This is a comedy open mic guide. Poets, singer-songwriters, jugglers, contortionists, dancers, balloon artists, guy that does stuff with a boombox and delay pedal, this is not for you. This is for the stand up comics and people that think they’re stand up comics and people that wanted to do stand up comedy because they put it on their bucket list.

This is not a comprehensive guide to all of the comedy mics in D.C., NYC, Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. We highlight no more than one mic per night in each city. The recommendations were written by actual stand ups that actually go to open mics. We break up those recommendations from a few short pieces from some open mic hosts.

Let’s begin with a short piece from one of the two best open mic hosts Chicago has ever had, the now-L.A. based Cameron Esposito. For over four years she hosted an open mic in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago with Adam Burke. It was a 5-hour, too-many-comics-to-count experience that drew both comics and regular people. We can all learn a few lessons from it.

5_REASONS1Hoping to keep an audience of non-comics in seats for an almost 5-hour show in the back of a great dive bar? Wanna make sure comics have a solid room to try out new material? Interested in having an enjoyable life that includes fun and companionship? Well then, you’re gonna need two hosts at your open mic. Here’s five quick reasons why two is better than one:

  1. Your co-host has your back.
    At some point you’ll have to kick someone out for placing their naked penis on a piano, or ask a particular comic to stop running the light, and in both those situations, you’re gonna want back-up.

  2. You can pee and the room doesn’t turn to anarchy!
    Hosting is hard work and you’re gonna need to take breaks. Thankfully, your trusted co-host can take the reigns while you pee or get a burrito or whatever. And let’s say you like to leave the show early and your co-host likes to arrive late…well, that is totally possible.

  3. You invite your pals; they invite their pals.
    Hey, that person might hate your guts, but if they dig your co-host, it’s all good.

  4. Get another brain on the job!
    Worried you won’t think of everything? Relax! Your co-host brings much needed extra brainpower to the mix, so you’ll be just fine.

  5. Stay fresh.
    How do you stay funny and interesting and keep your voice from droning on during a 5-hour show? By sometimes not being on stage for a bit and giving the audience another host to love for a while.

DC

MONDAY (1)

If you’re in the mood for laughs, craft beers and a friendly roaming doberman pinscher on a Monday night then check out the La Bomba open mic at Little Miss Whiskeys Golden Dollar. Local comic Ryan Schutt hosts this free show for comics to work out their material upstairs inside what one local comic described as “Little Richard’s Sex Dungeon.” Show up at 7:30 p.m to get a good seat. And if you have the — sometimes liquid — courage to get onstage. -Natalie McGill

TUESDAY (2)

The Bier Baron open mic attracts some of the best comedians in DC. Tuesday night isn’t the best night for stand up, but this show (at 8 p.m) is an opportunity to see old comics work out new bits, and new comics work on their nerves. Sometimes you’ll laugh with the comics, sometimes you’ll laugh at them; you’re likely to have a good time. -Nate Johnson

WEDNESDAY (3)

Big Hunt Wednesday nights is pretty dope. It’s got everything you need in a mic. Dark basement, uncomfortable seats, and a lot of people. I’d give Wednesday the edge over Big Hunt Friday because Friday is date night sometimes people come just because its a thing to do then they walk in and realize they don’t like comedy and start acting up, but Wednesday there’s just that many more legit comedy fans and legit comics dropping in working on their stuff for paid gigs on the weekend. -Jamel Johnson

THURSDAY (2)Thursdays Open Mic at the Science Club is becoming a must visit for comedians of all funny levels. Sign-up ends at 8:30, the room fills by 9, and its run by local comedians David Coulter and Max Rosenblum who genuinely care about getting everyone stage time. I love it for three reasons; First- it’s a bad ass crowd that shows up for comedy (CAN’T OVERSTATE HOW NICE THAT IS). Second- it always has some of my favorite local comedians trying new stuff. Third- it always has someone I’ve never heard, which is the point of an open mic. It’s an intimate but packed room, where the drinks are poured fast and the comedy is real. It’s a must attend for comedians and crowds looking for a show. -Kevin Phillips

FRIDAY (2)

My favorite open mic is the Silver City mic at Heaven & Hell in Adams Morgan. It’s on Friday nights at 8:30, and is show up sign up.

