I feel like Norman No Mates. In an hour I have to head to the Camden Head pub in Islington for the ‘Free & Funny’ open-mic but I’ve just realised the email says, ‘you need to bring along some guests. No guests, no spot.’ Guests create an audience and keep the bar ticking over regardless of whether there are laughs or not – but I don’t have a guest. I don’t even have Frank Blunt with me this evening, as he and his film crew are saving themselves for tomorrow night’s Comedy Store. But I am determined to practise. I shall go along anyway and explain that I’m ‘from Barcelona’ and that it was too far to bring over a guest – and that all my London mates have their own lives to live on Sunday nights, and that they don’t want to leave the warmth of their nests to watch me make an arse of myself in North bloody London. If they still bar me from ‘performing’, I shall stay anyway to heckle the others. There … I feel better already. That’s determination for you.
Four months ago, I didn’t even know what an ‘open-mic’ was. The final of the Barcelona International Comedy Festival’s “newcomers competition” was set for Friday 19th October, but I was already on a plane to New York and wouldn’t return until the day before. So I needed to practise. I soon realised that not only did I not know what an ‘open-mic’ was, but that I didn’t know much about the stand-up comedy circuit in New York, or anywhere else for that matter. Perhaps if I did, I would have stopped there and then – but it was beginning to intrigue me and I wanted to find out more. And, I repeat, I needed to practise.
As soon as I arrived in New York on the Saturday, therefore, I googled for comedy clubs and went along that same afternoon to a place called The Comedy Cellar in MacDougal Street, Greenwich Village – which formed part of a restaurant upstairs called The Olive Tree. There was already a queue on the pavement outside for the cellar comedy, so I grabbed a quick beer at the bar and asked a young, hip waiter what the deal was and how I could also perform. He looked at me as if I was nuts. I explained that I was an Englishman living in Barcelona and I needed to rehearse my bee-sting routine for a comedy final next Friday. He then looked at me as if I’d just said I was an Englishman from Barcelona needing to rehearse a bee-sting routine for a comedy final next Friday … or as if I’d just told him that I’d murdered his granny. ‘Are you crazy?’ he said. ‘Last night we had Chris Rock here. Last week it was Robin Williams. We don’t do open-mics … ’ So I was sent packing, with advice to approach a long list of clubs that did do open-mics, to email ahead to register and/or be put on their ‘waiting lists’ … which meant that my very first open-mic experience turned out to be at the New York Comedy Club at 241 East 24th Street, the very next day, on Sunday 14th October … and where I would have my first taste of open-mic etiquette. And which I will explain … but I now have to rush off to the Camden Head pub, where I probably won’t be welcome, because I don’t have the etiquette of taking along a guest … (to be continued)