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Much More Than an Open Mic

Last night we had our 11th monthly comedy open mic in Burlington, and just like the others before it, it was a fantastic night. Just like it has been since pretty much the beginning, it was packed. Not only did we have a full house, we also had a record 29 performers. 29.

Mike Thomas Makes ‘Em Laugh

Early this week, I received an unexpected message. It was from the wife of Phil Davidson, one of our regular performers at the monthly Burlington open mic. Bridget Shanahan works at Channel 5 WPTZ, and wanted to do a story on our thriving open mic nights.

I was a little surprised, but thrilled because the open mic has become a pretty incredible thing. It serves some pretty unique functions. For regularly-performing comedians, the fact that it’s free means it’s the place to try out new jokes without the requirement of giving the crowd their money’s worth (I’ve performed quite a bit over the past year, and I still don’t have confidence in a new joke until I try it out on a crowd). It’s also a place where whether you are experienced or brand new, funny or not-there-yet, you get to be part of a show. An open mic offers all the same emotions and excitement of being a featured performer. Your name gets called, you go up onstage, and you try to make ‘em laugh. You get to perform to a full house, and you get just as much as time as any other comic there.

Before the show started, Bridget arrived with a camera crew to shoot some interviews, and then stayed to film a lot of the performances. I was happy she saw the Burlington comedy night as a story, and since talking with her I’ve been thinking a lot about what a great story it really is… It’s been exciting to watch what started as a simple conversation between Patra Cafe owner Wendy Piotrowski and I over a year ago turn into a monthly event that so many of us really look forward to and value. It kind of feels like everyone who comes, whether to perform or to watch, has something invested in it. As evidence, I cite the fact that a majority of the crowd of 50 was still there when we finished last night, THREE hours after we started…

James Huessy, and Friends

And, in what seems to be our tradition, we had two debuts last night as well. We have a couple of first-time performances almost every single month – which means the Vermont comedy scene increases by a few new performers every month, and we get to see that happen before our eyes at the monthly open mic. We have had at least 1 debut every single time, if not more. One month we had four. Any comic can tell you: the first time you do comedy is a pretty big moment. It’s the moment you tried something you never thought would be possible. From that moment on, anything seems attainable. Every month at Patra someone experiences that firsthand. You can just see it on their faces afterward. They are experiencing all the emotions you feel the first time you try something you thought you’d never in your life have the guts to try. And somehow our little open mic has become a place where that happens for a lot of people, and is still happening.

We have a lot of firsts at the Burlington open mic. And not just performers. The success of the Burlington open mic led Pat Lynch and I to create a new kind of comedy show called Crowd Control, a 3-round comedy contest where the crowd directs the show. Four comics show up with a bunch of material prepared, but then the crowd decides what they’ll perform right there during the show. It’s something pretty unique, the crowd really gets into it, and it all happened thanks to the comedy community that has sprung up in Burlington at Patra. (Crowd Control 3 happens July 22nd, by the way! Details here.)

What’s also cool is that, when a performer says this is their first time, the audience applauds. They seem to fundamentally understand the risk being taken, the courage required, and they support that. That’s something I have believed in ever since it happened to me, but somehow that has become a part of the fabric of the Burlington open mic. It’s awesome. We have created a supportive audience that encourages people to try comedy for the first time. They want you to do well. And in return, they get a whole bunch of funny people who have been writing jokes throughout the month for this very occasion.

Special thanks to Gabe Coury who drove down from Montreal, and Kansas-native Ed Parker who came in to perform while vacationing here in Vermont. They were both great additions to a great night.

To see Bridget’s WPTZ news footage, which also aired on Channel 5 before making its way online, click the picture below of hilarious Vermont comedian Brian Clifford…

Or click here:

As another fun night now goes into the history books, it’s easy to look back and recognize that Patra Cafe’s Burlington Open Mic has become a great story, and a great community as well. It occurs to me that you never really know how or when a great story might start. You just have to put your idea out there, and see what happens. Because when you do, you just might find a community of cool and supportive people who spring up in response. A community that not only values your contribution, but in turn helps shape it into something far, far greater than you ever expected.


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