The bar is a dive, which means most everyone is there for the show and you avoid the “surprise, we’re doing comedy now” vibe.

The attendance and energy is always strong, which leaves you free to experiment with new material. The audience is almost always on board, which coupled with the energy makes the room great for beginners and pros alike. There’s a DJ that plays comics on and off stage which helps the energy, and Martin Amini who runs the show is a great host. -Bill Metzger

SATURDAY (1)The Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse is the oldest open mic in the DMV scene, running since March 2008 under the supervision of comedians Andy Kline and Randolph Terrance. Every Saturday night 30-40 DMV comics converge to sign up by 10pm to make the line up for the 10:30 show. Only an average of 25 comedians gets on each week. Taking place in the front bar, AKA the green room, this consistently packed house forces comedians to bring their A-B material, in order to keep the crowd happy, the show a success, to be selected for the following week, and tighten up their own sets for paid work. The headliners from the big room tend to drop in for some time, which is always fun. And whether you get on the show or not, if you are consistently doing stand up in the DMV scene, you will get to hang out with all your friends at the Drafthouse, and by friends, I mean all the other comics in the DMV scene. -David Carter

SUNDAY (2)The last few Sundays at Grand Central have been straight actually. Weird setup. It’s Adams Morgan so you never know if the crowd is down for jokes or if they’re sober enough to care. But you really only need 4-5 people watching for it to be good. Also you have the option of coming to the stage from a staircase which is just cooler than not walking downstairs. -Jamel Johnson

5_REASONS2

Cameron (see above) and I ran an open mic together for about 4 years. Here’s why co-hosting a mic is awesome:

  1. One of you can be the bad guy

Every time I had to bump I would totally blame Cameron.

  1. Some people are the worst

If there’s someone else there it cuts in half the amount of worst you have to deal with.

  1. Some people are the best

And your co-host sometimes has a better idea of who they are and will be able to identify when the optimal time is to put those people up and stop the night from slipping into the doldrums.

  1. Your other host keeps you on your toes

Cameron was the best at crowd work and kind of taught me how to do it, and also would bring new stuff to the mic every week. You have to step up to the level of your partner.

  1. Good times

You don’t have to be pals to run the mic, but it helps. At the end of the day, a four+ hour mic can be a fucking drag and it really helps to have someone to commiserate and joke around with.

NYC

TUESDAY (2)Revision’s mic is cool. Always a warm crowd, even if its mostly comics. Great place to try stuff out or fine tune. And there’s a back patio so I can hide after I suck! -Sara Armour

WEDNESDAY (3)

When we asked NYC comics what their favorite open mic spot is, the overwhelming response was anything at The Creek at the Cave. At the top of that list is Wednesday night at 11pm with host River Clegg. -Brandon Wetherbee

THURSDAY (2)

Comedian Lukas Kaiser’s ‘Phoning It In’ open mic is a crucial mic for a young comic to be lucky enough to stumble onto. While lots of mics in New York don’t even give 5minutes, so only give 2, ‘Phoning It In’ offers 10min slots. For an open mic’er in NYC, that’s like getting a half hour special. Taking place inside a loft space turned DIY theatre/studio, this mic has an underground feel to it, mostly because it is actually an underground thing. -John F. O’Donnell

FRIDAY (2)

Once again, we’re headed to Long Island City for two opportunities to get up under one roof at The Creek and the Cave. Bentzen Ball alum Eli Sairs hosts a mic as well as Bob Hanson. Even if you don’t want to perform, there isn’t a better place to socialize with like-minded individuals. -Brandon Wetherbee

SATURDAY (1)

