Open mics in New York City that won’t destroy you, probably

Open mics have been described to me as scrimmages (for the non-athletic: play rehearsals) used to practice and improve before a real game (paid gigs). They are where you go to find your sea legs as a comedian, dump out your ideas, and fine-tune them before a show with an actual audience expecting to laugh. They are essential for any comedian starting out.

The problem? Open mics in most U.S. cities are full of angry swamp monsters. The crowd can be homogenous and unhappy to see you (or anyone new, especially a non-white dude) try stand-up comedy.

I have curated this list of supportive open mics in NYC (sorry other cities, it’s the only place I know). Although you have to know there’s no such thing as a 100% “safe space” in comedy (or the planet), there are pockets in the community where people’s instincts are to not tear you down.

Monday

Location: The Standing Room (LIC, Queens)

Time: 6:00 p.m.

Sign Up: Bucket (The first 5 to arrive get to perform in the first group)

Minutes: 4

Fee: Free

Description: Dudes primarily attend this mic, but the host creates a supportive vibe. Plus, the room is intimate, making it difficult for the other open mic-ers to ignore you. It’s a great mic to try out new material, and I feel safe bombing there because the scale makes it feel inconsequential.

Location: The Platform (Bushwick, Brooklyn)

Time: 8:30 PM

Sign Up: List (Get there early!)

Minutes: 4

Fee: Free

Description: Again, this is a mic that is attended by mostly dudes (and offensive ones at that). However, it’s hosted by someone who creates a supportive room. Plus, there are often real audience members watching. If a joke is funny, it will work here.

Location: Legion Bar (Bushwick, Brooklyn)

Fee: Free

Sign Up: Bucket

Minutes: 3

Description: This mic is hot and cold in terms of support (because it’s a last-stop mic in a comic’s day, and they’re all out of patience for a premise that is perhaps overdone or bizarre). However, it is run by two female comics and attracts an almost equal male-to-female ratio. What’s more, the mic is in an intimate, enclosed room so everyone is forced to listen, allowing you a decent read on your jokes.

Tuesday

Location: Precious Metal Bar (Bushwick, Brooklyn)

Time: 6:00 PM

Fee: Free

Sign Up: Bucket

Minutes: 3

Description: This mic could be intimidating for newcomers, because so many talented up-and-coming comics try their new jokes out here. However, the hosts create a supportive room, and there’s always a solid turnout of female comics. This mic is not diverse in age (everyone is in their 20s and 30s/tragically hip).

Location: Peaches Shrimp and Crab (Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn)

Time: 6:00 PM

Fee: Free

Sign Up: List

Minutes: 5

Description: This mic is hosted by two supportive, welcoming women. The audience doesn’t always listen, but it’s a great place to try new jokes or run a chunk of a longer set. The turnout is sparse, but is typically diverse, and because it’s at a restaurant (not a bar), anyone of any age can sign up.

Location: Creek and The Cave (Long Island City, Queens)

Time: 8:00 PM

Fee: Free

Sign Up: supopenmic@gmail.com

Minutes: 4-7

Description: This mic is specifically for women, queer, and gender-non-conforming folks. It is advertised as a “fun, cool mic with no bad vibes.” That’s as supportive as it gets!

Location: 61 Local (Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn)

Time: 9:00 PM

Fee: Free

Minutes: 3

Description: Probably my favorite in NYC, the “Moon Babies” open mic has a consistently fun, mixed turnout. There’s a positive energy to the room. The only downside is that it’s really popular; you might be waiting 2 hours to go up, performing for the five people that stick around until the end.

Wednesday

Location: The Duplex (West Village, Manhattan)

Time: 7:00 PM

Fee: 2 Drink Minimums

Sign Up: List

Minutes: 5

Description: You have to get to the mic incredibly early to sign up, and it’s quite expensive. However, it’s the only open mic I see older comics attend, the turnout is always diverse, and the host treats it like a show and has great energy.

Location: Halyards (Gowanus, Brooklyn)

Time: 7:00 PM

Fee: Free

Sign Up: List

Minutes: 4

Description: All open mics at Halyards are diverse and supportive. It’s a good place to go to get an honest read on jokes.

Thursday

Location: The PIT (Midtown Manhattan)

Time: 7:00 PM

Fee: $5

Sign Up: List

Minutes: 5

Description: An all-ladies mic, the room is supportive and is a good place to try new material. No more than 10 people are usually in attendance.

