We know that every comic starts out their career doing open mic circuits, but how do these compare – can a UK comic just fly to the Big Apple and give it a go? We asked budding comic Conrad Jones, to give us the lowdown on his experiences on both sides of the pond.
Having taken part in the comedy open mic circuit in both New York and London, I couldn’t help but make comparisons between the two. Both mic scenes have their ups and downs. I love them both for different reasons. I think of it like two separate relationships. New York was like an abusive girlfriend. She treated me like shit. But she was sexy, and her sadistic behaviour only left me craving her attention more. But in London, now it’s like I’m with someone who cares for me and wants to help me get over the trauma of my previous destructive relationship. Without stretching this girlfriend analogy too far, I want to share what I have found to be the main differences between open mic comedy scenes in both cities.
First thing’s first: signing up. In the Big Apple, it’s pretty normal to stroll into a basement seconds before the mic starts, chuck your name in a bucket, and hey presto, you likely get a good spot because your name was at the top of the pile (by the way, this is considered sacrilegious among comedy-folk, yet it is done without fail at every mic). In London, sign up requires a little more red tape to be cleared before any chuckles are passed around. Often a facebook group needs to be joined, or an email needs to be sent a week or two in advance. It’s laborious, but if you’re organised, you’re off to the races.
That brings us to the next stage: bringers. A bringer is when the comedian needs to bring friends to the show to be allowed perform – kudos if you cracked that one yourselves. A bringer in New York either means that:
A. You’ve got a new ‘tight five’ you want to get taped at a decent club, or
B. You have no talent, but you do have a buttload of friends who can’t find anything better to do on a Thursday night.
I was surprised to find that quite a lot of London mics are bringers, but they don’t share the same stigma as their American counterparts. Believe it or not, these bringers are actually… fun. Most of the crowd want to be there, and the comic can get a better read on their material because they’re performing in front of a mixed audience. I’ve seen crowds at open mics in London that New Yorkers would kill for. And they’re on every week. Sure, in New York you can trim, condense, edit, and punch up your material on a daily basis, but London mics allow new acts to breath and find their voice without being run off stage after three minutes.
Now let’s talk about variety. Being the mecca of stand up comedy, New York audiences are thirsty for one thing, and one thing only: jokes. This is expected. But it hinders the efforts of comedians who are more character-based, use props, play an instrument, do impressions, and so on. Perhaps it’s because of its theatrical history, or maybe just the physical distance from the home of stand up, but London provides a stage for (or is at least more welcoming to) performers who are bizarre, on the margins of reality, or even borderline incoherent.
When thinking about what influences the style of comedy in each country, I asked myself: What’s the ‘big break’ they are preparing for? In America it’s Fallon or Conan, where only airtight sets are permitted. But in the UK, one excellent run at Edinburgh could propel you to success, thus allowing for a much broader range of performance.
Personally, I noticed that the majority of the material I have written in the past year has worked in London. However, I’m skeptical about how well the new stuff will work over in the states – if I ever do go back. Think of it like those alligator teeth they use in car parks to stop vehicles going the wrong way. A slight bump one way, a complete disaster the other. To fellow comedians, be warned, if you’re cruising around looking for an exit towards America, make sure the comedic route that you’re following works. Otherwise, don’t be surprised when the car jolts to a stop, your head cracks off the dashboard, and you faintly hear the voice of a car park attendant – who in an American accent says, “This is a one way street, pal.”
So London is treating me well. We’ve found some new material that we’re going to start building on together. And we’re planning a trip to Edinburgh this summer. It’s nice. But sometimes, at night, I lie in bed thinking. Just thinking about her. About those five boroughs. And how great it would be to have just one more night of reckless debauchery at the hands of that cruel mistress.
Maybe three minutes is all I need.
PS. Here are a few London open mics I recommend!
Funny Feckers – Monday, Thursday
South Kensington Comedy Club – Every day
Vauxhaull Comedy Club – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday
The 42 Comedy Club – Wednesday
Lion’s Den at Rumba – Tuesday