Open Mike, Open Anxiety

For weeks, Brandon had been calling me up and sending me emails to tell me about how we had to do a shitty open mike in Boston on April 27. All open mikes are shitty, so this is in no way a slight against the basement performance space of Roggie's Brew & Grille, where wide-eyed and earnest acoustic guitar singer/songwriters and disturbingly young stand-up comics peddle their wares. Apparently, Brandon felt that this open mike, where we were supposed to be the featured performers with a 30-minute set, would be an excellent promotional tool for our full-length Boston presentation of Jukebox Stories later in the week, and he was willing to drive back and forth from New York (four hours each way) to prove how great of a promotional tool this was going to be. "I'll be happy if we can get two people from this open mike to come," he told me later. Brandon shoots low.

Look, I have nothing against open mikes. Back in college, open mikes are what gave me the opportunity to get up on stage as a disturbingly young stand-up comic to peddle my wares. ("I hate eating at my grandma's house 'cuz you would always find things in the food—a eyelash...a scab." Pause for laughter. "But when you eat cats and dogs, that's the risk you take." Pause for laughter.) While Brandon and his guitar fits just fine in an open mike setting (except for the fact that his mad performance skillz will blow everyone the fuck away), my Jukebox Stories stories, which are smart and subtle, seem like an anomaly in that setting. My material, which requires rapt attention to be effective, is bound to bomb in the basement of a bar full of aspiring artists who are too worried about their own five minutes to give a shit about complex stories about family, race, politics. But at least I had Brandon to buffer me. Rock stars get so much more respect. I mean, have storytellers ever had groupies who have wanted to fuck them silly?

The day before the open mike, Brandon called me up and informed me that due to scheduling conflicts with his other band (he plays bass with MC Frontalot, who is about to kick off his national tour) I, Prince Gomolvilas, was going to have to do the open mike alone. ALONE. ("The state of Asian America today, I gotta tell ya...." Silence. "Is this mike on? Hello? Is this thing on?")

Fortunately, after convincing him that doing the open mike alone would in fact cause my death, he magically appeared the next day in Boston, where I had just flew in from the west coast.

Why the pessimism, Prince and Brandon? The crowded open mike turned out being a lot of fun. There's a lot of talent in Boston, and, although not all of the performers were stellar, there was something charming about seeing some old guy belt Tom Waits covers and some high school kid churning out jokes with the ease of any stand-up on Comedy Central. (Plus, everybody was allotted only about ten minutes. The most talented of the bunch made sure to bring their "A" game, and the less polished were swept off the stage in a matter of minutes.) We did five pieces, wowed the kids, and the bartender said we were the best thing to ever perform there. I don't know if that's a saying a lot or saying a little, but it was said and it was nice.

I would happily do the Roggie's open mike again. Maybe storytellers don't get respect because sometimes we forget to respect ourselves.

—Reporting From Brooklyn, New York

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