Friday

Location: Halyards (Gowanus, Brooklyn)

Time: 7:00 PM

Fee: Free

Sign Up: List

Minutes: 4

Description: Same vibe as the Wednesday mic. Great host!

Saturday

Location: The Village Lantern (West Village, Manhattan)

Time: 6:30 PM

Fee: 1 item minimum

Sign Up: List

Minutes: 5

Description: Again, an all-ladies mic. This one is sparsely attended, but is a great place to meet people when you’re starting out.It’s unintimidating and a solid place to learn how to get comfortable on stage.

Location: Cantina Royal (Williamsburg, Brooklyn)

Time: 6:00 PM

Fee: Free

Sign Up: Bucket

Minutes: 4

Description: It’s not the most diverse mic, but the vibe is welcoming and supportive. It’s your best mic option on a Saturday.

Sunday

Location: Precious Metal Bar (Bushwick, Brooklyn)

Time: 7:30 PM

Fee: Free

Sign Up: Bucket

Minutes: 3

Description: Same vibe as the Tuesday Precious Metal mic, but a little more laid-back.

Location: South 4th Bar (Williamsburg, Brooklyn)

Time: 8:00 PM

Fee: 1 Drink Minimum

Sign Up: Bucket

Minutes: 3:30

Description: This mic is run by two female comics and is generally supportive. The comics might be in the back of the room talking, but everyone is friendly. It’s a good place to meet people.

Location: Carmine Comics (West Village, Manhattan)

Time: 10:00 PM

Fee: $1

Sign Up: Bucket

Minutes: 3:30

Description: This mic is run by sweet-boy comic book nerds. It’s incredibly tiny, but a fun, non-intimidating space to try jokes.

PLUS

ANY mic at … (look at their calendars):

QED (Astoria, Queens).

Klimat Lounge (East Village, Manhattan)(Caveat: these mics are expensive, most of the other open mic-ers are new too, and the hosts will try to get you to sign up for comedy classes and bringers. Ignore these factors and Laughing Buddha mics are productive and incredibly supportive). .

UCB East (East Village, Manhattan).

Share this article with your comedy friends!


BLAIR DAWSON (intern, workshops) is a standup comic and improvisor who produces and co-hosts a monthly storytelling and stand-up show sponsored by Babeland called  “U Up?” @UrGirlBlair


6 things everyone should know about comedy and depression

Here’s a common exchange.

Stranger: So, you’re a comedian?
Me: Yes.
Stranger: Are you depressed?
Me: I haven’t tried to kill myself today!

It’s a pretty rude question, but comedians hear it a lot. And I guess—if only in terms of math—it’s legit. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, an estimated 16.1 million U.S. citizens 18 or up had at least one major depressive episode in the year of 2015. That’s almost 7 percent of all adults. Or, put another way, if I had 100 M&M’s, but 6.7 of them were secretly Skittles. I’d bite into one of the Skittles like, “What the hell, bro, I was told this was chocolate and you know I hate surprises because they remind me that life is fragile and fleeting and I could die at any moment?”

My point: many people suffer from depression. And many people are comedians. Does that mean that many comedians are depressed? In pop culture, yes. What about real life? Which is the chicken and which is the egg? Are comedians tragic, broken people OR are tragic and broken just what’s funny?

Related: for my own part, I’ve noticed that doing comedy makes me feel both empowered and insecure. So, as a comedian/reader of Psychology Today who spends her lunch breaks wrongly diagnosing those around her, I thought it high time we get to the bottom of the sad clown stereotype—and also to ASK FOR A FRIEND about some ways of preserving your sanity while working as a comedian.

I talked to Matt Aibel, LCSW, a psychoanalytic psychotherapist (and a self-described “recovered performer”) based in New York City and Long Island who specializes in working with artists. Here’s what he had to say about comedy and mental health:

You may have to be a little crazy to be a comic, but that’s okay.

If you feel you didn’t get enough attention/appreciation/applause when you were younger, well, join the club. It’s a pretty big club, too. “We all need to feel recognized and appreciated,” says Aibel. “There are many ways to satisfy that need. Performing is a powerful pull.”

But comedy? Comedy is really hard. Bothering to do it instead of something easy means that at some level you need to do it—to “finally feel alive, to feel deeply recognized in a longed-for way,” says Aibel—is really strong. “Why else would someone subject his or herself?” he asks.

The problem is, the laughs may not be enough. “Performing is rarely enough to truly undo an underlying sense of inferiority or emptiness. That’s why the high of it is like a drug. When it wears off, you need another fix,” says Aibel. In other words, success is great, but it doesn’t necessarily fill the VOID OF SADNESS. (See: lots of successful comics and performers who self-destruct.)

