“SEATTLE IS a strange city,” says Jack Slattery as he looks at my driver’s license before letting me inside. “We don’t have to make bumper stickers that show how weird we are. We’re simple.” His dig in Portland earns a giggle from a couple waiting in line behind me. It’s the first laugh of the evening Club Comedy Seattle‘s Wednesday Open Mic.
Longtime Seattle comedian and events producer Rick Taylor says that no matter how good comics are, nights like these are essential to their creative process. “The function of an open mic is to bring the comedians onto the stage and give them a chance to work on their material,” says Taylor, who owns the club. “It’s practice night. This is the comedy gym.”
At around 7:15 p.m., presenter Phil Burton heats up the stage with a few jokes of his own and sets some ground rules. “Remember, this is a monologue, not a dialogue — so no heckling.”
By the end of the night, it’s 32 comics’ turn for a three-minute microset at the microphone. Jokes range from the tried-and-true comedy club fodder (therapists, pornography, veganism) to the introspective and unexpected (the immigrant experience, genderqueer dating, childhood fantasies about GI Joe).
Some comics look at note cards and make spontaneous decisions about which parts to try. As remarkable as what is joked about is what is not. Not a single comic laments “cancel culture,” and no one seems to care about jokes about quarantine or life during the pandemic.
“I could see what people are doing in front of me and then let it go,” says Mary Lou Gamba while scrolling through notes on her iPhone. “If that doesn’t spark a joke, I can just bully the audience a bit.”
Located on Capitol Hill, Comedy Seattle seats about 100 people and fills up quickly on open mic nights. About half the attendees are comics, which means the laughs don’t necessarily come easily. “It’s a supportive but demanding audience,” says Slattery, who opens the door and is the last performer of the night. “You won’t laugh at anything.”
Meaghan Gross took her first stand-up comedy class after her kids left for college. Eight years later, she is now developing her first one-hour set. She says the local comedy community can feel a lot like siblings. “There can be a nudge in the back seat, but most of the time we really enjoy watching each other grow.”
Regulars say it’s not uncommon for comics to make the same jokes multiple times over the span of a couple of open mics. Taylor says it’s part of the process, and he’s listening carefully to see how the bits are developing. “That’s the craft element of it; it shows that you are working on it.”
Throughout the night, Taylor makes it a point to come out of the kitchen to bang a couple of young comics appreciatively after their sets. A pound from Taylor is clearly a high honor. In second place, of course, only a big laugh from the audience.