Rough Open Mic | Portland Shanghai Tunnels | Lessons Learned

Last night I took the train into downtown Portland to do a new open mic (to me) at the Shanghai Tunnel bar. It was a cool venue; there is a small upstairs bar, but a much bigger space in the basement that I can only assume (by the name of the bar) used to be a Shanghai tunnel.

Portland has an ugly history when it was a logging community as well as a hub for shipping (on actual ships). Ship captains needed crewmen, and loggers liked to drink, so a bunch of enterprising businessmen (kidnappers) worked with local bars to set up trap doors to take these sturdy men away from their lives and sell them into servitude to the sea captains.

I had the opportunity to take a tour of some of the tunnels that still exist, and the conditions were brutal. The men were stripped of their boots, and broken glass was strewn on the ground. They were kept in tiny cells, and then drugged before being sold to sea captains, where they would be held in service on ships for two years.

Now, I am in no way comparing my experience in this particular tunnel to that of those young men so many years ago, but I did want to talk a little about the rough experience that I had at this particular open mic.

I am new to comedy, and there are a lot of lessons that I still have to learn, and in comedy, one has to learn them the hard way. Stand-up comedy is one of the only art forms that you can’t really practice alone. If I were learning to play the saxophone, I could just wail away (to my roommates’ chagrin) until I got good enough to perform in front of other people. But with stand-up (besides writing jokes and practicing them in front of a mirror) it is a lot about finding a connection with the audience, which I definitely did not do last night.

The audience was mostly younger, and they were quite wild. I noticed a lot of talking during the other comedian’s sets, so I suppose there was some amount of nerves in having to deal with that. My goal for this mic was to hold for laughter after I told my jokes, which I accomplished, so in that sense the mic was a success (I held, but there was not a lot of laughter), but it still feels bad when you write a joke to make people laugh and it is met with silence.

To be fair to myself, I did hear some laughter, mostly from the back of the room (which I couldn’t see), but what bothered me the most was that there was a table of youngs right up front that were whispering and laughing (not at my jokes). They through off my flow, and I was not able to concentrate my attention toward the people who were actually chuckling at my jokes.

After the mic, I started a new thing; I wrote down a list of lessons to take away from this mic. There are probably more as I continue postmortem, but here is what I wrote down on my list:

  • Make sure you aren’t alienating yourself by taking about things the crowd can’t relate to.
  • Don’t dress up for a bar open mic
  • Address loud talkers if they are distracting to the set.

I will write another post about Thanksgiving later today, but time is running out, and I need to get these blog posts done, but I think I might continue to document my journey doing open mics.

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