The Bitter Rage of @OpenMicComic

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It’s hard to say whether or not we’re in another comedy golden age — it really depends on where you’re sitting. If you’re sitting in a packed crowd for the 9pm show at The Comedy Cellar, then yeah, comedy seems to be at least as good as it has ever been. If you’re sitting on your couch in front of your TV, browsing all the standup specials on Netflix, Hulu, or HBO GO, it certainly seems more accessible than ever before. However, if you’re sitting on a broken chair in a dingy basement, clinging to a beer as your only source of comfort while you listen to everybody’s HOT TAKES on whatever is trending at that particular moment, you might need some convincing before you go ahead and claim that comedy is better than ever.

After spending nearly a decade in precisely that situation, the shadowy figure of @OpenMicComic was born. While @OpenMicComic typically keeps things light, his critiques are no less pointed. And he may have gotten a little cynical over the course of all of those years spent listening to beginner standups trying to find their legs. For the purpose of this interview, feel free to imagine that @OpenMicComic began before I could turn on my recorder, saying “You think darkness is your ally? You merely adopted the dark. I was born in it, molded by it. I didn’t see the light until I was already a man, by then it was nothing to me but blinding!”

So, what information about your identify as @OpenMicComic are you okay with confirming?

I’ve admitted I’m a dude. I said to someone I’m a dude, that’s all you’re getting. And that’s where it’s going to stay.

Did this just come out of frustration or was it something else that spurred you to make the account?

Yeah, it was frustration. I needed to vent safely, and if I didn’t vent I was going to lose my mind. But I’d been at this long enough where I understood the repercussions. I never intended for @OpenMicComic to become the “hack police.” It becomes that way sometimes by accident, because you run out of stuff to tweet, frankly, but it was more always about etiquette and attitude and how I just found myself over the years with more people being rewarded for making mistakes, which just gives them false feedback and the whole thing snowballs, and you can’t voice that anywhere. So I thought, before someone else jumps on this, I’d better. There have been some copycats, they don’t last long, but there’s been a few.

The same exact thing or just similar?

I’ve seen “Comedy Industry Person,” stuff like that. One person specifically sent me “Female NY Open Micer.”

That just seems like it’d be some sort of weird misogyny shit.

I looked at the thing and like, even for me, that’s some hate. I feel bad looking at that thing.

I feel like, even if your account was born out of annoyance with open mic tropes, there is a fun-loving nature to it. Especially to the recurring “hump day” thing.

That’s my favorite part. There’s always some guy who thinks because it’s Wednesday… I don’t know how office humor carried over into open mic world. Probably because we’re all just so supportive and now we make little bubbles and that’s a whole other thing.

Do you think the account has helped make open mics more bearable? Like do you think that people are learning from seeing the stuff you post?

Oh, dear God, no. We’re doomed. We are in so much trouble. I don’t know if the industry is dying, I don’t know if the money is there or disappearing or whatever. The quality of comedy is in the shitter. We’ve developed this thing where instead of being the ones who burst the bubbles, now we become the bubbles. We’ve become the crybabies. It’s pathetic, and all we just do now is fight amongst each other. The idea of being supportive is killing everything. Supportive should really just mean that you don’t stone-face someone when you think their joke’s funny. You’re not holding out on a laugh because you don’t want to hurt the new guy or don’t care. Supportive isn’t laughing out loud at your buddy’s thing and within our scene we all just crack up at each other and when there’s a real show, it’s always the audience’s fault.

Right — supportive shouldn’t mean misleading.

Yeah, and there’s little etiquette things you can do. Not sitting up front with your phone in your face or talking the whole time. If you’ve gotta leave early, you gotta leave early, but you can stay for a little bit. Make an effort! That’s supportive. Supportive isn’t giving everyone false feedback so everyone thinks they’re a genius. You and your twenty friends aren’t all going to make it. It’s just unrealistic.

And with all the new clubs, we’re all moving towards this world where every comic independently books a show. It just becomes a circle jerk of spot trading. Every producer’s different, but every show looks the same. All the lineups are all the same people now. So we’ve created a system of comedy where it’s like we’re bowling at a children’s birthday party and they put the bumpers in the gutters. That’s what we’ve done to comedy. We’ve destroyed it.

And that’s a part of the function of @OpenMicComic, to kind of point out these things that take away from the quality of the comedy we’re all distributing. And I mean that in the sense of how we go about producing shows, but also in the sense that you tweet jokes that we’ve all heard and seen a million times — it’s useful to kind of have this collection of stuff that says “hey by the way, this isn’t new.”

Yeah exactly. Sometimes I try to cut something off prematurely. Here’s the fun thing about this account and people might read this and say, oh he’s only got a little bit under four thousand followers, it’s not like a hundred thousand thing, what’s the big deal? Let me explain something about @OpenMicComic. I lose followers every time I tweet. The ones with the most favorites and retweets with the best numbers of my group, I always go down five or six followers because chances are I did the thing that a bunch of people are doing and now they’re butthurt about it. It’s the same way you have that audience that laughs at everything except the one issue that’s offensive to them, comics have become the same babies whether they want to admit it or not. They make their own monsters, they’ve got to look in the mirror sometime, and they’re not doing it. So trying to gain followers with this account is hilarious, it’s like running on a hamster wheel because all the good ones make all my followers mad. So you just kind of get new people. Thankfully it’s grown out, there’s like a lot of Australians and Canadians involved now. A bunch of New York, a bunch of the Northwest.