BUT! Even if THE BIG EMPTY is part of what drives you, it may not be all that drives you. And that rawness and vulnerability, handled authentically, is comedy GOLD—partly because so many other people can relate. Always key, Aibel says: “Make sure you’ve got other things that help you feel good about yourself and about life, and loved ones whose presence can help you keep in mind that you have value outside of your performing success.”

Punchlines can help you process.

You know how they say “comedy = tragedy + time”? Here’s Aibel’s take on that: “A comedian who can slow down and stay present with challenging feelings benefits not only emotionally, but also in performance, by being able to hold the room in stillness or silence, as opposed to just barrelling along. That can make for a richer, more resonant act.” Laurie Kilmartin (45 Jokes About My Dead Dad) and Tig Notaro (One Mississippi) are two (of quite a few) masters at this—at using finely drawn humor not to deflect or make light of tragedy, but to authentically process and share it.

That’s an advanced move, we know. “Comedians may have a harder time slowing down and staying with uncomfortable feelings,” says Aibel. “Their impulse can be to discharge the energy of important feelings by converting it to a punchline or speeding along.” It can be funny, but it can also leave you stuck. If you want to experiment, try your darker, most personal stuff on friendly crowds (or just friends) first. Let them help you get comfortable and give it time to gel.

Learning to be a good comic can be like learning to be a good human.

“It’s powerfully gratifying to move others to think and feel—and feel less alone—through storytelling and performance. Not just for the ego but for the heart,” says Aibel. And learning how to connect with people, even from the stage, is possibly the most mentally healthy and valuable life skill there is, other than fixing phones after they’ve fallen into the toilet (plz help me.)

3 tips for staying funny and sane

Set goals you can control.

Aibel calls these “process goals”: Set goals around things you can actually do, like performing x number of nights a week, not things you can’t control—like getting a callback.  

Get a hobby!

When you’re a comic, your job is to be critical. How to stay positive, especially about yourself? Make sure you do stuff outside comedy that makes you feel in control and positive, says Aibel.

Find support—yes, even on a comedy “salary.”

Aibel’s reccos:

Read books.

Find a mentor: perhaps an older comedian whose approach and spirit you admire (but beware of “gurus.”) 

Be around PEOPLE: Supportive coaches, teachers, colleagues, and friends can make a big difference.

Try not to let your body go to sh*t. Or, as Aibel puts it: “Physical fitness, exercise, and healthy habits around sleep, food, alcohol and drugs are beneficial.”  

Quality low-cost therapy. New York and other cities offer solid low-fee/sliding-scale clinics through psychoanalytic institutes, and private therapists and organizations like The Actors Fund offer workshops and support groups.

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BLAIR DAWSON (intern, workshops) is a standup comic and improvisor who produces and co-hosts a monthly storytelling and stand-up show sponsored by Babeland called  “U Up?” @UrGirlBlair

How to level up from mics to shows

As a stand-up comedy newcomer, it can sometimes feel like a gargantuan task to move from open mics to booked shows. What’s more, mics can feel like a masochistic exercise of, “how much of a beating can my self-esteem take before I pull a KONY 2012 meltdown?” After swimming up stream crafting your material, shows are a sought after reward validating your hard work. There’s no linear path towards getting booked, but there are tangible steps you can take to move in that direction.  

1.  Be friendly and ‘find your people.’

When you’re starting out, the people who are going to book you on shows are your friends and mentors.

When you’re at open mics, don’t just do your set and skedaddle; hang around and reach out to people. If you like someone’s joke, tell them. If you think someone is funny and/or enjoy being around them, make an effort to see that comic outside of mics.

Many comedy shows are like hangs and everybody wants to spend time with those they love most. Be someone people want to be around. It sounds political, which sometimes it is, but if you make a genuine effort to surround yourself with comedians/comedy you like and treat everyone with kindness and respect, the give and take is all sincere.  

I think the only thing you shouldn’t do is try to create your comedy in a vacuum. If you try to work alone, or be above it all – and you don’t meet or connect with people, I think a lot of people get lost there. You have to find your people. These are the people you’re going to be with for years, it’s like your graduating class, and there’s a bond and a closeness there with the people you did mics with that, for me, has been one of the most rewarding aspects of comedy. Seeing people grow and growing closer with people over the years.” – Marcia Belsky

2.  Have your own show.

DIY, baby! If you do the work to properly promote it, producing your own show is an excellent way to ensure yourself stage time. What’s more, producing your own show can be used as a credit to promote yourself. Plus, you can use it as leverage for spots on another comedian’s show.

