Open mic

An open mic or open mike (derived from the expression "open microphone") is a live show at a coffeehouse, nightclub, comedy club, strip club, institution or pub at which audience members who are amateur performers or professionals who want to try out new material or plug an upcoming show are given the opportunity to perform onstage. Typically, as the name suggests, the performer is provided with a microphone which is plugged into a PA system, to make the individual's performance loud enough for the audience to hear. Often the performers sign up in advance for a time slot with the host or master of ceremonies, typically an experienced performer or the venue manager or owner. The master of ceremonies may screen potential candidates for suitability for the venue and give individuals a time to perform in the show. These events are focused on performance arts like poetry and spoken word, music (often singer-songwriters who accompany themselves on guitar), and comedy. Less commonly, small groups, such as a small rock band duo/trio or a comedy duo may appear. Group performances are uncommon, because of the space and the logistics of loading in and soundchecking such a group. In strip club terms, amateur night is a contest for everyday women and men who compete for a cash prize by taking their clothes off just like everyday strippers.

Open mic nights may have no cover charge, or a very low cover charge, although the venue may have a gratuity jar ,"pass the hat" for donations or hold a raffle with various prizes. Venues that have no charge make revenue from selling alcoholic beverages and food. The performers are not typically paid, although the venue may recompense the performers with a beverage or meal. The host or MC, as an experienced professional, is usually paid for her/his services. The host or MC may perform at some point during the evening, either a full set or to fill in when an amateur member is not available for her/his slot. Open mic events are somewhat related to jam sessions, in that in both cases amateur performers are given the opportunity to sing or play instruments. The difference is that jam sessions often involve musical ensembles, possibly even a house band or rhythm section and a jam session may involve the participation of professional performers, especially at a high-end jazz club.

Poetry and spoken word

Poetry and spoken word open mics feature a host, who is normally a poet or spoken word artist, poets and spoken word artists, and audience members. A sign-up is done before the show begins, so that the host has a list of names to call from. Some spoken word artists use pseudonyms or stage names when they perform. Poetry/spoken word open mics range from laid back, serene settings to lively sessions where readers and/or performers compete for audience applause. They are usually held in libraries, coffee houses, cafes, bookstores and bars.

Each poet or spoken word artist is often asked to keep their performances to a minimum/specified time slot, giving each performer enough time to share some of their work with the audience. The host or MC acts as a "gatekeeper", determining which performers are suitable for the event. If a performer goes over their time limit, the host diplomatically thanks the performer for their contribution and asks them to yield the stage for the next performer.


Stand-up comedy open mic nights can be held at established comedy clubs, but they are more commonly held at other venues with or without a stage, often the upstairs or back room of a pub or bar,[1] bookstores, colleges, rock clubs, and coffeehouses.[2][3] They are also held in uncommon areas such as strip clubs[4] and comic book shops.[5] Such nights give newer or emerging comedians an opportunity to practice and improve,[6][7] with a view to getting paid work in the future. Those underage must have their parents attend clubs with them.[8] More experienced comedians may use open mics as an opportunity to work out newer material or a new character,[9] as the audience is not paying in anticipation of seeing their normal act.


In a typical open mic night, acts will get three to seven minutes of stage time.[16] A first-time open mic-er needs approximately three minutes of material for a five-minute slot.[17][18] An open mic should be no longer than ninety minutes or be more than fifteen acts.[19] A comedy open mic will not normally exceed 30 people.[20]

The light

A comedian will get "the light" (often a mobile/cell-phone[21]) one minute before their set is over, to finish up the joke they're on.[22][23] Those who ignore the light might get banned from that mic.[23][24][25]

Types of comedy open mics

There are booked shows, regular open mics and "bringer" shows. A booked show is usually booked week in advance with some lottery spots selected by pulling candidates' names from a hat. With a regular open mic, a person puts their name on the list and they go on when their name is called by the host. With a "bringer" show, each performer has to bring a certain number of people (friends, family members, etc.) to get on stage. Open mic shows may have no cover charge, a reduced cover charge, or a minimum drink requirement. Open mic comedy nights are most widespread in larger English-speaking cities with a well-established stand-up comedy scene, especially London and New York. In these cities, with a plethora of aspiring comedians, the greatest challenge may be in attracting an audience.


