Open Mics Decoded: A Field Guide to N00b Standup Comedians

By Suhit Kelkar 04 June 2019


Spread the love

So you want to go to a stand-up comedy show. Not just any comedy show, but an open mic. You know, the kind of show where aspiring comedians try out their jokes, and where established comedians air out their new material. An open mic can be many things, not only a graveyard for inflated egos but also a rich vein of raw talent.

Now, birdwatchers and botanists are equipped with field guides to the objects of their enquiry. Why should the comedy audience deserve any less? With this thought in mind, we’ve put together a list of the species of comedians you will encounter in the terrains of the comedy scene in Mumbai.

The Newbie

This is the basic type from which all comedians grow and, hopefully, take wing. But as yet, these fledgelings have freshly emerged from the cocoon of their family home or college life. The newbies consider their humour not only broad-based enough to be relatable to an audience that does not consist entirely of their sutta-buddies but also deems themselves funny, to begin with. This is a problem where hope clashes with reality. The boundlessly encouraging sheltered environment that stoked the newbies’ aspirations was one thing, the paying audience is another. Confronted with the latter, the hapless newbies will soon learn the taste of failure, as seen in a total lack of laughter at their jokes. They’ll taste failure many, many times before contemplating giving up.

Giving up is not in itself a bad thing. But what keeps newbies going in comedy is a burning desire to not be losers, an ardent wish to be artists, or simply the desperation that comes from having burnt bridges on the way to the stage. For many newbies, there is hope yet. No one was born a winner.

2. The Deluded

The Deluded begins life as a kind of a newbie. But unlike the newbie, the Deluded has no chance of being funny and doesn’t know it. This kind is not put off by repeated failures to laugh on the part of the audience. No, this kind magnanimously forgives the audience and subjects the audience again and again to their talent, which, as yet, they alone can see.

Like any top-heavy structure, this kind will eventually topple over. Many will then transition into the Newbie category, having learnt their lesson and having developed the beginnings of a sense of humour. Some will quit the scene which, of course, is “not good enough for them, as they have other things going for them”. Being funny is not one of these things.

3. Therapy Seekers

They have mummy issues. Daddy issues. Girlfriend/boyfriend issues. Money issues. Self-esteem issues. More self-esteem issues. Persecution issues. What they don’t have an issue with is treating the stage as a psychiatrist’s cabin. The audience will take this at first when the comedian is new and has not yet been ‘branded’, as angry and candid humour can land well. Eventually, though, the audience will have an issue with the constant broadcasting of self-pity by Therapy Seekers.

4. The Entourage-Bringers

This is a rarely seen species, closely related to the newbie. Sometimes the Entourage-Bringers are doing standup comedy as a dare, and have a posse for encouragement. The Entourage-Bringer’s natural habitat is the ‘bringer gig’, where comedians are expected to bring a plus-one who will pay the show’s entry fee/ticket. Most comedians bring just one person with them. 

The Entourage-Bringer gets 15 of his (it’s usually a guy) friends to the venue to cheer for him. They comprise the largest group in the audience, which usually consists of 50 to 60 people. The Bringer probably has paid for their tickets, but cases are not unknown where they have paid for the privilege of seeing him crash. Their hopes are repaid in full. But even where they genuinely support the Bringer, they cannot bring themselves to laugh at his poor jokes. Then, after the show, he gathers them around and explains to them how the host for the evening/ the audience in the house/ the too-bright lights/ the alignment of the stars that evening threw him off. All is not lost, however. He is the reason for the considerable humour behind his back in the office the next day.

5. The Condescending One

Can be either a newbie or an established comedian, but is likely the latter. He (it is usually a man, again) is able to impersonate a winner and therefore is usually successful. Also, in an age of political correctness among woke audiences, his lashing out at those who are less privileged or fortunate than he can be mistaken as bravery. Initially, all is swell sailing. Eventually, his cockiness will peter out, leaving him stranded on the rocks of his fundamental spitefulness and feeling of insecurity. Hopefully, humility and introspection will follow. Or else, see category 2 (the deluded), above.

6. The Real Deal

Being the Real Deal has nothing to do with success, at least not necessarily. This realisation, at some level, stings the Real Deal. But the Real Deal takes solace in their excellence. Paradoxically, the Real Deal is a mixture of many of the above types. In addition, what they have is an ability to be self-critical without being self-quenching– to be realistic about what they are performing, while still being hopeful about its chances of evoking laughter in a tough audience. The Real Deal, moreover, has that precious virtue of compassion and righteousness, which makes their humour fair if also scathing. Their path is difficult, and few, despite being good, will make it into the big lights. But even though they may perform now in a small venue, their medium success at the moment makes them soar and temporarily balms some of the pain that lies behind every joke.

Open Mic Standup Comedy