FAQ: I want to try stand up! (BTW I'M ALSO SOOO SCAREDDDDD) What open mics should I go to?
This is part three of a FAQ series of questions that I am unqualified to answer, but somehow still keep getting asked.
Oh, cool. You want to do stand up. First thing’s first: GOOD LUCK. Second thing: Bad Slava.
Bad Slava is considered the best online resource for open mics in NYC (and I guess, America?). I can’t really help you outside the major cities. If you live in a small town or rural college, google and keep a weather eye on the horizon for leads. Or, if you are in college and can’t find a campus mic…um…start one? All you need is a microphone in a room. Also, decide if it’s lottery (meaning people put their names in a bucket and it’s drawn at random) or first come, first serve (meaning people show up hours early to put their name and their friends’ names on a list). That’s all.
If you’re a comedy nerd and you’ve read about places like Luna Lounge or Rififi being the place where all the weird, groundbreaking people of the alt scene intersected, know that both are gone (physically) and that the current nexus is a restaurant and bar in Long Island City, Queens called The Creek and the Cave. Also, they have FREE open mics and shows (stand up and improv) every night of the week. Also, MARGARITAS.
Fourth thing: Facebook friend everyone you can without looking like a freak. There are more mics than what are advertised on Bad Slava. Facebook is the most popular way of promoting new rooms and it’s also a professional networking tool that links the comedy community together. Besides, most comics just friend anyone who asks them anyway*. They don’t care. Just friend request them.
FIFTH THING: YOU SHOULD NEVER HAVE TO BUY MORE THAN A DRINK TO DO AN OPEN MIC.
When I was new and dumb, I posted on this here blog that I didn’t mind paying because I felt stagetime was privilege. I was new and dumb. (NB: I am still new and dumb.)
Don’t pay. I mean, why pay when there are so many FREE MICS in the city? Even the idea of buying a drink is open to debate, but hey…I always feel that if I’m in a small room with a bunch of people trying to be funny for over an hour, I’m going to need a diet coke or gin and tonic anyways. I don’t mind supporting the hovel putting us up. “Supporting” is the operative word. A mic or show’s relationship with a venue should ideally be mutually supportive and not parasitic.
Now, there is a hiccup to the “refusing to do cash mics”. It’s similar to my “refusing to bringer shows” line. You definitely close yourself off to potential stage time, and more importantly, comedy club connections. I say this because most comedy club mics do charge $5.00. I have avoided those. As such, I have next to no knowledge of the NYC comedy club world, and the NYC comedy club world has next to no knowledge about me. Choosing to do free mics pretty much seals your fate as an alt room comic**. Because my favorite comics all started in alt rooms, I really have no problem with that. That said, I am hoping to work in clubs because those rooms definitely work different muscles. I want the experience of it.
And to finally address the “I’m nervous and terrified” issue. Um…so am I. WE ALL ARE. You kind of have to find your inner Gryffindor if you want to do stand up comedy. If you’re more of a Ravenclaw, you can hang, but you’ll probably fare better just writing comedy. Hufflepuff? You will LOVE improv. Slytherin? Don’t even think about comedy, because fame and money and power are not going to happen, and if they do, you need to have either more guts, wits or charisma than ambition to make it happen. Actually, you would need all three and a ton of patience and perseverance. Just saying.
Here’s the thing…you’re going to suck. Think of your favorite comedian. You know, that untouchable guy or preternaturally perfect gal. You got them in your head. They spent years just sucking. Eating shit. Hell, most of them still eat shit sometimes. And even when they’re killing there are people in the room or watching on TV who hate them and wish they would shut up already. I’m not saying this to dissuade you. I’m saying it to inspire you. Sucking is part of the process. Fear is also part of it. Learning to be okay with failure (by constantly setting yourself up for it, experiencing it and ruminating on it) is the only way to find success.
So, ride the fear. Know that’s it part of it. Perseverance is also part of it. And again, GOOD LUCK.