What is the worst reaction you’ve ever gotten?

I’ve had some people, they just want to argue because it’s Twitter and that’s what you do. I said something once, for example, about playing with the mic stand too much, and of course someone has to send me a screenshot of Bill Burr doing it. Problem is, he’s Bill Burr. I doubt he played with that mic stand for an hour. He was probably in the middle of something where it was necessary for him to do so. Or if I do a joke that someone famous did on a special five years ago, someone will be like, “Oh so you’re saying so-and-so’s a hack? You’re saying Jim Gaffigan’s a hack?” No, I’m saying that, since that special, everyone else has been doing that joke for five years. I’m not saying that famous comic’s a hack. I’m saying you’re all doing it right now, and that’s why I’m tweeting it today. That’s my point.

Then there are people who don’t know what the account is, so they think I’m just trying to be funny. You know, “Good job, everyone else has made the same joke!” You’re right, sir, I’m an ass. You win. I’m going to re-think the whole thing. I got one today, “This account isn’t funny at all.” Other people think I’m a team; I get that one, like a Funny or Die type thing.

How do you decide what to tweet? Is it just whatever you hear at the mics you’re at?

That’s where I get the etiquette ones. Anybody doing something with the mic stand annoys me all the time. Anybody screaming into the mic when it’s close, or jamming the mic stand without twisting it instead… Or handing the microphone to somebody else like a baton in a relay race when the mic stand’s right there.

From time to time you’ll make out-of-character posts. What inspires you the most to post out of character?

That idea of “I’m only doing this for me.” This therapy approach to comedy mixed in with the over-supportive content, the over-supportive quality of their community. You might feel warm and fuzzy for that day, but you’re destroying yourself as a comic. This whole idea of we’re all champions, we all get a trophy, we’re ruining our own industry. I don’t know why we’re doing this to standup comedy. No one really shits on themselves anymore. “I killed!”, I always see that on Facebook. They go, “I killed!” Anyone who posts “I killed” has probably never done so. They don’t understand. They use words like “killing” and “destroying” and “crushing” and all that crap. They don’t know what any of those words mean. They’ve never done any of those things. They did okay. They got some laughs and that’s enough. “Some laughs” has become enough, that’s what we’ve done now.

Do you think the account has helped you, personally? Do you think it’s channeled your anger?

It’s definitely helped me. The way that I say people shouldn’t be using the stage as therapy, at least not directly; I’ve used @OpenMicComic as therapy. The only difference is I don’t have an audience sitting in front of my Twitter account expecting me to do a different job. It’s just Twitter. That’s what it’s for. Twitter is to vent, Facebook is to vent and put out whatever garbage you want to put out. So I don’t feel any guilt in that, that’s what it’s for. You can unfollow me anytime. You didn’t spend a dime. You can ignore me. If there’s anything I get out of it, yeah, it’s my punching bag. I do hope that it gets bigger and becomes a guide for what not to do or for questioning your own originality. God forbid you’re not a comedy genius today. God forbid you’re having a slow day.

Nobody wants to come to terms with where they are just continuing along their path.

It’s like everyone who’s not on top is obsessed with everyone who is. Everyone who’s trying to make it is not looking at themselves. They’re all looking at who’s on top, what they do right, what they do wrong. I think there’s a righteousness that comes from it. The last couple times Seinfeld spoke up and said something people don’t like, he said something about, you know, colleges being too sensitive and a few months before that he had a diversity remark. All the sudden, all these people who I only know because I’ve done mics and shows with them, all of the sudden these people have these long eighteen paragraph posts on why Seinfeld doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about. If you disagree with him, fine. But wouldn’t you at least give the guy the respect of an amazing thirty-something year career to hear him out? He doesn’t… he hasn’t done enough to earn your respect, other not famous guy? What the hell’s the matter with you? Why wouldn’t you just listen? No one listens.

I don’t know if it’s a generational thing with the Internet, they grew up with it, they don’t have to listen. Maybe that’s part of it. Maybe standup comedy wasn’t meant to exist beyond the year 2000-whatever. Maybe the whole thing’s dying and it’s supposed to because it doesn’t apply in our world anymore. The same reason there’s no more Vaudeville. I mean, it’s the goddamnedest thing. The same reason sitcoms are dying out. It doesn’t apply to us anymore. Maybe I’m the dinosaur. Maybe I’m the one who crawls around in the park just waiting for the meteor to hit. Maybe my time is coming. I don’t know the answer. I could walk out of this place right now and get hit by a bus. I have to decide what I left behind.

Photo by Noel Reinhold.

Phil Stamato lives and writes in New York, where he may also be seen standing up and telling jokes. If you are reading this you are legally bound to follow him on Twitter.

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