The lazy weekender’s mic at Parkside Lounge just barely clears Saturday brunch. With a pitch black back room and DIY decor, this low-stakes room has the feel of your funniest friend’s basement. (It helps that host Tom Delgado is, in fact, both funny and friendly.) Take advantage of the homey intimacy when you can – this many people could never fit inside of a New York apartment. -Natalie Shure

5_REASONS3

  1. Give a big speech

This is the first and probably most important step. It sets the tone for the entire night. Tell everyone it’s time for comic call. It sounds cool because both words start with the same letter – it lets people know you’re an expert in comedy terminology. Once you have the attention of all the comics it’s your time to shine. It’s a performance just as important as the one you are going to give on stage. Project authority and confidence. List the rules of the show. Explain to the comics how to be a comedian, what your philosophy on content is, and the best way to interact with other comics. You have made it. You are hosting an open mic. You are the teacher and this is your class. It might seem like they don’t want to hear it, but one day they’ll thank you.

  1. Keep it dirty, keep it low energy

People have been in an office all day reading emails and going to meetings about dicks and abortions. They are ready to go, don’t lose that momentum, start aggressive. But while you want your material to be as edgy as possible out of the gate, don’t bring too much energy. Keep it mellow. If the crowd starts getting too into it, take a drink of water or look in your notebook. Calm them down. Keep it awkward. Comedy is about being uncomfortable.

  1. Talk shit on the room and crowd

Whether you have a big crowd or almost no crowd at all it’s always fun to talk about how depressing the venue is or how lame open mics are. People like to regret decisions, it’s funny to them. Make them question why they are there in the first place. And if they aren’t laughing at your jokes, tell them to “go fuck themselves” and that you “don’t care if they don’t like it.” Explain that it’s what they get for being dumb enough to come to a free show in the first place. It’s sounds counterintuitive, but being talked down to and feeling stupid is actually fun.

  1. Ask people to give it up a lot

Asking for a round of applause is something all hosts do, but most don’t do it enough. If you feel awkward, ask the crowd to clap. It makes you feel better. It doesn’t matter what it’s for, the other comics, the waitstaff, or, best of all, yourselves. People like to clap. Especially over and over again. You just need to give them permission and remember that they’ll never get tired of it no matter how many times they are forced to do it.

  1. Do tons of time of in between comics

You might think once the show is off to a great start that your job is pretty much done. You’re wrong. Dead wrong. You are still going to be on stage in between each comic and that is when you show how great of a host you are. If someone brought up a topic you have a joke about, tell it after that comic. Maybe it’s a really long joke, that’s OK, take all the time you need. You are the person everyone is there to see. By not telling extra jokes between each comic you are cheating the crowd. Remember, you didn’t make it to the pinnacle of comedy, hosting an open mic, by deferring to other comics. You did it by being a leader, by being a host.

BALTIMORE

MONDAY (1)

Sidebar on Monday’s is pretty much the gold standard of Baltimore mics– the list is loosely capped at 25, but it’s not uncommon for around 35 or more comics to show up, perform and hang out, and the show is well-regarded enough that there’s generally a good non-comic audience there too. Sidebar was nominated for best comedy venue in the City Paper’s Best of Baltimore last year, alongside two actual comedy clubs. -Isaac Hirsch

TUESDAY (2)

For the first three Tuesday’s of every month Wits End Saloon provides a fun and relaxing atmosphere to see some of the best local comedy Baltimore has to offer. Not only are the shows free of charge, but they also offer some great food and drink specials and quite an impressive selection of beers and bourbons. Wits End Saloon is attached to Magooby’s Joke House, one of Baltimore’s premier comedy clubs, and draws in some of the best talent in the area. -Justin Hancock

WEDNESDAY (3)

The cacao lane open mic’s in a pretty weird neighborhood of mostly antique stores and bars and it gets a pretty weird, but dedicated crowd. If you’ve ever wanted to perform for stoned community college students and their drunk parents at the same place, this is your chance. Email to sign up, show starts at 9:30. -Stavros Halkias

THURSDAY (2)

