The open mic holds everything for the new, aspiring comedian. The alpha and the omega, the dream and the nightmare, but the above all else, the primary entry point for stand-up comedy. An open mic often promises no regular audience members; instead, empty chairs up front and a gaggle of snickering open mic comedians in the back room, either pre-occupied with their phones and their own lives, or worse, heckling you. A bringer show promises you another alternate reality, in exchange for you bribing or coercing your friends and/or coworkers to pay to attend your show, they may be overeager with support, laughter and even applause. Either way, it’s a mine field that leaves you to your own devices — literally, you need to record your own set and hope that you can break it down afterward and learn if anything you said onstage was remotely funny or contained the seeds for something that could be funny someday.
Comedy 101, presented by The Interrobang and SiriusXM’s Bennington show, offers another entry point.
Albeit one fraught with its own anxiety and stress. As The Interrobang explained their concept: “If you don’t already know, Comedy 101 is a live show that combines open mic night, with a good old fashioned roast and there is nothing safe for work about this show. We bring up open mic comics to take a shot at doing their act, for the first time ever, in front of a big audience. If they can’t make the audience laugh, and fast, they get interrupted by one of our three “mentors” who ring in to give “helpful advice.” Except it’s not usually very helpful, and it’s probably not really even advice.”
The mentors for Tuesday night’s third session of Comedy 101 at The Comedy Cellar’s Village Underground: Kurt Metzger, Big Jay Oakerson and Sal Vulcano.
And yes, Metzger couldn’t help himself and cracked a joke about the comedy scene’s current conversation about rape before the first open mic comedian even took the stage. But that tangent aside, Ron Bennington brought the focus back to the open micers.
“People don’t realize that it takes you years to be able to not only stand on a stage like the one hear at the (Village) Underground, but even be noticed by these kind of comedians who’ve been doing this for years and have got great credits, so to all of these guys coming up here, this is a very big night,” said Bennington, the longtime SiriusXM radio host and former comedy club owner himself, who co-hosts Comedy 101 with his daughter, Gail.
Both Benningtons remained onstage throughout the evening, as did the three mentors, each of whom sat on stools behind small tables, equipped with bells that they dinged even more frequently but with the same ferocity as if they were Jeopardy contestants.
One open mic comedian/contestant/student barely got a single punchline out. Another was almost too well-liked by the mentors, if that was possible. One was attempting stand-up publicly for the very first time before this sold-out crowd, professional comedians and radio microphones. Most endured endless ribbing from the mentors.
“What, did you pack up all your belongings in there and leave?” cracked Vulcano, the Impractical Jokers star, to Son Yeyr, who carried a shoulder bag as she joked about her time in a homeless shelter.
Chris San Juan fared better, at one time countering a barb from Metzger by saying: “Finish the joke.”
Oakerson, barreled over laughing, stopped to joke a minute later: “For the rest of the night, Kurt’s going to be thinking of all the things he could have said.”
Greg and Rob, identical twin brothers from Staten Island, were mocked for riffing too much like the Sklar Brothers, although Metzger joked that they looked more like “The Turturro Brothers” and acknowledged that he also looked like he could be a triplet of theirs. We also would have accepted an Adam Sandler joke here, although none was forthcoming.
The show closed with a lengthy appearance onstage by Bennington show regular B.L.
But even before that, Metzger wondered what many were thinking: “How is this not a TV show already?” adding after Greg and Rob left the stage: “You could have seen how weird they were, and you would’ve enjoyed it!”
Instead, you can listen to a preview of Comedy 101 this afternoon on SiriusXM’s Opie Radio at 4:30 p.m. Eastern. An edited hourlong version of Comedy 101 officially will premiere Sept. 5 (Monday, Labor Day) on SiriusXM.