I survive an entire week of open mic nights
When I tell friends I’m spending a week watching open-mic comedy, reactions range from “Wicked” to “So sorry.”
As I discover, there’s more to stand-up than masochism or public therapy for chronic masturbators, alcoholics, misogynists and racists.
Eton House (Tuesday, May 6)
This is a classic blue-collar joint, and that character gets extra cred from the curmudgeonly grandpa heckling incoherently from the bar. It must make it tougher for host Jo-Anna Downey, who already has her hands full lubricating the transitions between performers.
The comics take turns with topics like necrophilia, cancer, “cunts” and gay sex. This, I soon discover, is pretty normal.
One comic gets laughs for a semi-drunk rant on being unpatriotic. Then he mocks trashy folk who use flags as curtains, and explains that you don’t see flags from Cameroon because people from there are poor. Also poor? His taste.
So my first open-mic is lukewarm, but maybe it just feels pathetic watching comics try to talk over the loud old waitress who doesn’t give a damn what’s happening onstage.
I decide it’s time to hit something else, and cab it down to Yuk Yuk’s.
Yuk Yuk’s Downtown (Tuesday, May 6)
There are two parts to Tuesdays at Yuk Yuk’s. At 7:30 pm, Humber comedy students do their thing. I’ve gone before, but the early stuff is for people seeking schadenfreude.
I arrive for some decent acts in the amateur-filled second half. Yuk Yuk’s tries to mix in a couple of pros to cheer people up just in case one of the amateurs drunkenly makes fun of his ex-wife’s vagina for five unbearable minutes. (This happened a few months ago.)
The best line comes from Adam Christie, who talks about his childhood love of Lou Bega’s Mambo #5. You had to be there. It’s a joke that involves the crowd and offers something new. Don’t worry, though; he still talks about his penis.
Of course some people can destroy good-on-paper humour with the wrong approach – like Brian Something, who robotically recites his one-liners. I can just type “jokes” into Google and get the same result.
Host Stephen Patterson successfully ends the show with solid funny guys Jeff McEnery and Rob Pue. They’re like getting an apology gift after a domestic dispute.
Absolute Comedy (Wednesday, May 7)
It’s my first time at this club’s pro-am night, and it’s a formula that works, as I learned at Yuk Yuk’s the night before. The actual venue is perfect. The staff is courteous, and the place is full of people who actually want to be there. That’s what a $6 cover does.
MC Fraser Young is solid, quick-witted and interacts well with the crowd. His back-and-forths with guests are funny, but not humiliating. Hooray! I’m not cringing!
John Markey pulls out my favourite line of the night: “We’re reclaiming the word ‘retarded,’” he starts, “because, seriously, calling them ‘delayed’ implied that they could catch up.” Yeah, it’s crass, but this is nothing compared to some of the material I’ve heard this week.
There is one problem. Someone’s let a smartass 11-year-old in and he’s messing with the acts. He interrupts Troy Dixon’s strong showing, but the comic recovers. The parents don’t rein in the little turd, and eventually the kid scores a casualty when another comic stumbles in a joke.
“Are you drunk?” yells the boy. Okay – it’s time for Spirits.
Spirits (Wednesday, May 7)
Jo-?Anna Downey, who also runs the Eton House open-?mic, is onstage. She mocks her Tuesday night gig, saying, “The only thing that gets me through Eton House is the booze.” I’m getting the feeling that comics consume a lot of alcohol, or at least pretend to.
Downey is a pro host, and her roaring laugh is contagious. She handles bullshit well, too, dealing skilfully with assorted asses who are just boozing bystanders at this free night.
Some serious attention is paid to a seated couple decked out in matching Abercrombie & Fitch wear. Okay, I’d be making fun of them, too, but it goes on too long, gets too personal and the couple make a hasty exit.
Then someone cracks a joke about sex with a paraplegic. Cue the groans. Still, I’m finding that each open-mic has real gems. Tonight’s is Ted Morris, a gay veterinarian – which no doubt helps with material. I love that his “favourite part of spring is when the snowmobilers start dying.” Later, he pulls out the giant rubber glove he uses to explore cow anuses. I leave happy.
Gladaman’s Den (Sunday, May 11)
I’d heard there was an open-mic at this gay hangout. I’m wrong – but there is a drag queen onstage.
Fox & Fiddle (Sunday, May 11)
Upstairs, Jason Blanchard is warming up a new open-mic night. He tells the crowd he’s going to be quick, because too many hosts hoard time – oh, snap!
Two dozen people are sitting around, but I discover that most will get to the stage. So really there are only a handful of random guests. Maybe a rainy Mother’s Day is to blame for weak attendence.
This experience is authentic. The comics are truly amateur. Their names come out of a bucket at random, and plenty of awful humour fills the room. Someone actually says, “The best thing about retarded people is that when you make fun of them they don’t understand.” See? Bad.
One comic does a good job of making fun of people who do chin-ups on the TTC. “It makes me want to go to a gym and read,” he cracks. The rest of the night is a stream of novices from out of town taking their turn on the little stage.
The Fox isn’t the best night of the week, but I don’t hate it. It’s all just been too much comedy to stomach in such a short time.