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A man walks into a pub

Trudie Robinson takes a look at the horrors and opportunities of the open mic night.

Published on June 8th 2007.


A man walks into a pub

A dog can be an attentive listener. Many have expressive eyebrows that bob up and down in time to the intonations in your voice, a head that appreciatively cocks to one side and ears that twitch in response to your words. Sometimes they can appear more alert than the owner that snoozes at their side, leash limp in their hand. But then a typical audience at an open mic night is probably the toughest a comedian will ever face in their career.

That you’ll be playing to one man and his dog at an amateur event is oft said but it’s more likely that it’ll be a bunch of fellow aspiring comedians and a handful of bemused punters. That’s when you wish you really were playing to the dog.

Everyone has to start somewhere and for comedians it’s as the open spot. Sometimes that will be within the line up at an established club where the new boy or girl is often thrown on first to a cool, judgemental audience. If you’re lucky you might get the cushy middle spot on the bill but even then an apparently receptive audience already warmed up by the opening act can turn without warning.

The alternative is the open mic night. In Manchester at the moment there are many of these. They’re the cheapest and easiest for a budding comedy promoter to put on. They often appear in the back room of a pub, or worse in the main body of it with unsuspecting drinkers wondering why someone’s talking to them from the corner of the room and who the hell’s given them a microphone?

The compere is usually an act wanting to get in a bit of practice hosting a show, the acts are unpaid wannabes trying out their virgin material, then there’s a paid headliner to stop the few punters that have paid a minimal entry fee demanding it back or in the case of a free amateur night, demanding compensation if the new guys turn out to be very bad indeed. Plus you’ll find yourself sitting next to the act who’s probably just failed to make anyone in the room laugh, trying to drown themselves in the inch and half of beer they still have in the bottom of their pint glass.

It’s sounding horrendous, why bother even going? Though this can be the reality of an open mic night there are, of course, pluses. You could well be in at the beginning of a starry career. The next comic to be championed by Channel 4 has to start somewhere. Believe it or not but Jimmy Carr, Russell Brand, Alan Carr and Justin Lee Collins were all once nervous, apprehensive open spots.

Plus you get an insight into the craft. You’re surrounded by comics trying out their fledging writing skills, it’s fascinating to see how it works and in some cases how it doesn’t. Study it enough and you might find yourself wanting to give it a go.

Here’s where to go if you fancy watching or having a go, though bear in mind that you will need to contact the venue beforehand if you want to add yourself to the line up.

Comedy Balloon, every Wednesday @ The Comedy Balloon (The Ape and Apple, 28 John Dalton Street, City. 0161 839 9624 www.comedyballoon.co.uk Free)

19 Open Mic Night, every Monday @ M19 (847 Stockport Road, Levenshulme 0161 225 8359 www.m19bar.com Free)

King Gong, first Sunday of the month @ The Comedy Store (Arches 3-4, Deansgate Locks, Whitworth Street West, City. 0161 839 9595 www.thecomedystore.co.uk From £3)

Beat the Frog, every Monday @ The Frog and Bucket (102 Oldham Street, City. 0161 236 9805 www.frogandbucket.com Free)

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