When I first started comedy, I used to do an open mic show at a Ramada Inn hotel bar. This was a pretty decent open mic, as we would get 30-40 people each week. Now half of these people were comics, but it was definitely better than performing for no one. The guy that ran the open mic was an old-school comic who traded-out running the Tuesday night shows in exchange for living in the hotel. This guy also would offer to give you private instruction in making you a better standup for a fee. His claim to fame was that he was Flip Wilson’s brother. Now even in the early 90’s, this was a dubious promotional boast, even if it was true—which it was not.
Despite all of this, as I said, the open mic was pretty solid. I would come there every other week, as I would do the open mic at the local comedy club the other 2 weeks. This was my chance to build my act and get better on-stage. While I’m not saying I was the best comic at these open-mics, I was always one of the top 3, but Flip Wilson’s brother didn’t see me that way. He would always talk nicely to me (he was a con-man, so he didn’t want to burn any potential money-making bridges), but he showed me no respect as a comic. I don’t think he got my whole Bill Hicks’ influenced social material that was part of my act at the time. If he liked a joke, it was generally a sign to me I should make it more original or drop it.
Now at a regular comedy show, the highest honor is to go last, as being the headliner gets you the most time and money. This is not the case at an open-mic, especially one that would go as long as 2 and a half hours. Since this guy didn’t like my act, he would put me on last or second to last. By the time I would get up, most of the people had left, as they had already seen 15 comics of varying talent. My audience was usually just a few comics and a couple really drunk sales guys who were trying hard to forget their lives. It was frustrating, as I would watch people who were pretty bad get to go on during the peak of the show. I went through this frustration for a couple of years.
What motivated me?
I had a belief in myself and knew my material was more original than the others there. I also was motivated to prove the doubters wrong. Of the hundreds of comics that performed at that open mic, only 3 of them ever made their living doing comedy and I’m the only one left on the road. Your damn right it feels good to say that. Years later, I ran into “Flip Wilson’s brother” at a show and he told me that he always knew that I would be successful. I heard that he told people that he had played a part in my development. Yeah, if you include trying to kill my will to do this by going on-stage 150 minutes into a comedy show, then yes, you did have a part in my development.
Not enough times do you get to get prove someone wrong in life. To get to have the final laugh and say Fuck You. Stand up comedy is one of the few professions where this can be possible. I know on many levels it would be better to take the chip off my shoulder and just let it go. Healthier for my inner being, right? Well, I don’t work that way. My life has been one where I’ve taken a lot of kicks to the face. I’m sure this is the reason I became a comic. My advice to younger comics who haven’t gotten the respect they think is due to them, work harder so you can have the satisfaction of being right. Most open-mikers aren’t very good, though, so don’t be delusional. Get some honest feedback from a friends and comedians who you respect. They will be your best soundboard.
I would be the first to say I’m not from the Norman Vincent Peale school of positive thinking. I’m not an I’m OK, You’re OK person. More of a I’m OK, Fuck You type. I know that sounds like a kind of miserable way of walking the earth, but it works for me. I have to believe that most of my favorite comedians have this same personality. It is why standup comedy is such a great release for people like me.