Zissimos, located at 1023 W 36th St. in Baltimore, is a great open mic for comics and comedy lovers alike. Whether it be sketch comedy, improv, or straight stand-up, Zissimos provides a great space and ample time to do what you want with it. Located in the heart of Hamden, it’s quite easy to find and a short walk from wherever it is you are lucky enough to find parking. Zissimos is perfect for anyone who has never done a minute of comedy in their life and wants to give it a try, or a veteran who just wants to try out some new material. -Justin Hancock

SUNDAY (2)

Located in Towson, the open mic at Charles Village Pub is a perfect way to end the week. With a dedicated room for comedy it creates a relaxed, welcoming, creative environment for both performers and audience members. Some of the best comics in Baltimore and even out of town can be found here on Sunday nights providing laughs for an ever growing audience. Along with great food and drinks, Charles Village Pub open mic is not one to be missed. -Justin Hancock

WHAT_I_LIKE
The ‘Open Mic’ is the performance artist’ first level. Athletes have the gym, musicians have the studio and actors have the stage. Even yogis have the mat. All of these places are safe havens where people can practice performing, before they are presented to paying audiences; except yogi’s (‘Namaste’).

Comedians, singers, poets, and spoken word artist have the open mic. A place where all you need is a microphone (not always required); an audience (if you’re lucky); and 5 minutes of material (hopefully). Questlove, of ‘the Roots’ started a mic in his living room, which featured the likes of Jill Scott, D’Angelo, and Dave Chappelle.

If you’re new, you find a mic to see if you ’got the stuff’. If you’re a professional you go to an open mic to see if your new material measures up. And if you have no idea what you’re doing it’s the perfect place to figure it all out.

The main difference between the open mic, and the gym, or the studio, is that it requires you to perform in front of people, before you’re really ready to perform in front of, people.

One of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced as a comic, is when the din of a bar is suddenly silenced, while I’m halfway into a bit, because they’re listening; It’s like ‘oh yeah, they feel me’, that only happens at open mics, in bars, on weekdays. The flipside of that feeling is hearing patron ask the bartender to ‘turn up’ the sound on the television for the billiard game that’s on. It’s like ‘damn really, fuk pool!?’

Good open mics, bad open mics, and every showcase in between, my advice to any new comic would be to hit them all. My advice to anybody reading this would be go to one and hang out if you’ve got nothing else to do. It could become the only thing that you want to do. Most open mics are free, and just require your attention. You might wind up seeing the ‘next big thing’ in one of those twenty acts.

As a comic I sign up for as many mics as I can get to, this area (DMV) has a good amount, and different types of audiences so I really get to see if my material works. In my opinion a good open mic, is like a good mixtape, it’s mashed together with many elements (music, comedy, etc), and the host operates as a DJ, keeping the energy ebbing and flowing until its completion. That said, as a performer I like to utilize an open mic to do things that I wouldn’t normally do at an actual performance, in hopes that it can become something that I do. Like learning how to dunk, then mastering a dunk, then freaking a dunk, then winning a dunk contest; or a slot on insert-favorite-late-night-show-here.

An open mic is the equivalent of fertile ground; one simply plants seeds, and allows them to grow, its watching the growth, that can be the hardest part.

CHICAGO

MONDAY (1)
SMUSH is at Stage 773 and hosted by Matt Riggs and Dan Friesen. Open mic’ers perform to a crowd where participation is encouraged. Their hope is comics will develop new material, fill in lulls in a routine, that sort of thing. But since the crowd is mainly new comics the productive aspect is in constant jeopardy. I enjoy it for varying reasons. If the room’s goal is realized then you’ll see comics helping each other, taking fun bits into new creative tangents, but you’ll also see brutal train wrecks. Young comedians can learn from both if they are patient enough to stick around after their set. -Jeff Steinbrenner

TUESDAY (2)

Two keys to a great comedy room is a door you can close and low ceilings. Lottie’s has both. Originally a room hosted by Mike Joyce (now of NYC) Ian Abramson and Tim Barnes run an open mic that you want to do well at. The bartender Josh is great at slinging drinks and laughing when your new joke is good. -Goodrich Gevaart

