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Open Mics on Belmont Draw Comics Looking to Practice Material

By Serena Dai | February 25, 2013 6:04am

LAKEVIEW — "If you play the triangle, you're somebody's b--ch."

A single person laughed in the audience of about 16 people — mostly other comedians — at Stage 773's open mic. Then ... silence.

"OK, one fan!" the comic said. No worries, he moved on to test another joke. And if it didn't work with this audience, maybe it would work somewhere else that night.

On Monday nights in Lakeview, and with at least six different open mic options, aspiring stand-up comedians flock to the neighborhood to work out as much material as possible.

Some of the jokes will get laughs, and others won't — that's the point. Lakeview Mondays present an opportunity to hop around from mic to mic to test jokes and take risks, and even on a rainy night like this week, committed comics will make the hike along Belmont Avenue to do it.

"Most comics worth their salt do 2 or 3 open mics," Jamie Campbell, who runs The Chaser open mic at Comedy Sportz, said of the Monday night comedy grind. "That's how you test your material. It's the gym."

Many comics start their evenings in the lobby of Comedy Sportz, 929 W. Belmont Ave., at 7:30 p.m. to sign up for the 9:30 open mic. It follows a comedy showcase, so often non-comedians will stick around, and comics get a chance to see  if jokes will stick outside the comedy crowd.

Comics might move down the street for Stage 773's open mic SMUSH!, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., to get in an early set. Others head north to Merkle's Bar & Grill, 3516 N. Clark St., to grab a burger before the mics, while a few walk down the street to Schubas Tavern, 3159 N. Southport Ave., for a late mic that started just a few weeks ago.

People with time between might hit up 3160 Chicago's Piano & Cabaret bar, around the corner at 3160 N. Clark St., or Town Hall Pub's comedy-friendly music open mic, at 3340 N. Halsted St.

And those with stamina might even hop on the Brown Line to get to The Globe Pub off the Irving Park stop, at 1934 W. Irving Park Rd.

"I like to work it out where there's minimal amount of wait," said Lev Kalmens, 25, of Niles, who drives in on Monday nights and tries to attend two or three mics. "I'm trying to work out new material. The whole thing might bomb, but this not a Comedy Central audition. Open mics are rehearsals."

Each comic gets at most four to five minutes, and they spend most of their night waiting to get called on stage. More open mics means more time on stage. 

The mics are largely attended by fellow comedians, both those who've seen success and those who haven't. Most of them are plaid-and-hoodie clad men, with a spattering of women — and nearly all of them are in their 20s. 

But despite the tough crowds, working the mics is critical to meeting people who book shows and showing consistency in material. 

It's part of why Will Dougherty, 27, moved from Nebraska to Chicago a few months ago to try and make a career as a comic. 

"You can do more open mics on Monday nights here than you can in a week in Lincoln, [Neb.]," said Dougherty, who hopped from Comedy Sportz to Merkle's to 3160 this week.

And for comics who've already started making a little money to perform, working Lakeview on Monday nights is an easy way to avoid sounding like "a parrot" with old jokes, said Khaleel "The Comedian" Farooqie. Farooqie started doing comedy five years ago and wasn't able to move his day job in sales and marketing to part time until about two years ago.

Now he's able to book enough shows, including at The Laugh Factory, to call himself a working comedian. But Monday night at Merkle's, he explained, is another day in the office.

"It's like any other job," he said. "You're hanging out with co-workers."