One part of the music scene that we haven’t given much coverage is the open mic circuit, partly because there is an overwhelming amount of them in Ottawa. However, some very intimate and incredible performances can take place at open mics, as amateur musicians from all different backgrounds come to play or practice in front of modest audiences.
However, it would be a mistake to think that open mics only musicians. Greg Houston is a comedian in town that keeps busy putting on stand up comedy events throughout the year. He’s the kind of guy that fights to give aspiring comedians a stage to try their hand at performing in front of audiences. Some of these events are bigger than others, but coming up with new ways of getting people out to stand-up comedy events is what Greg is all about.
There’s a new open mic in town run by Houston and his partner in crime Randy Hogg that combines music and comedy called Brew-Ha-Ha the first Sunday of each month. It’s a new way of showcasing local talent – both musically and with laughs – in one place. Each event normally contains a music and comedy headliner, along with multiple amateurs taking a stab at performing. I spoke to Houston about this concept, which you can read below.
A few years ago Randy Hogg was hosting an open mic at old Falldown Gallery and the owner Robbie messaged me about it. This was chronologically just after the Herd Mag issue 1 release party. I showed up with four other comics, after doing a Sunday night Pub 101 show.
They put us on and the event was actually dope. Randy and I have stayed friends and tried to work together when possible. I wanted to start a monthly room to host and pair it with Apt613’s 2014 Support Local Month. So we had a proven formula and venue and could curate a fun comedy/music show.
The format we do is a opening music act – occasionally two but generally one. This is followed by open mic comedy, and there are usually 5 spots and this is generally hosted by myself with a feature comic. After this, a feature musical act performs. We’ve had the ability to bring in some excellent headliners such as Sean Duhaime, PJ Catsiyannis of The Gallop, Ryan Farrell & MC Dimz, Sara Baar + Jeff Watkins + Dave Watkins = Just Friends, Tyler Roy, Chris Snow. On the comedy front, we’ve had Gavin Stephens, Nigel Grinstead, Jimmy Cassidy, Marc Hallworth. It’s PWYC and there’s room for everyone. The sound system is great and the beer and food is cheap.
At the core of it, open mics are the same as an artist going out to practice their craft to a live audience. It can be bad or good. But were music and comedy diverge is the reception and actual experience. A musician can actually practice when they aren’t on a stage learning their craft and mastering it.
Comics can’t really practice as they need live audience reactions to test and try jokes and material. So unless a comic has a million friends that aren’t tired of hearing about their new boner joke, they need stage time to test out new material. And the audience needs to play different roles in listening to music versus comedy. Music can be more passive participation. You obviously want the entire attention all the time but music doesn’t live and die on it – comedy does. Comedy needs a buy-in from the audience and the correct response or reaction to whatever the comic is doing. Hence the idea to sandwich the comedy all together and putting music to start and finish. It can be tiring watching comedy – especially on the open mic level – and the audience can take a break from actively participating on every line said and listen to some sweet tunes.
Funny jokes… but seriously just smart, funny, and non-victim jokes are the best. No one wants to hear jokes that shit on a people, or sub-section of humanity. Comedy is supposed to be medicine to make people forget about their troubles. Good comedy engages you, it can challenge norms, and bring up any topic – but it just needs to be funny. It’s not cool to to dark material just for the sake of doing dark material. For example, shock value isn’t funny. I think the best jokes I know are all based on truism or true stories. The realest stuff in life is hilarious, sometimes you just need someone to point it out. I mean, the Space Jam soundtrack is the greatest soundtrack ever made.
We generally try to showcase acts that aren’t getting a lot of stage time, or ones that want to play the venue, or ones we’re friends with and love hearing them play. We have only 5 comedy open mic spots and a feature so those get filled quickly. It’s a fun, intimate room to tell jokes and play music to. We’ll hit the one year anniversary show in October, but this Sunday’s show is going to be wicked fun. The guest host and feature music act are monster performers.
Be sure to check out Brew-Ha-Ha happening this Sunday, July 5 at Raw Sugar Cafe (692 Somerset St. W). PWYC, 7:30pm sign-up + 8:15pm show begins.
Comedy Headliner: Gus the Bartender
Comedy Host: Kelsey Ryan (The Dusty Drifters)