pants Brewing, Eden Prairie Stand-up comedy with headliner Mary Jo Pehl Yellowbrick Comedy
Editor’s Note: This is the fourth installment of a monthly comedy-focused column, Little Joke on the Prairie, by Eden Prairie resident Pat LaVone. He is a writer, speaker, stand-up comic and storyteller. During the original comedy boom, Pat began performing stand-up and sketch comedy in the mid-1980s. After a brief 30-year hiatus, he returned to the stage to perform stand-up and storytelling shows as well as humorous keynote presentations. He currently produces shows for YellowBrick Comedy and performs at various theaters and clubs around Minnesota.
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