Open Mic Night at Funny Bone Is No Laughing Matter For Some
Every Tuesday night at the Funny Bone, folks clamor for the chance to get laughs.
Tuesday night, 45 people signed up for the chance to hit the stage and entertain the crowd of more than 200 at the comedy club. Each week, organizers hold a brief meeting at 7:45 p.m. in a room on the other side of the stage.
The dimly lit room was packed with an unusually large number of hopeful prospects (generally anywhere between 30-50 show up every week), all giving their undivided attention to comic and regular Funny Bone master of ceremonies Sean O'Brien as he addressed the rules.
The rules, though basic, are not to be taken lightly. Each comic gets four minutes. Everyone is expected to shake the emcee's hand when welcomed to the stage—sort of a golden rule in the world of stand-up comedy, a sign of respect.
Nothing is a sure thing on open mic night. As O'Brien quickly disappeared into another room to narrow down the list, the group anxiously awaits while each passing minute brings them closer to the 8 p.m. start time.
But what does it take to find one's name on the list?
“A lot of it is showing up, hustling and not just treating it like it’s karaoke night," O'Brien said. "There are so many guys that are so amped and motivated to get on that stage."
There's no tryout, but recognition goes a long way. Regular working comics, emcees and familiar faces receive a sort of seniorority. Another factor is how many paying customers an open mic hopeful brings along, because, as O'Brien acknowledges, it's still a business.
“We always like to put up first-timers as much as possible because it adds that extra element to the show. That’s what makes open mic," O'Brien said. "We want them to do well, but when you go up for your first time, you don’t know what you’re doing—absolutely no idea. Generally, you’re very nervous. So it’s a dynamic we like to put up. It’s a seasoning of the show.”
Tuesday, one first-timer made the cut.
For James Gianoulakis of Ballwin, this wasn't the first time he waited to see if he made the list. He's been coming to the Funny Bone for a year and a half. But it took him seven years to get on stage from the time he started writing.
“This is the only comedy club in St. Louis, and you gotta start somewhere," Gianoulakis said. "This is a good venue. If you ever want to get paying work, it’s going to be here.”
While waiting for the list to be posted, Gianoulakis chatted with John Richards of Lawrence, KS.
“I do a little bit of stand-up, amateur, and anywhere I go in my travels, I like to hit the open mic and try out the material,” Richards said. He said he was only passing through town this week for work.
Meanwhile, Cathy Babis of Affton was seated across the room, also waiting.
She started doing stand-up comedy a year ago, and although she's still been performing around town, she hasn't been to the Funny Bone in a year. She hoped that wouldn't affect her chances of getting on stage.
It didn't. Her name made the list, as did Gianoulakis and Richards.
But others weren't so lucky.
Scott James of O'Fallon, MO, has been at it for about three months. During that time, he's made it on stage six to eight times, he estimated. Although he didn't make the cut this week, he stuck around for the show and gave some insight to the concerns of an aspiring comic—especially when a person is still new.
"My initial anxiety was I didn’t realize how much there was to think about. Your first time going up there, it’s just white light and…it’s like silly stuff, like how to work the light stand," James said. "And the lights are in your face, so you can’t see beyond the first row. So if you do get laughs, especially on your first night, it’s like the Twilight Zone—you can barely hear your own voice, so when you do get laughs, it feels like it’s coming from nowhere.”
Sixteen names made the list (not including emcees and feature acts such as Greg Warren). The show lasted more than two hours and had its ups and downs. There were jokes that bombed and others sent the crowd roaring with laughter.
"That's all I have," Richards said as he ended his four minutes. "And I appreciate your laughs."
For those who didn't make it this week, there's always next Tuesday.