3.  Support your friends’ shows.

It’s all about that quid pro quo. The first time I went to a more established friend’s show, I was given a guest spot. I didn’t realize this was common practice amongst comedians, but if you hang around and support your buddies, they’ll sometimes give you that sweet, sweet stage time.

4. Bark.

If you are an introverted sweet pea who’s exhausted by the idea of all of this “friend-making,” barking may be for you! You don’t need to engage with anyone beyond shouting, “Comedy show inside! Five dollar beers! AC! Please love me!”

When you’re starting, barking is one of the easier paths to stage time in front of a room of non-comedians. It can be an unpleasant experience, but worth it if it’s getting you on a quality show.

5.  Bringers.

Do you have rich alcoholic pals that want nothing more than to see YOU tell jokes? Wow, you do? Please, hook me up because your girl is trying to get on a bringer.

As with barking, there’s a stigma attached to Bringers. Mostly because comics are salty about not having several friends who can shell out $40 dollars to see their comedy, but ALSO because some of them are unethical. The booker may not care about the quality of the showcase so it becomes an exploitation newcomers for money. What’s more, many beginners get stuck doing bringers. They’ll go to an open mic, bomb, and run back to the comfort of an easy laugh (because you’re performing for family and friends), never learning how to properly write a joke.

Nevertheless, if you do your homework, some of them are a doorway into clubs. Plus, If you have a 5-7 minute set you’d really like to record, bringers are a great place to acquire a high quality tape.

6.     Make art.

Are you an ARTEEST? Does Michaelangelo swoon 4 u? Did you attend art school, but when you entered the workforce you were like, “nah,” and have yet to use your degree in any meaningful way? Then poster-making is for you.

Comedians all want a super fly poster for their comedy show. However, we’re all poor lil’ babies working with pennies. Notice a show doesn’t have a poster (or if they have one, it’s trash)? Offer up your poster making services for free in exchange for a spot. They get a dope flyer and you get an opportunity to show off your sillies. Everybody wins!

7.  Get credits.

How do you acquire a credit when you’re struggling to get on bar shows? Get creative!

“There are always other avenues to get credits,” says Brandon Scott Wolf. “I was an SNL Weekend Update freelance contributor before moving to New York. Develop a social media presence that’s undeniable, write for a comedy publication like The Onion or Clickhole, or figure out a way to go viral. It’s all about standing out!”

Also, if you have a video you like of your stand-up (or any type of comedy), submit to comedy festivals. Festivals are a great way for newcomers to be seen, legitimized and receive a credit.

8. Ask.

Heck yeah, it’s uncomfortable! But if you send an unassuming message to the producer of a show along with a video, no one will fault you. Your messages will most certainly be ignored, but some of them won’t. Asking for spots is how a lot of comedians get booked. The person who’s booking a show is more likely giving a spot to a friend who has asked, as opposed to someone who has not.

Owner of the world-famous Comedy Cellar in New York, Noam Dworman, told GOLD this exact same thing during a recording of The Comedy Cellar Radio Show.

9. Put in time and be funny.

If you’re not getting booked, there maaaaay be a valid reason why. Maybe you’re just not quiiiiiiite ready. Keep writing, keep going to mics, and reach out to other comedians. As long as you’re funny and not a creepy or mean magoo, it’ll eventually happen.

10.  There’s no “one size fits all” path.

There are no right or wrong way to do comedy. 

I used to always stress about whether or not I was doing enough mics. I’d do two-three a night, four-five times a week and worry it wasn’t enough until a comic I loved told me she would just do one mic, every other night or so, and only do a second set if she felt she really wanted to try something specific again,” Marcia Belsky says. “Otherwise, she’d go home and write. It made me realize that for some comics, you can get distracted by doing so many mics that it almost becomes counterproductive. So, what works for one person might not work for you.”

Know thyself and push forward accordingly.


BLAIR DAWSON (intern, workshops) is a standup comic and improvisor who produces and co-hosts a monthly storytelling and stand-up show sponsored by Babeland called  “U Up?” @UrGirlBlair

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How to survive your first open mic

My first open mic took place in a basement on a Saturday at 4:30 in the afternoon. My topics included being a grimy “cute” girl, Ariana Grande’s donut scandal vs. Bill Cosby’s rape accusations, Oedipus, and incest galore! To my utter disbelief, the comics in the room mustered mild chuckles, which to me, felt like George Carlin performing for an audience of 20,000 at Madison Square Garden. Before I knew it, my five minutes were up. The host took the stage after me announcing, “That was your first time? And you went straight into masturbation. Wow.” I was on cloud 9.