WEDNESDAY (3)

Wednesday night is Cole’s, which requires you to be on your toes, and really push. There are always audience members and a great vibe. It feels smart and hip. It’s a place where the hosts aren’t afraid to comment on a joke that was racist or sexist, but the crowd there doesn’t have it anyway. It’s where I see a lot of the up-and-coming talent in the city. -Ian Abramson

FRIDAY (2)

Friday is Power Hour, where they really want to see you riff. It’s a great place for new people to jump in and meet others because it’s fun, and people want to see you just give it all a shot. You’re more than welcome to do material, the bigger laughs just tend to come from riffing. There’s always someone on stage getting very drunk throughout the entire mic, and they may make a comment or two into a mic of their own, but you’re definitely still the one in charge. It’s always crowded and a great place to get introduced to the comics on the scene. -Ian Abramson

SUNDAY (2)

On Sunday, there’s an open mic at Will’s Northwoods Inn called Three Dead Moose. It’s in the back room of a Packers bar (gross!), and as the name suggests–its got a lot of taxidermy. David Drake and Reena Calm are the hosts and they are a perfect pair for this mic: super fun, relaxed, and hysterical. -Tommy McNamara

SHOULD_YOUR_BAR

Open mics can be a fantastic revenue stream and attract up-and-coming performers. Open mics can ostracize your customer base and chase away normal people. Not all open mics are the same.

If you’re the owner or manager of a bar or somewhere that sells alcohol and has a stage or at the very least a PA, maybe you’ve thought about turning your stage and sound system over to a stand up comic. Are you sure you want to do this? Why do you want to do this?

Money? Host a trivia night. Trivia makes more money than comedy and won’t make people feel awkward.

Hate trivia? Karaoke. Smart people like to prove their smart and other people like to prove they can hold a note.

Hate trivia and karaoke? Book an old-school country western or soul band. You know who hates Hank Williams or Sam Cooke covers? No one. Soulless individuals.

Don’t want trivia or karaoke or music because you’re afraid of ASCAP fees? Offer specials that don’t degrade your customer base or shame the neighborhood. No quarter specials of Miller Lite. No ladies drink free if they hate their dads. No free shots every time team y scores and team z gets an injured player. $1 off craft beer will do the trick.

Don’t want trivia or karaoke or music or offer specials? Maybe close the bar. Why are you doing this in the first place? Were you in a bad marriage? Hated your 9 to 5? Can’t stand the idea of not being surrounded by drunks?

Don’t want other forms of entertainment or want to offer specials and still want to own a bar? Don’t allow your bar to have an open mic.

Genuinely love stand up and understand that some nights are going to be great cash grabs and others will make you question why you ever opened your doors? Consider allowing an open mic in your house.

These things require work. They don’t appear to. They do. Good hosts are necessary for any successful night. They have to want to be there and they have to care about your bar. Work with regulars. Work with people that go up 5, 6, 7 nights a week. Work with former musicians that understand flying is important. Work with not just straight, white males. Work with performers that are happy with other performers success. Work with people you’d be happy to introduce to your mother.

All mics, good or bad, will put the host and bartender through odd experiences. The best will result in actual friendships. The worst will fizzle out after one failed experiment. Most will teach the bar and the host something about stand up and business. Stand up is a business. It can be very rewarding, artistically and financially. It can be a total failure, artistically and financially.

It’s simple. If you like comics, if you like comedy, if you like serving affordable beer to people that may not be able to afford many beers and you’re willing to spend some time nurturing a night, an open mic may be an excellent way to increase your clientele and your friends circle. If you’re doing it to unload unwanted product, reconsider trivia.