These shows provide an opportunity for emerging musicians to gain experience performing to a live audience without having to go through the process of getting normal music gigs, which is very difficult to do without experience or a demo recording. Open mics provide an outlet for singer-songwriters. Prior to their popularity, the only outlet generally were folk clubs, which were not always friendly towards creators of new music, preferring traditional, well-known music. They also suggested that music performed by acoustic musicians or solo artists in this manner would necessarily be folk music, a misconception that still commonly exists today. Some organizers have chosen the title "acoustic night" or "acoustic club" in an attempt to indicate an event run broadly on the lines of a folk club, but with a much wider range of musical styles.

Open mic events are most commonly held in the middle of the week or at the very end of the weekend when footfall through venues is low. They rarely occur on the hallowed Friday and Saturday night time slots when venues are busy with weekend revellers and any live performance is usually specifically booked, professional artists. The most common night for a UK open mic event is Thursday, followed by Wednesday.[26]

In the United Kingdom, the largest ongoing open mic-styled music contest is Open Mic UK, which regularly attracts 10,000 participants of all genres. The grand prize for the contest is an investment up to £30,000. The size of the event has necessitated that all participants sign up for performance slots beforehand, instead of simply walking onstage.[27][28]

A popular open mic arrangement in the United States is the "Blues Night". In this format a bar or club will dedicate a particular night, usually in the middle of the week, as being "open mic blues night". The establishment may supply a house band, typically guitar, bass and drums, sometimes a keyboard. Singers, guitarists, harmonica performers who wish to play sign up, usually with the master-of-ceremonies or host. This person is tasked with screening the performers, choosing and ordering, and getting the performers on and off stage in a polite manner.

Since the songs chosen need to be simple enough so that a band of musicians who have not played together can perform them without practice, blues standards are used. Songs might be announced as a "12-bar fast shuffle in C" or "slow 12-bar blues in F", or similar phrases, that should be familiar to all concerned. Lead singers, keyboards, horn players, (usually saxophones) and various percussion instruments are common additions.[29]

Strip club

In most strip clubs, amateur night is a contest held by the clubs themselves where women and men compete for cash by stripping just like their stripper counterparts.[30][31]

Rarer niche variations

The terms "open deck" (where deck refers to the kind of turntable used by a DJ) and "open reel" (where reel refers to a 35 mm film reel) are used for more niche open mic events where keen amateurs can meet to exhibit and critique their skills/artform. A decrease in the cost of consumer video technology combined with the powerful editing capabilities of modern PCs has caused an increase in the popularity of DJing and amateur filmmaking, but these types of events are still very rare.

