This column is a reader submission from Happytoleavehere. To learn how to make a submission, click here.
I’ve been to about twenty unique open mics in the last few months, some of which I attend quite regularly. But as new as I am and as dense the open mic population is in East Village Manhattan, I still am finding new opportunities and new mics to attend, which I enjoy. This Wednesday, I realized that the art gallery just a literal stone’s throw from my apartment hosts a monthly variety mic, and I needed to be there.
Something to note, for the many of you who are unfamiliar with these sorts of events. Comedy open mics are often held in a bar, and they range from raucous crowds ignoring the performers, to small stage spaces with a rapt audience, to a backroom with four or five people. Comedians tell juvenile jokes and wild stories and “interesting” observations and we laugh reluctantly in hopes they’ll do the same for us. Variety mics, which I attend far less frequently, are open to all sorts of performers. They’re often in private locations or coffee shops or underground venues. In this case, underground is meant literally. Performers’ acts include many comics, but also poets, musicians, dancers, actors. Anything goes, they always say.
Typically, though, “anything” doesn’t go. One mic won’t let you make a mess, another won’t let you start a fire. These would seem to be obvious assertions performers could make, but whenever a rule is explicitly discussed, there’s a reason for it. At this mic, however, I realized that anything truly went.
I arrived abruptly at the gallery and peered inside the open glass, typically arranged as such to display the art for sale. Today, there was no art. Just a toothless poet collecting cash, a cloudy, white-walled space similar to the asylums I assumed these characters had recently escaped from, and most-notably a large, elderly, naked man. I did a double take as I looked up and quickly gazed past the unmistakable presence in front of me. As the tooth fairy’s favorite customer held out his hand to collect my five dollars, I was offered a glass of wine. My friend once told me not to accept food or drink from a venue in which nudity is allowed, so I declined and seated myself, gathering my wits.
Quickly, I attempted to cancel on my roommate who was coming to his first performance of mine for fear of turning him away forever.
“Naked man?” he responded. “I’ll be there in a second.”
As quickly as the roommate responded, the comedian I’d also reached out to about tonight’s mic arrived. She gave me a look. The naked man gave her a handshake. I stared at the floor. When I looked up at her, my face said something like “Sorry,” or “I didn’t know this was a YMCA men’s locker room.”
My words said, well, nothing. I struggled to get a sentence out as we exchanged pleasantries. The atmosphere, the cloud that may or may not have been the residual effects of a meth lab’s existence in the adjacent room, had taken me to a different world. Finally, we settled in and the mic began.
“I’m going to die someday,” began the first poet. I put my head in my hands as her refrain continued, reminding us of our mortality. A few more performers finished—including the naked man, who went by “The Naked Man”, by the way, and read a poem about such matters—and then came the final person prior to me. A poet. “The dead are done dying and we who are still living do not realize that we, too, will someday become them, because we are not living, we are dying.” My face returned to my hands where it had spent so much of the evening. He finished, we snapped our fingers or cried or whatever people do in that situations, and the host brought me up.
I took a deep breath. “Lot of talk about death today…” The crowd nodded and looked at me.
“I can’t lie, I’m a comedian and I tell stupid jokes and I’m pretty nervous here today.” They nodded once more.
“But you know what they always say to do when you’re nervous,” I shrugged, “just imagine the audience without their clothes on.”
They laughed, and I did five more minutes for them and only two or three jokes were about death. One was about 2Chains, because it’s good to have something for everyone, I’ve heard. New York is a wild place, but I love it. As a guy in my early 20s that’s unsure about what the future holds or even what I want it to, I cherish these moments when I find myself in a situation in which I have no clue how I got there. Someday I’ll live in the suburbs with a wife I tolerate and kids I pretend to, but even after I’m washed up and my prime is behind me, I’ll still have my stories. And one of them will be about the time I performed standup for an elderly, nudist poet that didn’t even bother to put a towel down on his borrowed chair.