*I DO NOT accept most friend requests from people I have never met, heard of or corresponded with. It’s just the way I keep it from being ridiculous.
**Also…here’s a secret for ladies out there hoping to do stand up…there are more girls in alt rooms and the guys tend to be more respectful and less into “women suck” and “rape’s no big deal” jokes. That said, I went to one free mic last night, where a crazy dude had a knife, I was the only girl and two of the last three comics awkwardly tried to make rape jokes funny. (They didn’t.) I mean, shit still happens, but alt room dudes are stereotypically more into talking about Pac Man on stage than pussy. Just saying…
(p.s. If you’re the kind of person who says to me, “Wah…how can I make a mic in the Village? It’s so far from where I live in Greenpoint!!” GTFO of comedy. Harsh? Yeah, but if you think a subway ride is too onerous for you, you really should not be doing comedy. It doesn’t get better; it gets worse.)
“I didn’t work very much on Drive, I just came into work and stared at Ryan Gosling occasionally—and one day we shot until two in the morning. Nicolas [Refn] made a film about driving, but he cannot drive. I’d never had Red Bull before, and I had, like, six of them, and I was like, “This is the best thing, ever!” We got in my white Prius, and we were driving out of downtown Los Angeles, back to where he was living with his family, and I was trying to do the navigational thing while he was sitting next to me—and I’m so wired on Red Bull that I think my head’s going to burst, so I’m, like, veering around in the road. There’s no one around, but suddenly there are flashing lights and I get pulled over. I’m sitting there in my pink fluffy slippers, Nic’s sitting there in his Puma tracksuit looking like a drug addict, and the policeman’s like, “What are you doing?” And I say, “I’m not drunk I just had seventeen Red Bulls!” And Nic’s like, “We’re making a mooovie.” We looked ridiculous. Thank God, he didn’t want to do the paperwork and he let us go.”—Carey Mulligan speaks numerous truths here.
Because…I’m drinking wine and watching Love, Actually on ABC Family and there are SO MANY STORYLINES and they are all about HETERO COUPLES. I got so much shit living in London about how American films and TV omit minorities, that…yeah…I have to sometimes examine British entertainment with that same lens. And guess what…Richard Curtis’s earlier film, Four Weddings and a Funeral, does feature a gay couple, so it’s not crazy to ask why not a single storyline is about a gay couple. And then, for that matter why only white and black and biracial and American and Spanish people live in his version of London, when a HUGE portion of the population is Muslim and Asian.
So I tweet this…no huge snark or judgment assigned…just drunk tweeting…
And the only reply is from someone who snidely is all, “Because that’s not the script that was written! Enough with this all-inclusive garbage!”
I won’t link to her account, because that’s not the point of “Missing the point, party of one!”. The point of “Missing the point, party of one!” is to not draw attention to people who miss the point and want attention because of it. I realize this post gives her attention…but seriously…THANK YOU FOR PERFECTLY ILLUSTRATING MY POINT, “MISSING THE POINT, PARTY OF ONE”.
Also, I do think that my original tweet raises a valid point about Love Actually, but whatever.
(Oh! Thanks to my pal, Claire, who kindly informed me over twitter that a deleted storyline featured a lesbian couple)
From now on, instead of stressing out over comments on my posts or articles from people who clearly misinterpreted my meaning or did not read the entire post before commenting, I will just flamboyantly cackle in my head, "Missing the point, party of one!"
So far it’s helped me calm down and not start long internet debates over nothing.
And one day, I hope to use it as a retort to a heckler.
My 17 year old nephew was cast as Mr. Whiteside in his high school’s production of The Man Who Came To Dinner. Also, he does improv. And his TV is permanently paused on his game of Skyrim. And he owns fur lined boat shoes!