See also


  1. Durham, Rob (2011). Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage: the stand-up guide to comedy. Middletown, DE. p. 16. ISBN 9781468004847. Each comedy club or bar has its own system for signing up for [an] open mic.
  2. Carter, Judy (2001). The Comedy Bible: From Stand-up to Sitcom—The Comedy Writer’s Ultimate How-To Guide. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. pp. 66–67. ISBN 978-0-7432-0125-4.
  3. Bromley, Patrick (6 June 2018). "How to Break Into Stand-Up Comedy". ThoughtCo. Potdash. Retrieved 22 March 2019. [Open mics] could be held anywhere, but are often found at bars, rock clubs, and coffee houses.
  4. Isador, Graham (2 May 2018). "Comedians Tell Us the Most Epic Fails They've Seen at Open Mics". VICE. VICE MEDIA LLC. Retrieved 18 February 2019. The worst open mic I ever attended was at Zanzibar, a strip club in downtown Toronto.
  5. Master, Julian (2 April 2016). "An Aspiring Stand-Up Comic Shoots Empty Open Mics Across NYC". VICE. VICE MEDIA LLC. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  6. Bromley, Patrick (13 April 2018). "Breaking Into Stand-Up: 10 Tips for Beginner Comedians". ThoughtCo. Potdash. Retrieved 22 March 2019. It's a true ‘learn-by-doing’ art form, and you won't know what works (and what doesn't) until you've gotten on stage in front of an audience.
  7. Lagatta, Eric (21 March 2019). "Budding, established comedians hone craft at open-mic nights". The Columbus Dispatch. GateHouse Media, LLC. . Retrieved 25 March 2019. Most comedians see open-mic nights as a chance to test new material or refine their stage presence.
  8. Batz, Jr., Bob (10 June 2003). "A STAND-UP KID: Teen comic dreams of a wisecracking career". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Post Gazette Staff Writer). Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  9. Oswalt, Patton (14 June 2014). "A Closed Letter to Myself About Thievery, Heckling and Rape Jokes". Patton Oswalt. Patton Oswalt. Retrieved 3 February 2019. Open mikes are where, as a comedian, you’re supposed to be allowed to fuck up.
  10. Bunce, Alan (13 January 1989). "What's So Funny, America?". The Christian Science Monitor. Mort Sahl. Retrieved 10 September 2019. Today kids come on[stage at open mics] for five minutes each and curse because of a poverty of language or because they've seen too many R-rated movies.
  11. "PDX Comedy Blog". PDX Comedy Blog. Portland, OR, USA. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  12. Durham, Rob (2011). Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage: the stand-up guide to comedy. Middletown, DE. p. 21. ISBN 9781468004847. [Y]ou'll get four or five minutes to perform.
  13. Ball, Joseph (25 July 2018). "I Did Stand-Up Comedy For The First Time And Didn't Become A Punchline". Indianapolis Monthly. Indianapolis Monthly. Retrieved 25 March 2019. Those three minutes felt like 30, in a good way
  14. Luschei, Abby (25 July 2018). "Advice from five Salem comedians on getting started doing stand-up". statesman journal. Part of the USA Today Network. Retrieved 25 March 2019. Each comic gets five minutes
  15. Neill, Geoffrey (22 December 2015). Hitting Your Funny Bone: Writing Stand-up Comedy, and Other Things That Make You Swear. San Bernardino, CA. p. Chapter 6. ISBN 9781515180661. (It’s usually three to four minutes).
  16. [10][11][12][13][14][15]
  17. Durham, Rob (2011). Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage: the stand-up guide to comedy. Middletown, DE. pp. 9–10. ISBN 9781468004847. You need just three minutes of material...enough time to perform several jokes, get a few laughs, and then get off [the] stage.
  18. Bienenstock, David (20 November 2017). "Bob Saget Helped Me Prepare for My Stand-Up Debut" (Interview). VICE. Bob Saget. VICE MEDIA LLC. Retrieved 18 February 2019. It’s really just three to five minutes that you need to write and then hone
  19. Durham, Rob (2011). Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage: the stand-up guide to comedy. Middletown, DE. p. 20. ISBN 9781468004847. Open mic night really shouldn't have more than fifteen acts...[or] ninety minutes.
  20. Hannibal Buress (3 August 2018). Hannibal Buress: Advice for Comedians. The Atlantic. Event occurs at 3:12-3:22. Retrieved 10 September 2019. [M]ax, 30 people, 'cause that's the max people that should be at an open mic
  21. Lagatta, Eric (21 March 2019). "Budding, established comedians hone craft at open-mic nights". The Columbus Dispatch. GateHouse Media, LLC. . Retrieved 25 March 2019. Any comic nearing the time limit would face a warning: Moore waving his cell-phone flashlight.
  22. Durham, Rob (2011). Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage: the stand-up guide to comedy. Middletown, DE. p. 21. ISBN 9781468004847. The light will normally be flashed when you have one minute left in your set.
  23. Ewing, Creig (25 July 2018). "The secret to comedy? Time… hard work". LEO Weekly. LEO Weekly. Retrieved 25 March 2019. Usually the host will shine a light to let the comedian know a minute is left. If you keep going, it’s called blowing the light, and it is a sin.
  24. Borns, Betsy (1987). Comic Lives: Inside the World of American Stand-up comedy. Simon & Schuster, Inc. p. 179. ISBN 0-671-62620-5. Staying onstage longer than their allotted time is, along with joke stealing, one of the most grievous offense a stand-up can commit.
  25. Neill, Geoffrey (22 December 2015). Hitting Your Funny Bone: Writing Stand-up Comedy, and Other Things That Make You Swear. San Bernardino, CA. p. Chapter 6. ISBN 9781515180661.
  26. "Open Mic Finder Statistics". Open Mic Finder Statistics. Retrieved 23 February 2013.
  27. "2010 Winners". Open Mic UK. Retrieved 2011-05-12.
  28. Almroth-Wright, Indy (December 6, 2008). "Twleve year-old 'Birdy' wins UK talent contest". BBC (Hampshire). Retrieved 2011-04-15.
  29. rayray. "Phoenix Blues Jams".
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