Open mics aren’t glamorous, but they’re vital for comedy. For most comedians, the first time they get on stage is at an open mic. Most seasoned comics still choose to workshop material at open mics before bringing it to a booked show. In fact, about half the traffic to this website comes from the Open Mic List (and apparently I’m the only person on this website capable of updating this list, isn’t that right NAT BURNS?).
Anyway, the point is, open mics are important for stand-up, and one of the longest running open mics in the Boston area is the Sally O’Brien’s Mic in Somerville. This show has been going for 14 years, and has launched some pretty impressive careers. Former hosts include Myq Kaplan, who had his own Netflix and Comedy Central specials, Josh Gondelman, who became a writer for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and Shawn Charter, who…publishes the Hottest Comics lists.
The current host is Scott Oddo. Scott is the kindest, most patient person I’ve met in comedy, which are ideal traits for dealing with open micers. Scott took over the Sally’s Mic in April of 2019. “I was very much looking forward to my 1-year anniversary at Sally’s when the pandemic hit and the state ordered a shutdown,” he tells me. “I knew it was going to be a while before the mic opened up again, and I didn’t want to lose the momentum the show had built up over the last few months, so it didn’t take long for me to decide to try hosting a virtual open mic.”
However, Scott wasn’t the only person with a Monday night mic; in Quincy, Sean Rosa was hosting the Maggy’s Lounge Open Mic. “A week or two [after I started the virtual mic] I saw Sean Rosa post about doing a virtual open mic for Maggy’s. I figured since we were no longer constrained by geography, why not combine the two mics into one, and thus the Sally’s/Maggy’s open mic was born. “
According to Scott, there are some benefits to the virtual format.“It’s definitely been smaller and more intimate. We have a good core group that are really supportive of each other with new faces popping in from week to week. It is shorter so there’s been no jockeying for getting up early and then leaving for someplace else.”
“On the downside,” he said, “there hasn’t been any waves of newbies like we would get every year at the in person mic. So you don’t get to see people making progress in their stand-up, which is something I always enjoyed about being a regular at a mic.” Scott may be only person I know who is disappointed in not being able to see amateur stand-up, but as I said, he’s the kindest man in Boston comedy.
It seems like the show he’s organized with Sean has been something truly special, one that the comedy scene needed at the beginning of the lockdown: “Sean, rightly, had the idea at the beginning that we should keep the show very loose. There was no set time limit and people didn’t even have to tell jokes. They could just talk about what was going on in their life and how they were coping with the shutdown. And that was very common early on. But it’s been interesting to see over time, as people adjusted to the new normal, how people gradually started doing more material and less just talking.”
I think that by giving people a space to just talk and cope, Scott and Sean hit upon something unspoken that comedians get from open mics. They’re not just a place to try new material; they’re also a place for comedians to gather and get to know each other, to socialize in a casual, low pressure environment. It’s a place you can go every week to catchup with your friends and have a beer. At good mic, you don’t just build up your act, you build up your community. And it sounds like Sally’s/Maggy’s Mic is the perfect digital space to do just that.
Luckily, Scott says Sally’s won’t have any trouble resuming in a post-Covid world. “Fortunately the owners of Sally’s…are well positioned to survive the pandemic. And they have been great supporters of comedy and the arts, so as soon as the state reaches phase 4 of reopening then I expect the open mic will resume as well.”
In the meantime, you can find Sean Rosa hosting the digital Sally’s/Maggy’s Open Mic every Monday Night at 7:30. His and Scott’s dedication to keeping this space alive for comics is commendable, and it’s inspired me to do something as well: update the Open Mics List!
P.J. Westin | Supreme Overlord of Editing