(and yes, I am going to force him to listen to Rob Riggle’s WTF interview before he ships off to the Citadel next year)
When I was six, my parents informed me that we would be moving to Portland, Oregon. Dad was getting promoted to a cushy, white collar position. They’d be able to buy a really nice house. My sisters—who are all 17-14 years older than me—would be staying on the East Coast for school, so it was a given that in the golden years of my parents life, I would be given ALL OF THE LOVE, TOYS and ATTENTION. It was going to be awesome.
Then my Dad suddenly passed away.
So, my mom and I stayed in Delaware with my sisters. It was really tough. I used to daydream a lot about how much better my life in Portland, Oregon would have been. I probably would have had friends. I probably could have gotten horseback riding and dancing lessons. I wouldn’t have known what things like “debt” or “health insurance” or “social security checks” were. I thought as a kid it would have been awesome.
Thanks to Etsy, I now know how my life would have turned out: I would have become an insufferable hipster who biked everywhere and whose blog would be entirely about “good causes”, like saving owls or how my old dad was an insufferable racist. And by “good causes”, I mean I wouldn’t be aware of what suffering really was. I would just pick things that upset my privileged world view and take them up to feel less useless.
A friend of mine asked me to compete in this stand up competition he was hosting over the weekend. It was a really interesting experience because I didn’t get through, but I didn’t walk away feeling like a failure. In the past, if I had a shitty set or if I felt like everyone in the room didn’t think I was funny, I would feel like I had failed. This time around, I knew I had a killer set. I was really pleased with my material and how I delivered it. I had fun.
I walked off the stage knowing that I was funny, but also knowing that my stuff is not everyone’s “cup of tea”. I walked away feeling happy and confident. I mean, I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get through, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. How I do in one competition or one set or one mic doesn’t determine whether I’m funny or not. It doesn’t determine if what I have to say is worth saying or not. It just says that one group of people felt a certain way about me.
What I’m trying to say is I’m not as focused anymore on pleasing everyone else. Intellectually I always knew that was foolish, but emotionally I was still tied to getting everyone to like me. Now, I really like what I’m doing. I’m starting to accept and embrace what makes me different. Mostly, I’m realizing that in stand up, it’s more important for me to be myself and find my voice than it is to be a crowd pleasing kind of act. That wouldn’t be fun for me anyways. Being a happy little weirdo is fun for me.
Being okay with being a happy little weirdo is the best.
“And women should stop telling fairy tales to their daughters about how women want to destroy other women. Because you know what happens when those are the only stories we’re told? We grow up believing it’s true. And that’s when it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”—Check out my version of Snow White
I currently have three different articles partly written for Hello Giggles this week and I hate all of them. I’m so uninspired. It’s not that any of them are particularly bad ideas, they’re just so…done.
FAQ: I want to move to NYC to do improv. Where should I gooooo???
This is part two of an inadvertent series. The more you answer questions, the more people ask them. I will create a tab on my page to link to all of these soon enough.
Oh my God, how the hell am I supposed to know what improv school is best for you? I don’t even know what improv school is best for me. Basically, check them all out and GO WITH YOUR GUT. Don’t go where your idols went. Hell, don’t necessarily go where your friends went. Go where you feel most comfortable in your own skin. Get a groove going, and when it stops working at one place, go to another. Learn all you can (and don’t be snobby about different groups or styles).
As for my personal feelings (and yeah…I might reveal some snobbishness here so bear with me)…
People have asked me before on the blog to breakdown the pros and cons and styles of the big three NYC improv theaters. I pretty much stand by a lot of what I outlined over a year ago. The UCB is still the big man on campus. I’ve heard them actually referred to by writers outside the scene as a “comedy mafia”. There was a moment earlier this year when I though the PIT was gaining a lot of traction on the UCB—due to the fact that the PIT had a new space that afforded more stage time to new people. However, the UCBeast opened and so far is doing really well with audiences. It’s brought new life into the UCB in the NYC scene.