I’ve been performing standup for about 13 months now, averaging 12 open mics per week. I can confidently say that I’ve learned a thing or two about how to survive an open mic.

1.    Attend an open mic to watch.

“Auditing” a mic will help you get a feel for the expectations. You’ll see each comic going up one after the other, casually listing off their jokes from notebooks. If you’re like me, you’ll think, “I can do that! I’m much funnier than guy A, guy B, and ESPECIALLY guy C. I can do it!” It’ll give you the deranged self-confidence necessary to be just as unfunny as everyone else.

2.     Prepare your jokes.

Many people attend open mics thinking they’ll speak off the cuff, which is a mistake. Perhaps you’re quick witted, but wit runs out of gas real fast when there is no arc to what you’re saying. Additionally, if you’re new to public speaking, you don’t know how you’ll react speaking in front of a room of strangers, especially if your joke bombs. To avoid freezing up, it’s best to prepare material.

Don’t know where to start? Free write and pick a few ideas to hone in on. For my first time, I found it helpful to bounce my ideas off of other people. If your closest friends look at you like an extraterrestrial creature, it might not connect with a room full of strangers.

Remember, you can bring your notes on stage. Whenever I’m working out new material, I’ll bring up a set list of keywords. The words jog my memory so I don’t end up reading my jokes off the page and disengaging from the room.

3.     Find out how the mic runs.

Do you need to sign up in advance? If so, when does the sign up period begin? Does the mic cap the amount of performers? Do you need to pay to perform? How many minutes will you get? At what point will the host light you (letting you know how much time you have left) and from where in the room?

I once tried to get on an open mic in Australia, but when I got there 40 minutes early, they told me I had to sign up a week in advance. This is abnormal for New York, but it might be how it’s done in your city.

You can find open mics in your city via badslava or freemics.

4.     Record yourself.

It won’t help you get through your first open mic, but it’ll serve as a memento and a reminder of how much you’ve grown (down the line). Moving forward, it’s important to record your sets in order to understand where your jokes went right or wrong and what you can improve upon. Like many comedians, I record every set on the voice memos app on my phone.  

5.     Move the mic stand.

If you choose to take the mic out of the stand, it’s best to move it to the side or behind you. To see a mic stand in front of a performer is a barrier and a distraction. Not only does it serve as a visual irritant to onlookers, but it makes you, the performer, seem cagey. The stand prevents you from physically engaging with the room.

If you’re a real silly billy, you’ll leave the mic in the stand and pick the whole damn thing up because you’re a rebel and no one can tell you what to do!

6.   Keep the mic at your chin.

When I first started, I had a bad habit of waving the mic around as I was speaking. If you’re waving the mic around, no one can hear your funnies, and more importantly, no one will laugh. Keep the mic at chin level and a few inches away from your face. If you’re yelling, pull that mic away so that everyone in the room doesn’t hate you from permanently damaging their eardrums…unless you’re a cool bad boy/girl who’s into that sort of thing, in which case, do you.

7.   Tell everyone it’s your first open mic.

Most open mic-ers tune out if they don’t recognize you. For the sake of your self-esteem, you’re going to want people to look up from their phones and listen. When you mention it’s your first time, people will be generally supportive, curious, and excited to hear what you have to say. Why? Because everybody remembers their own first time.

8.     Know it’s normal to be afraid.

It took me TWO years to find the courage to attend my first open mic. At 21, I drunkenly announced my big dreams of being the next Chelsea Peretti to a working stand-up comedian (I have no regrets), but it took some growing up for me to overcome my most paralyzing fear: public speaking. The fear never went away. In fact, I had nervous diarrhea leading up to my first open mic and spent the following twenty to forty mics dry-heaving and hiding in the bathroom until they called my name. What changed at 23, as opposed to 21, was that I decided I wasn’t going to let phobias dictate my life choices. Don’t let them dictate yours!

9. SURPRISE, none of my advice matters.

At the end of the day, no tips or tricks about how to perform will guarantee 100% success. What’s most important is getting on stage and speaking, over and over again, no matter what. That is how you become a comedian.

So go forth! Be funny!

BLAIR DAWSON (intern, workshops) is a standup comic and improvisor who produces and co-hosts a monthly storytelling and stand-up show sponsored by Babeland called  “U Up?” @UrGirlBlair

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