Friday, January 20, 2012

Free Verses Paid Open Mics

I began doing comedy in February of 2007. I drove to Atlanta from Knoxville every week for almost a year for 3-7 mins of stage time. To say the least, I lost a lot of money to do what I love. Then I found out that there was an open Mic right here in Knoxville at a club called the Comedy Zone. It was free to perform. I remember at the time having a conversation with one of the other open mic'ers about why anyone would pay to do open mics.

Looking back on it now, I can say that there were several people there taking up valuable stage time that were never going to amount to anything in the comedy world. These people didn't take it as serious as me or several of the others who were performing at the time. And to be honest I was resentful because I felt they were wasting the stage time to more or less read jokes that either they had heard their favorite comics do, or had read in a joke book.

Like I have said before, I take comedy VERY seriously. I usually spend around 15 hours a week working on my craft, so when I see that someone is stealing his set and wasting my time watching them rehash a joke done a millions times better by a professional, it pisses me off. Now back to the comedy zone. I worked my but off and began emceeing in 2008. Keep in mind emcees get paid around 25 dollars a show depending on where you perform. I performed in Knoxville, Johnson City, Harrisburg and at the Comedy Catch in Chattanooga. Yes, you read that right. I drove to Harrisburg, PA for $150.00. Nine hours away; three times in 2009.

Fast forward to the end of 2009, the Comedy Zone closed down in Knoxville and the other clubs I was working at hired local comics to emcee. I was OK with it though because I was ready to move up to featuring at that time. My only problem was no one knew who I was. Several e-mails and many phone calls later I became frustrated.  But then there was a new club in Knoxville, Side Splitters. I had heard of their sister club in Tampa, but really didn't know much about them. I felt the need to be loyal to the Comedy Zone, I figured that a new club would be opening up in Knoxville soon. So I decided to take some time off. My wife and I had another baby; I went back to my regular life for about eight months. The club never came.

I never put much thought into Side Splitters, and at one point had contemplated just quitting all together. I wondered if comedy was really for me, if I wouldn't be happier just giving up. One day I happened to hear an advertisement for an open mic at Side Splitters, and I decided to go check it out. I was amazed to say the least. I didn't go on stage that first week, but there were new comics and a few of the comics from the 'ol Comedy Zone still doing the same jokes I heard them do three years earlier. One of them even bad mouthed me to everyone in the place, making my first few months more of a test of my character than of my comedy. But, that is another story for another day. I had to start over, so I began doing the open mics every time the door opened. I hosted the open Mic, began emceeing in the main room, then finally moved up to featuring. My whole point to this long story is to tell you that I have some merit behind what I am about to say.

Free open mics or pay to play? This is the most frequent question I get asked. I say get as much stage time as possible . A bar, book store, club, hell I have even tried out jokes to complete strangers on the street. Last year I did 26 open mics at Side Splitters, which cost me around $340.00. That same year, when I performed for them as a professional comic, I got paid six times more than I paid for the open mics. Put another way, I received a 25 percent return for my investment. I also got showcases at several other clubs directly because of them. My paying to play got me paid. My point is just because its "free" doesn't make it better. If you are serious about your comedy, get on stage as much as possible! If you have to pay, do it somewhere where there are benefits. But don't pinhole yourself into not paying to perform. I could have done 10 times the number of free open mics and still would have never gotten as much out of it as I did the one I paid to play.