That said, I like the PIT because of the fact that I do honestly believe it’s easier to break in there if you’re new. Also, the PIT’s most famous alums are Kristen Schaal, Kurt Braunohler and Ellie Kemper. You don’t look at their stuff and go, “Oh, yeah…their comedy is obviously from the PIT”. You look at them and say, “That’s what Kristen Schaal does.” I think you can more easily see the UCB training in UCB grads and for that matter, Groundlings training in Groundlings grads, and Second City training in Second City alums. I like that the PIT really wants its people to find their own voice.
The Magnet continues to produce some of the best improv performers anywhere, but they also continue to be in their own insulated nexus. If you really love experimenting with longform and just the artistry of improv, go to the Magnet.
If you want to be a great improviser and you aren’t interested in sketch or stand up at all, I would bluntly say, “Don’t go to New York. Go to Chicago.”
Don’t get me wrong, New York has some of the finest improvisers and improv instructors on the planet. But the best improvisers and improv instructors are currently in Chicago. That town respects improv because they produce the best improv. I studied for only a week at the Annoyance this summer (with Mick Napier, Susan Messing, Rebecca Sohn, Rich Sohn and Mark Sutton) and learned more in that week than I possibly did in eight years of Boston and New York improv. Okay, that’s a hyperbole, but you know what I’m getting at. Also, right now there are tremendous solo performers and teams at iO that…um…kind of blow 95% of NYC improv out of the water.
I’m going to offend a lot NYC improvisers by saying this, but in NYC (and I say this as someone who also hangs in the stand up scene and who writes and who hopscotches from theater to theater socially—so I’m culling this from a wide array of opinions), improv is seen more as a means to an end than as an actual art form. There are a few really great improvisers who are heart and soul improvisers and that’s all they’re into. Those guys and gals are usually the best (and usually came from..ahem…Chicago first). I mean, most improv people in NYC (unless they are at the Magnet) don’t go, “I saw TJ and Dave do this one set and it changed my life and I HAVE TO DO IMPROV.” Most people in the improv scene are in it because they want to be on SNL or like the guys in Human Giant or they just want to fuck around and be funny.
There is great improv in NYC (Death by Roo Roo, Stepfathers, Big Black Car, The Scene, Armando Diaz Experience), so just check it all out and pick what you like the most. Take classes. Jam with friends. Remember it’s supposed to be fun. You’re not going to get paid for doing improv, so make sure you do what you want to do with it.
That is my long-winded, complicated and possibly controversial opinion on that matter. It all boils down to “HOW THE FUCK SHOULD I KNOW? DO WHAT YOU WANT”.
I could write a full-length play about the stuff that happened tonight. I should.
And one of the characters would be an egg-shaped woman in a long black floral skirt, an oatmeal-colored turtleneck, and Vibram Five-Fingers on her weirdly stubby, tiny feet who simply did not understand that NO ONE was moving and EVERYONE was stuck there. I’m thinking Melissa McCarthy for that role.
But I mean, seriously, ugh.
That shit cray.
How about this for a reason for not committing suicide by jumping in front of train tracks: someone has to engineer/be the fireman on the train that will kill you. Someone will see what you are doing, but be too far down the track to slow the train to save you. Someone will have to spend two minutes to ten seconds of their life knowing that they man the controls that could stop the train, but that it’s too late to. They’ll have to see you and watch it happen and not be able to stop it. They’ll have to live with it.
Oh, and someone will have to clean you up. Someone will have to see the damage done.
Is this getting gross and angry and not funny? Well, I’m sorry. My father was an engineer and fireman for trains and had to watch more than one person kill themselves with his train. He had to wave and scream and ask them to move and they didn’t. He had to live with undeserved guilt for the act of murdering someone. He didn’t deserve that.
And yes, I’ve had to actually see (in my adult lifetime) the clean up of a train suicide. It is more horrifying than I can possibly politely describe to you.
If someone is contemplating suicide, they should seek help. If someone is beyond that, a train is one of the worst ways to do it—not just for the pain involved for the victim, but the pain for the bystanders. But seriously, seek help.
