By: Peter Rambo
I went into Roosevelt’s last Thursday knowing one person and having been in the audience of exactly one open mic before that night.
Before sign-ups were supposed to start, comedians gathered in a small room tucked away in the recesses of the bar, commenting on the handmade curtains and the absent bartender. (She was there by time the mic started.) It didn’t take long for the room to fill, largely because it only holds a handful of people.
Jess Carpenter is one of the five founders of the new weekly event, now named R Open Mic. He wasn’t hosting, so he had plenty of time to talk to me about the mic, which he thinks holds promise, both as a place to debut new material and as a place to film polished stuff.
Peter Rambo: So tell me about this open mic. How did it come about?
Jess Carpenter: Actually, I told Brian that I was looking for a room ’cause, I’m sad to say, I was getting sad going to open mics and seeing the same comics tell the same jokes. So I was telling Brian that I wanted to do a room where we would have a theme, and every week or every two weeks, we could have a list of words or a list of subjects and people could do [jokes inspired by that.] It gives them a reason to write.
So we decided we’re going to do that once a month, and just have the mic as a regular mic [the rest of the time]. He found the room, ’cause he does Quizzo here, and it looked pretty good. It looks small enough. It’s small enough to where it’ll feel full, and the comics can also be out here [in the main room] to talk. Most comics, after they get off stage, they have that adrenaline going, and you don’t really want them in the mic talking during someone else’s set.
PR: Yeah, you can’t really hear anything [out here]. You can’t hear them in there, and vice versa.
JC: That’s what I like about it. It’s a great little room. We’ll see how it works though.
PR: There’s not a whole lot of seating.
JC: No, 18 people [are on the list] so far, and there’s standing room. And there’s the pole there. That pole is actually a great place–I put the curtains up so you can actually film here, and since it’s a small enough room it’ll always feel like [you're getting nice applause].
PR: Is there a rotating cast of hosts?
JC: Yeah, the third Thursday I won’t be here cause I have my other show.
PR: Comedian Deconstruction?
JC: Right. There’s five of us, so we’re always going to just try and take [turns with] hosting. To be honest, I could care less about hosting. I just want to see new jokes.
I want to see Philly become a hotbed. Boston was a hotbed in the ’90s I think, and that’s where comics were coming out with the new concept of comedy. Why can’t Philly be that?
PR: Do you know the other hosts very well?
JC: Yeah, they actually do B.a. Comedian. Brian and Andrew are B and A, and Tim is the musical part. He does guitar. And Dan and I are literally opposites. He does jokes about being a straight guy that seem really gay, and then I love to follow him ’cause I’m a gay guy who seems really straight. If I make it, he’s going to be my opener. It just works out really well.
It was really nice, because we met at an open mic, we were very-like minded and liked talking after. We liked going outside and talking during the mic while other people were doing their sets. And just going and popping in to see the people we liked. And that’s what so good about this room, you can do that. You can pop in and out.
PR: This mic is really close to the Raven Lounge. How do you think that’s going to affect the night?
JC: It’s great, ’cause we want to make sure people can get to both. I think it’s like eight or nine minutes to get from one side to the other. Maybe 12 minutes. People can do both. If you can have comics hit multiple mics a night, you can have a comic totally screw up a joke or a set and they can make a note and try that set 15 or 20 minutes later, versus waiting a week or two weeks to try it again.
And this is a bar, they’re fine with staying open, so people can either go here early and go there late, or vice versa.
PR: When’s the first theme open mic?
JC: The second Thursday of the month.
Dan King: We’ll give ourselves two weeks to do it, and then on the second one …
JC: Yeah, so on the first Thursday, we’ll come up with five different subject matters, and then the second Thursday, that’s when they can do jokes. You don’t have to, but you can choose to. I think we’ll go out of a hat, so people can put suggestions in. We pull five because we don’t want a bunch of comics feeling that they just wrote the same joke another comic wrote, but it shows that there’s less stealing than people think. There’s a lot of ideas floating out there that people just grab.
It’s funny because, Jerry Corley, who’s one of my favorite comedy coaches out there, says every day, just write stuff from the newspaper, even if you’re never going to use it, but if you write a good enough one and you’re watching TV and you see it, you know you’re on the right track.You see a lot of that on Twitter.
I see Chip [Chantry] doing a lot of that. I like the way Chip tweets, ’cause he makes it condensed. Brevity is everything when it comes to comedy.
PR: Do you have any words of wisdom for someone who’s just starting? Like at this open mic? Like me?
JC: Respect the light. Always respect the light. Always thank people. It sounds corny, but they remember you. You’re going to meet more comics at open mics that are going to get you work, than you’re going to meet by calling people. If you like another comic’s stuff, tell them, “That’s a great joke.” Don’t offer advice out of nowhere. It could be good advice, but some comics can’t take advice. But if they ask, tell them.
Oh, rule number one. Rule number one. Don’t say “good set” if it wasn’t a good set. Don’t say anything. But don’t say “good set.” If someone had a shitty set, and they walk off stage, do not say “good set.” They know they had a shitty set. But if they had a good set, and you said “good set,” but you never said good set or shitty set [before], they know that you meant it. “Good try,” say that, but don’t say “good set.”
PR: It sounds a little patronizing.
JC: Yeah, you don’t want to sound patronizing. But you’ll see it, trust me, you’ll see it. Actually, watch. [Turns to Hillary Rea] Hey, do you hate when someone says good set and you had a shitty set?
Hillary Rea: I don’t tell people that if I didn’t like it. I just run away or walk away. And if I feel like I did shitty, it’s just … Irish Goodbye.
JC: See! Ah, it’s horrible. ‘Cause, your tail’s already between your legs, and someone says good set and you’re like …
PR: Were you there?
JC: Were you just there? I’m bleeding here.
PR: Do you use open mics to farm talent for other shows?
JC: I’ve been starting to do virgin comics at Comedian Deconstruction. I might take an opener from here and bring them over there. I think what I might start doing is one of the five things that we pull out of the hat, I might make one of those one of the themes we do at Deconstruction that month. If it works here, it gives me a week to put them on the show. I think that could work. If I have a theme and someone does a really good joke about it, and they have three or four minutes to follow it with, why not give them a real show to play with. There’s nothing better than that feeling of being in a show. It’s like, real claps, you know? Better than a bringer.
I got on stage for the first time as a stand-up and told six jokes in less than three minutes. The crowd laughed, probably because they knew it was my first time, and I felt good. I’ll try not to exit on that high note.
R Open Mic happens every Thursday at Roosevelt’s at the corner of 22nd and Walnut. Sign-ups are at 7:30pm and the show starts at 8pm.