LOSANGELES

MONDAY (1)

Right in the middle of Los Feliz, on Hillhurst Ave, is the open mic at The Palace. Held in the upstairs of a Chinese restaurant, the open mic attracts a small audience but a long list of a really great up and coming comedians. It’s the perfect place to start for a beginner comic as the attentive comics’ response is an honest and accurate one and it’s also a great place for a new-to-town seasoned pro to meet others who are really doing stuff in the scene and working on their act. It’s a lottery sign-up so no need to camp out. Sign-up, grab some food downstairs or some coffee across the street, and come back for your set or stay and watch other comics (The latter is recommended obviously). It’s one of the less boring ones and one of the more fun ones to hang out at. Recommended. -CJ Toledano

THURSDAY (2)

I’m still pretty new to the Los Angeles mic scene, but one that stood out was Rafa’s Lounge. It’s a laid back basement bar where it feels like you can do whatever you want. The audience is supportive but won’t let you get away with garbage. Last time I was there, there was a dog hanging out, which is a huge bonus for me. -Joe McAdamFRIDAY (2)

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SATURDAY (1)

The Sabor & Cultura coffee shop on the corner of Gramercy Pl and Hollywood Blvd has the kind of quirky vibe that would be more suitable for a poetry open mic. And while they of course do have one of those, they also house one of my favorite comedy open mics in Los Angeles every Friday at 8pm. Not only are the hosts (Jesse Case & Brent Schmidt) funny and sweet guys, but what I really appreciate is they hardly fuck around and they keep the show moving. That plus the attentive nature of the audience (of comics, typically) makes it a worthwhile outing, so much so that sometimes you’ll see performers from the TV drop in. The TV! -Joe Kwaczala

HOSTING_AN-OPEN-MIC
I met some of the funniest people on the planet.

I forged friendships with people I thought shared no similar interests.

I was able to try out new material on a whim.

I got to hang out with a very cool bartender.

I learned about people from other cities.

I loved putting up a person that just wanted to do stand up once and really tried.

I made money.

I renewed my desire to go on stage.

I laughed for days when a comic would try to sell their DVD after a horrible 5-minute set.

I learned a lot.

PHILADELPHIA

MONDAY (1)

Laughs on Fairmount at The Urban Saloon every Monday at 8pm. All Comics get 3 minutes and a very supportive audience. The usual list includes 25-35 other comedians. Always some non-comic audience members. This is a supportive room but if you don’t come for the comedy, come for the tots, this bar has fantastically terrible food. -Rob Desantis

TUESDAY (2)

The Helium Comedy Club Tuesday night mic has an online sign up where they reserve 5-10 spots for day of sign ups between 6-7pm. Comedians get 3 minutes and comedians who work at the club get 5 minutes. This is a mic in an A room comedy club, management watches the mic, brings back people they like. -Rob Desantis

WEDNESDAY (3)

The Growlers Bar Wednesday Free For All Open Mic is a mixed feature spot and open mic show, but the good news is the feature spots are mixed in, so if you want to come for the open mic you don’t have to wait to get up. Supportive crowds, decent drink prices. -Rob Desantis

THURSDAY (2)

The Comedy Attic at The Raven Lounge on Thursday’s at 9pm is one of the longest running open mics in Philadelphia. A list comics often drop in for guest spots while they are in town. Long list, get there early to sign up, always a fun crowd. -Rob Desantis

SUNDAY (2)

Tight Six mic. 8pm bands play, get an audience in there. 8:30 the mic starts, 6 minutes each, sign ups at 7-730. Decent room, full upstairs for the show, usually some non comic audience, run by a really good group of comics. -Rob Desantis

HOSTING_AN-OPEN-MIC_WORST
I saw some of the unfunniest people on the planet.

I was friended on Facebook with people I consider legally insane.

I experimented with material that may have been worthwhile but wasted it on a bad setting and tainted my memory of potentially quality work.

I had to suffer through shots with an asshole bartender.

I leaned about crazy people from other cities.

I loathed putting up a person that just wanted to do stand up once and told horribly sexist non-jokes.

I didn’t make enough money to validate my time.

I renewed my desire to avoid all stages.

I worried for my safety when a ‘comic’ would try to sell their DVD after a horrible 5-minute set.

I learned a lot.

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