My Open Mic Manifesto

by Michael Channing

This is not meant as a prescription for other comics or a how-to for stand-up. This is just a few of the guidelines I've developed for myself. So why am I sharing them if they're just for my own benefit? Because I'm a comedian. I love to talk about myself. It's what I do. Plus, having a manifesto makes it look like you've spent long hours developing your personal approach to stand-up. It lends any dick joke an air of prestige

I Will Have Fun

If stand-up becomes a chore, I will quit. If I ever dread stepping up to the mic, I will give it up. So far, even my worst shows have been fun. I enjoy talking to an audience. I am proud of my successes on stage. I'm happy to be a comic. If that changes, if standing on stage and telling jokes and stories turns into a struggle and I do it everyday with a groan, then I'll pack it up and leave it behind.

It's an honor to follow in the footsteps of great artists. Comedy is an art, and art should be made, first and foremost, for the enjoyment of the artist. If I don't like what I do, why should anyone else? So I will not perform halfheartedly. I will not be cynical about my job as a comedian. I will take the mic with joy and excitement, and maybe I will make something great.

I Will Not Blame the Audience

I've broken this promise once. Comic after great comic went up, and the audience just did not pay attention, did not laugh at good jokes, did not do their job as audience. So I said for the first and only time, "Fuck you," to a crowd.

But it's normally not the crowd's fault, and it probably wasn't then. There are dozens of reasons a crowd can turn against you, even if you're doing the right thing. Maybe several newbies went up before you and cooled the room. Or maybe one too many comics in a row tried out new material that didn't work, or told "ironically" racist material that didn't sound at all ironic. Maybe the host isn't working the crowd correctly. Perhaps the seating situation in the room isn't conducive to comedy. Or maybe it's late, and the audience is simply tired.

Even if it's not my fault the show is going badly, I still consider it my responsibility to make things right. So I will have fun and hope the crowd follows suit. And maybe the next guy will have a better time.

I Will Not Say, "That's My Time"

Because it's not. It's the audience's. Even if they didn't pay to the see the show, they are still giving the single most valuable commodity they own: their time. They could have gone to a movie or a concert. They could have gone to a bar that didn't have a parade of dunces taking the stage one by one. They could have stayed home and chosen from an endless menu of television shows, films, and porn. But instead, they made the decision to go to a comedy show and put their free night into my hands. I vow to treat it well.

"That's my time," sounds like you're just riding out the clock. You punched in when you grabbed the mic, and now your time is up and you're punching out. That certainly doesn't sound like you're having much fun.

I Will Not Simulate Sex

Yeah, that sounds weird. But that's really the only way to describe it. I've seen guys hump any number of things to represent the sex act: the stool, the mic stand, the floor. I've seen brothers thrust at each other in quite a disturbing way. And here's the thing: it always works. I watched a comic bombing horribly suddenly start whipping his pelvis back and forth like a rabbit, and the crowd went mad. He had just donned a gray wig and strung together a chain of random sentences, much to everyone's bewilderment. Then he started thrusting, and the audience erupted in laughter. You may say, So what? He got the laugh. But it was a buffoonish, stupid moment. He might as well have dropped his pants and hit himself in the face with a pie.

I know George Carlin said his occupation was that of a fool. But even fools have dignity. I make fun of myself. I have weird hand gestures and facial expressions I use to milk a joke. But there are some things I refuse to do. I'm not going to list them all, but I've been affronted by this sad display so many times, I feel the need to call it out specifically. I won't make myself a sex clown for cheap laughs.

I Will Always Write

This is a promise I made to myself, for myself. I will never stop writing, or at least trying to write, new jokes. There are jokes I love to tell again and again. I have some I feel work particularly well, so I tell them more often. But the only way to keep the act of going on stage fresh for me is to always try new things. Maybe I won't have a new joke every single time I go up. There was a time when I tried to do that, but it was exhausting and unfulfilling because I was telling unfinished jokes that did not get laughs. But I have a drive to write new jokes and to rewrite old ones. Like the Dylan lyric, I got a head full of ideas that are driving me insane. The only relief is to let them out. Even if they don't work.

I Will Not Be Afraid to Fail

Fear has always been the bane of my writing career. I don't write because I'm scared the writing will suck. I don't submit because I might be rejected. I don't contact comedy clubs or promoters because I don't know what to say and worry I'll be ignored. But failure will come. Seinfeld failed his first audition at Catch A Rising Star. Marc Maron flailed for years trying to find his place in comedy. Jack Roy quit comedy completely and sold aluminum siding before remaking himself into the legendary Rodney Dangerfield. So I won't despair because I'm thirty-seven and not touring the country. I'll go on stage when I can, thankful that I'm able, and have fun.

More Ways To Exist On Stage

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Chokes and Warbles
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Chokes and Warbles, a collection of essays and poems by Michael Channing