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Paul Clemente: Local Comedian? Part 1: Open Mic

2:15:00 PMPaul

Picture by  Paul Schermerhorn
Look at this goddamn idiot. That's me; Paul Clemente local ... comedian?

To give a quick background, I haven't been doing this long. In fact, it's only been 6 months since I farted out some jokes at my first open mic at The Q in Jamestown, NY.

I was fresh off being the heel judge at Chautauqua's Got Talent and I was manic with the idea of performing. The competition was huge with crowds of 300-400 people nightly and I had people booing, laughing, and complimenting me. It was intoxicating.

Earlier in the year, I mimicked Amanda's idea of making a list of lofty personal goals for myself and doing my best to at least dip my toe in all of them. "Perform Stand-Up" was near the top of the list.

Chautauqua's Got Talent was over and there was a hole in my heart that needed filled and trying stand-up seemed like the next logical step.

I contacted Robb Will (Jamestown's 67th Funniest Comedian) whom I've seen promote Open Mic Nights at The Q before and he encouraged me to come down and try.  He told me about how great the environment was and how he hopes to see me there.

There it was, I had no excuses to not try it. Then the reality of actually doing it set in. I didn't feel excitement, I felt dread.  In my disease-ravaged brain I envisioned a bar full of antagonistic drunks and elitist comedians whose mouths salivated with the idea of crushing me into a sobbing fetal position.

This wasn't the case obviously, but the self-doubt and insecurities I already had were exponentially exacerbated to the point where I put it off and decided to stay at home until "I got funnier".  I wish I hadn't.

I went the next week and hid at the corner of the bar obsessively re-writing my set with the care and penmanship of a prison letter. I knew I'd forget everything on stage, I knew this was going to be awful. I foolishly invited some friends and just seeing them there with eager eyes and supportive smiles made it worse.

My eyes darted around the bar, sizing up the other performers for the night, trying to gauge how funny they were with an "occular pat-down".

I remember going close to last, thinking if I saw someone else do poorly it would make me feel better. When it was my turn, adrenaline prevented me from making too many cognizant decisions and most of the performance was on muscle memory that piloted me through the next 10 minutes.

This isn't a story about bombing, I did well. I am a good performer. I got positive feedback and a lot of surprised faces when I told them it was my first time. I felt good, and I really enjoyed myself. I wanted to do it again immediately.

6 months later, I've done close to 40 open mics (I think). Below is my first recorded performance. This was a set about "kid justice" and I don't think I've done this set ever again.

My perspective in "the business" is fresh, new and possibly naive. Some people who are veterans to "the scene" have radically different opinions than my own (don't worry they will tell you). My take on comedy might change in an additional 6 months; who knows?

Here are a few things of note about Open Mics to a beginner comedian like myself.

1. This is the most frequent thing I hear: 
I cant write jokes.
I can be in front of people.
I could never do this.
What if I bomb?
What if they boo me?
First and foremost, I encourage anyone to go to an open mic and see how they feel about it. Open mics are not for entertaining the crowd, they should be used for you to practice your jokes. Yes, you can bring notes, you can start over, you can forget jokes, you can laugh at yourself. This is your time to get better any way you can.  I've never been to an open mic in which they shit on someone relentlessly. The worst that will happen is that all the comedians will use your time on stage to go outside and smoke pot.

2. They are essential at first but a waste of time later.

I disagree. I feel - especially at this stage in my career - that any time you can get behind the mic it's for the better. You can only practice in your car or in front of your cat so many times. A majority of the audience for open mics are comedians and they can give you valuable feedback and notes on your set if you ask them ahead of time. I write constantly and I have almost abandoned the idea of doing a traditional set there anymore. I use open mics to test new jokes or strange ideas. They are also good to fine tune your set for a paid show. 

3.  Why give away something for free when you can get paid for the same thing?

Well, some of us aren't lucky enough to get paid regularly for this hobby. When you have a set that you use for shows - in my experience - a lot of comedians won't do that set at all. Most comedians I know will only use their "A material" if they are practicing for a show, in a new venue, or if they are fine tuning some wording or working on different timing. 

4. Open Mics suck.

Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. Yes, of course, you will get someone who has no business being behind a mic and assault you with 20 minutes of the word fuck used as an adjective, verb, and noun. There are many occasions that you will meet someone on a random night and get blown away with creativity and storytelling. You never can tell. 

In my short time around the scene, I have seen countless people stand behind that mic stand to either thrive or fail. It's not easy. It's mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically exhausting. We tell strangers about our sex lives, insecurities, and mental disabilities just to make someone laugh after their 8th Coors Light on a Thursday night. 

You never feel more vulnerable when you nail your first joke with expert precision and timing and the audience no-sells you.

The strangest duality in the realm of comedy is needing incredible mental agility to maneuver through an audience but being deprived enough to start it in the first place. Having the humility to accept rejection and criticism you''' inevitably face but having the right sliver of narcissism to believe in your ability.  

I have so much more to share with you all and I hope to post Part 2 soon. 

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