FAQ: How did you get your writing on [such and such website]? AND DO THEY PAY?!?!
This is the first FAQ I’m doing, but I wager it won’t be the last. Enjoy. Or scroll on.
Okay, I get a bunch of messages via email, tumblr and through personal Facebook messaging about my writing, and when I say I get questions about my writing, what I mean is I get questions about how I got published on a certain site and how much dough I’m raking in. No one ever wants to discuss the finer points of my prose (unless Ryan Gosling is involved).
Here’s how I got published on:
The Apiary: They had a general call for writers in May 2010 and I submitted. And then I followed up. And then I wrote. And then I rewrote. And then I submitted and followed up and wrote and rewrote again.
RealCityNy: I wanted to add TV recaps to my resume so I found them listing on CraigsList. I submitted. And then I followed up. And then I wrote. And then I rewrote. And then I submitted and followed up and wrote and rewrote again.
Splitsider: I wanted to write for them so I submitted an idea. And then I followed up. And then I wrote. And then I rewrote. And then I wrote. And then I rewrote. And then I wrote. And then I rewrote. And then I submitted and followed up and wrote and rewrote again.
OverthinkingIt.com: A couple of my best friends from Boston are editors on this site. I waited until I had a good idea and I submitted. And then I wrote. And then I submitted and wrote again. There’s less following up and rewriting and more deadline dashing when you’re pals with the editors. Sad, but true.
The Hairpin: I wanted to write for them so I submitted an idea. And then I followed up. And then I wrote. And then I rewrote. And then I wrote. And then I rewrote. And then I wrote. And then I rewrote. And then I submitted and followed up and wrote and rewrote again.
Hello Giggles: I wanted to write for them so I submitted an idea in the open contributions section. Then I submitted another idea. A month later I was told they liked the second one. A month later it was finally published. Then they told me over twitter they wanted me to contribute regularly. Then I followed up. I followed up again. And again. And again for about six weeks until they offered me an official spot. Then I wrote. And I wrote. And I wrote. And I wrote. And I rewrote. And I wrote.
What I’m saying is it’s a lot of writing, rewriting, following up and just plain hard work.
How much did all of these websites pay me? Nothing.
I did all of this for free because I knew coming from an office job with an English degree and no professional writing experience, I would never get a job writing professionally for a publication. I had to prove myself as talented and hard working by starting at the bottom and building the kind of resume that could blow someone who has a journalism degree, an internship at TV Guide magazine and two years writing generic Gardening articles for pay out of the water at a major online or print magazine. I’m still working on it and since this summer have I started fielding offers for paid work.
"But Meghan, that seems ridiculous that you would work so much for free."
I know, right? But I’m finally (since “Dear Ryan Gosling”) at a point where I can start looking for paid work. Now it’s only a matter of easing myself off of my previous website commitments and into the world of paid only writing.
Writing for free has its perks, though: I can write WHATEVER I WANT WHENEVER I WANT. I’ve gotten to work with an incredible group of writers and editors. My work has been read by a wide audience. Also, I’ve had the freedom to develop my own online voice that’s determined by my own interests, and not the interests of whomever will pay me.
That is my honest response to anyone and everyone who asks. And it’s also an explanation for why in 2012, I probably won’t be writing as much for most of the sites I listed. I’m at a point where making writing deadlines is overtaking my stand up and improv obligations, so I have to make some tough choices soon.
(p.s. I personally reached out to Molly McNearney, Jessi Klein and Sara Schaeffer for interviews for Splitsider and The Apiary, respectively. After I reached out a bunch, comics started reaching out to me. Just food for thought.)
Molly McNearney is pretty effing awesome, guys. She quit her advertising job to get a producer’s assistant job at Jimmy Kimmel Live and then worked her way up to the co-head writer position. She wrote Josh Groban sings Kanye West tweets. Oh, and she was nice enough to talk to me about what it’s like working in late night. Whatever.