This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
The first open mic I attended was during a snowstorm in January. Despite the weather, the basement bar was filled to the brim with people all vying for the opportunity to entertain. My plan that night was to try out some new material. I had written a series of humorous anecdotes performed from the perspective of the lamp in my father’s hospital room. All the anecdotes were about my pop’s recent aneurysm. Looking back, I was clearly trying to work some stuff out, though I don’t think any of that stuff was comedy.
As I waited for my turn, I watched person after person bomb. The jokes were mostly banal: How come anybody uses voicemail? Don’t they know about texting? Don’t you guys hate Tinder? Where’s is the G-spot, am I right? That type of stuff. But about halfway through the night, there was a guy who got up. He was handsome in a late-90s boy band kind of way. He gave off a Nick Lachey vibe. So, O-town saunters to the microphone and proceeds to berate the audience: "Why aren’t you dickheads laughing!? It’s a fucking Tuesday night!? WOO!?" The crowd greets him with indifference, barely acknowledging LFO as they mentally prepare their sets. But SoulDecisionwas undeterred by the ambivalence. He continued: "You fuckers ready for this? I am going to take off my pants! Yeah!"
Take That then proceeded to unbuckle his belt, jump in the air, and almost take off his pants. They get caught around his ankles and the change in his pockets goes flying across the room. Standing in his underwear, Boyzone attempts his first real joke: Do you think gay dudes know about prison? They’d love it. There is lots of gay sex in there. The room is silent. The audience continued to be silent for another four minutes and thirty five seconds, the entirety of the guy’s set. Eventually, the dude just waddled off stage, never taking the time to pull up his pants.
Reflecting on that moment made me think about all the other terrible things that happen in the cesspool of sadness that is the stand-up comedy scene. Below, I asked some comedian friends to tell me about the worst things they’ve ever experienced at an open mic. I also took their photos.
The worst open mic I ever attended was at Zanzibar, a strip club in downtown Toronto. I went in assuming it would be a bunch of comedians performing sets, then maybe a strip show after. I was wrong. The way it worked was a stripper would go on stage, perform for two songs/dances, then a comedian would go up and perform five minutes of material. It was a disaster. This may seem obvious, but I can promise you people waiting to see women get naked do not want to see comedians talk about getting naked. Also, the show was set to run approximately five hours!
A couple hours in, a woman did a striptease to “Aqualung” by Jethro Tull (it was surprisingly sexy!) then I got called to the stage. I was fairly new to comedy, working on my five minutes, and I got heckled. Repeatedly. One man screamed: bring back the strippers! Another man, who was a friend of a comic, screamed: you’re fat! That wasn’t shocking. I had heard that all before. What was shocking? After the first few hecklers, a stripper screamed, “Hey Lady! I've got something funny for you!” Then she spread her legs and pulled her underwear to the side, showing everyone her vulva. To be honest, that was the best joke of the night.
Faisal Butt, Comedian
I was on the stage at the Comedy Nest In Montreal. It was my second time doing stand up. Things were going mostly OK. I did a joke about how a mother abandoned her eight-year-old kid during a tsunami. Then I did this bit about how—like the rest of the audience—I also have white friends. You know, relatable everyday material. A couple of minutes into my set, this guy in the front row starts having a loud conversation with his friend. Like, not just quietly chatting about how the beer is over priced or how the “Syrian refugee” on stage seems really angry. Like full on, loud, conversation. Everybody could here. Eventually, I stopped talking and started staring at the dude. But he was still completely oblivious. So I did the only thing I could think of doing. I said: “Yo, shut the fuck up!” The crowd all cheered. My first applause break.
The guy became instantly irate. He stood up and screamed, “What! What! What!” He jumps on stage and starts doing that ape intimidation move, literally smashing his chest with his arms. Instantly, we are pacing back and forth as if we were in elementary school. I’m clutching the mic and just yelling obscenities. He’s not stopping. He gets all up in my face, about to hit me. Instinctively I yell, “Attica! Attica!” Then I hit him with a swift headbutt. Everyone swarmed the stage and the dude and his crew were thrown out. I didn’t finish the rest of my set.
Hoodo Hersi, Stand-Up
I was at a mic years ago, getting ready to perform with a couple of friends. This guy walks into the cafe wearing a shirt that said “I love my foreskin.” Right on the front, and in big letters—I love my foreskin. We all thought he might be a problem but for most of the night, he was harmless. He drank quietly in the back. I get on stage and start doing my jokes. This guy looks at my hijab and starts yelling out: “Ramadan sucks! I hate Ramadan! RAMADAN SUCKS!” The host was nice enough to kick him out but, like, really? I have nothing against foreskins but he clearly thought I hated... his?
Kat Letwin, Sketch/Improv Comedian
I went to see my don’t-call-me-your-boyfriend-in-public boyfriend at an open mic a couple years ago. He was “working on some new material.” Because our riffs made me laugh and the sex was incredible, I went. Every comedian bombs, sure, but his set was like Hiroshima—devastatingly bad. His first joke netted scattered laughs (something about a bad childhood), his second joke got a quiet rumble, and his third joke didn’t exist. There was no joke. Just rage whispers into the ether. When we all realized he’d run out of material with four minutes to go, my not boyfriend ramped up to nuclear. Embarrassed by his own performance, he threw a chair, kicked a mic stand, and stormed off the stage in a noxious mushroom cloud of fuck what you plebes think. He exploded right out of the bar and onto the street. Everyone watched him go. We dated for another six months.
Ana-Marija Stojic, Comedian
It was my first stand-up set ever. I was the second to last person on at an open mic. It was two in the morning. I had spent hours watching a bunch of acts make dick jokes of different flavors, which I expected. I also saw people do a bunch of sexist, racist, and plain hateful material, which I did not expect. I felt uncomfortable, but I stayed. I had my game face on and I wanted to do what I set out to. Besides, the host can’t control what the people say. It’s an open mic.
My set lasted a total of three minutes. I think I got one laugh. I get off stage feeling kind of defeated and the host says to me, “don't worry about it, you're a woman, we'll just stare at your boobs.” Oh, great. Finally, someone who sees my potential. I thought, it's official, nobody wants me here. I didn't do stand up again for another six months. I don't remember what made me start again, I was very drunk during this time in my life. I do remember thinking: Fuck it, I'm going to do it anyway.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Graham Isador on Twitter.