If you talk to comedians, they’ll say any stage time is good stage time, which probably stems from the same deluded rationalization that comedy is an appropriate career for them. Not all stage time is created equal.
So, to address this deficiency, I have developed a system for analyzing open mics quality using Boston as a case-study. Boston is uniquely suited for this analysis, as there are a vast number of open mics, but very few genuine comedy clubs. So, it is in essence a community of open mic comedians of varying quality.
Before going into the quality of various open mics, it is important to discuss the types of performers at open mics. Basically, comedians can be broken down into four rough groupings based upon experience doing comedy. I have chosen this metric to break up the groups of comedian, as it is the only one common metric amongst all standup comedians. Some standups are more talented than others, some standups benefit from starting in the right community (i.e. San Francisco, Seattle, New York vs. Iowa, Kansas, Alabama), but the common metric among all comedians is time performing comedy.
Under 1 year, the likelihood of dropping out of comedy is at its highest, and most attempted standup comedians do not make it past the 1 year mark. These individuals should be called “preemies”, as they rarely survive past the 1st year. Preemies are usually individuals who enter standup comedy because they have friends who said they were funny. They then drag their friends to open mics, and then discover that they lose their friends.
The inflection point at the 1 year mark occurs when an individual makes the decision to give up their non-standup comedian friends and accept standup comedians as their new friends. Those that do not make that decision, usually drop out. Those that do make that decision enter the “newbie” period, where they thoroughly enjoy doing standup comedy, and having stage time is a joy for them. The goal for a newbie is to improve and develop material, and this in itself is pleasant. Newbies are often the happiest of the standup community.
The next grouping is the “bitter newbie”, which many argue still might be a newbie, but I would argue that this is a distinct class. Like a standard newbie, the bitter newbie lacks much of the skills of an up-and-comer, though they have been performing long enough to acquire material that they realize is not particularly good. As a result, they are often ignored for festivals, showcases, paid work, and other opportunities for success (either through their own attitude problems or due to their inferior material, or both). The bitter newbie is often the most frustrated stand up comedian, and often have the highest incidence of quitting stand up comedy, after preemies. But again, it is debatable if preemies can even be considered aspiring comedians yet.
Shortly after year 6, the bitterness subsides as the newbie revises their goals in life as they decide to pursue a career in comedy more suitable to their skill-set. There is a decline in the quitting likelihood during the “up and comer” period. For the talented newbies, the years of smacking their head against a wall finally pay off as they begin to get regular work, or attention for their skills. This may lead to a range of careers from road comedian to television actor, and these acts are considered “up and coming”, despite having already been performing standup comedy for 7 years.
For those bitter newbies of lesser quality, they realize that their strongest skill-set is not specifically in performing standup comedy, but rather as serving within the standup support structure. This includes non-standup careers such as: agent, writer, producer, and booker. During this period, they have made enough connections in the standup community that they can be considered an “up and coming” member of the standup support structure.
After year 10, most individuals have been involved in the standup world long enough that they become entrenched, and can now be considered an “Established Comedian”. The quitting rate of these individuals is near zero. This is partially because they have achieved some level of success in comedy, but mostly because they have foregone development of any other skills in their pursuit of comedy.
The second part of this analysis will be a qualitative analysis of the open mics, for each grouping of comedian. Furthermore, we will ignore most comedians that are “established” from this analysis, as they can typically do whatever open mics they want, and will only obscure the data for the real open mic comedians.