I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep on saying it: we’re a lucky bunch. There are so many different kinds of entertainment to be found in Champaign-Urbana at any given time — from live theatre to art house movies, from bar bands to symphony orchestras.
We are doubly lucky in that, for those of us who love the arts and seek our own means of artistic expression, there are pathways here into nearly every kind of art — into not just watching and appreciating the work but creating our own. We can get actively involved in making a film or staging a play or doing improv or studying music….
And, for those among us (you know who you are) who have a need to get on the mic and make people laugh…? For you special, unfortunate, maladjusted, creative, articulate, brave souls, there is the event known as the Open Mic.
For about a year now, Andrew Hicks (pictured, right) and Brice Solano have been hosting an open mic night on Mondays at The Blind Pig in Champaign. I spoke with each of them, and SP’s own Sam Logan attended last week’s show and captured some fantastic photos.
Want to see/hear some comics work out new material? Want to maybe do a set yourself?
I’ll let Andrew and Brice tell you how it’s done.
Smile Politely: How long has this particular open mic been going on?
Brice Solano (pictured, below): It’s now about a year old at this point. Can’t say a specific date to be sure because the birth of the mic was simply us leaving the Canopy Club after their open mic and wanted to do more. But the only other open mic available was all full up, so we went where we always go after a show. The Blind Pig is kind of our home base, so we naturally just decided to set up shop there and do what we do best: get drunk and tell some jokes to strangers.
SP: Who hosts the open mic? Is it you, you and someone else? Does it change?
Solano: When it comes to hosting we really like to mix it up and allow performers the opportunity to flex those muscles if they choose. If nobody asks, the task goes to one of the show-runners.
SP: Is the Blind Pig a good room? Does the space seem conducive to stand-up?
Solano: The Blind Pig is a phenomenal room because it’s unique in the sense that it has its challenges — such as the fact that it doesn’t have a traditional stage, sound system, or lighting that you would typically find at most shows. And I, in particular, think those challenges builds stronger performers. But overall, the background we worked out with the window gives a good feeling of a stage and let’s people on the street know what’s going on.
Andrew Hicks: The Blind Pig is a surprisingly good room for stand-up. It doesn’t have an elevated stage or traditional lighting, and we bring our own microphone and PA with us every week, but that’s the charm of the show. It’s up to the comic to own the space. It’s turned out to be one of the favorite stages for a lot of local comics. I think being on the same level and just a couple of feet away from the audience lets the comic interact with the crowd in different way than some of the other open mics.
SP: What kind of audience do you draw? Do you have regulars, or do the comics have to win them over?
Solano: As far as the audience goes, we relied solely on one of the best things about the Blind Pig: its regular customers. All great people; some come every week because they already want to be there; but, since we started, we’ve slowly built a following and curiosity from others around town, even some from out of town.
As far as winning them over, that’s on the comic. We invite anyone of any skill level, so sometimes you don’t do so well.
SP: If you had to characterize the personalities in the room, what kind of show should a new attendee expect?
Hicks: A first-time audience member is in for a real treat if they’ve never seen late-night, R-rated comedy. It’s an11 p.m. show on a weeknight in a bar, so the crowd is loose and the comics even more so. It’s a true open mic, meaning a sign-up sheet goes up 30 minutes before showtime, and whoever signs up gets the same 5 minutes as every other comic. So we always have a healthy mix of people going up for their very first time and old pros who just want to try some new stuff out before featuring or headlining somewhere else.
SP: Among your peers, who really impresses you?
Hicks: There are so many great comics it’s hard to say who impresses me the most. Esteban Gast (pictured, left) is amazing and does great work with The Abe Froman Project as well as stand-up. My partner, Brice Solano is quickly becoming my favorite new host in town. And Jesse and Justin Tuttle run C-U Comedy and come out to our shows regularly, so we get to see their new stuff before it hits the bigger stages. Also, Steve Schaberg has a hilarious deadpan style that kills every week.
SP: If someone is interested in trying out some material, or if they’re doing comedy for the first time ever, what do they need to do to get involved?
Solano: Like I mentioned, we invite all of any skill level to try out. All you have to do is show up at 10:15 p.m. every Monday night, and the sign-up sheet will be ready.
Check out Sam Logan’s great photos of last Monday’s show, and then head down to the Blind Pig and see for yourself.