In my travels as an amature (re: unpaid) stand up comedian, I’ve performed in venues of varying degrees of crappiness over the years. From comedy clubs to coffee shops, to small theatres and strip clubs, I’ve seen a million faces and awkwardly described my genitals to them all.
Still, most of my regular performing happens at the same places I started in, open mics in bars and restaurants. I love these places. It’s where comics get to rub shoulders with the common folk and share the stage with karaoke singers, cover bands, singer-songwriters, poets, and other social rejects.
The reason I bring this up is because I want to talk about a pet peeve of mine. Something that I have personally struggled with in the past, and that I still see comedians having trouble with on a regular basis.
That of course is how to work with a garbage microphone…
Microphone technology has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years. Sadly, many of those leaps and bounds have yet to make their way to the PA systems of your average open mic comedy venue. Very often you might run into a mic or a mic cord that is not of the grandest quality, and that will cut out and/or give an odd buzzing feedback if held or moved in the wrong way.
For comedians, this can throw off your pacing and concentration, and will almost always ruin whatever joke you were in the middle of.
For audiences, it’s a pain in the ass to endure, and their entire outlook on the show suffers. Not only do they think less of the comedian on stage, but they quickly become disenchanted with the show as whole, now that they think they are in a low class venue with substandard equipment.
A PA system and microphone can break in a million different ways. The mic could blow out, the monitors could catch on fire, something vital might not be plugged in, the list goes on. However, most of the time the situation is never that dire. If the microphone you are using works fine 95% of the time, but only periodically cuts out, the reason is always the same…
The mic and the mic cord are not connecting properly.
That’s it. That’s the only reason. That will ALWAYS be the reason. There is no need to ever blame anyone or anything else, because THAT. IS. THE. ONLY. GOD. FREAKIN’. DAMN. REASON!
Most XLR mics look like this. I won’t bore you with the specific technical terms (mainly because I don’t know what they are), but on the cord you have “the pokey sticks” and “the cord part”, and on the mic itself you have “the clip thing” and “the holey bits”.
If everything connects like it’s supposed to, the pokey sticks go into the holey bits, and the clip thing makes a snapping noise when you put them together. The cord part should not feel too loose or unconnected from the plastic part that surrounds the pokey sticks. If you move the mic around and the sound coming out starts to crackle or fade out, it’s because one, or perhaps several of these components are not working properly.
Maybe one of the pokey sticks is bent? Maybe the clip thing is broken? Maybe the cord part got pulled out from where it connects to the pokey sticks? Whatever the problem is, if it keeps happening, but the mic still works most of the time, you’re only experiencing a minor connection issue. Whether the mic works or not is all dependant on what kind of tension is exerted where the mic and the cord meet.
So how do you fix it? The same way you fix all your problems in comedy… WRAP IT UP!
Simply take the cord, wrap it over your hand once, and hold the cord under your thumb. The cord can still dangle freely from under your thumb, but now you should have the whole “rapier” or “pirate sword” look going on with the mic. By doing this, you take stress off of the connection between the mic and the cord, and are now free to move around and joke it up without interruption.
Even the slightest of movements can cause a feebly connected mic to cut out, so if you ensure that the way you are holding the mic does not jostle the connection, your chances of disconnecting it are greatly minimized.
If you hold the mic like this, I guarantee, you will NEVER experience this problem again with a poorly connected mic.
Some comics get angry when they are in the possession of a bad microphone. They might take their aggression out on the host, the producer, and more often than not on the venue for providing crappy equipment. While it is true that the venue is responsible for providing a working PA, and that it is the duty of the host and producer to do sound checks before the show to make sure everything is on the up-and-up, at the end of the day, the comedian on stage is the one who has to deal with it.
Who is to blame for this phenomena? Jackasses that think they are special, that’s who. Every idiot at karaoke who hits the mic with his hand to try and get the audience to clap during his awful rendition of ‘Cum on Feel the Noize’. Every horrible cover band front man who spins the mic around because he thinks he’s Mick freakin’ Jagger. Every self flagellating stand up who drops the mic on the stage like Chris Rock after a lame joke about Arby’s.
It’s YOUR fault that this even has to be discussed, Mr. and Mrs. Wannabe Superstar. The aftermath of your ignorant abuse falls on us, the common grunt work open mic comic, who then has to figure out a way to use that mic after you’ve treated it like a beach ball someone threw into the crowd at an AC/DC concert.
Speaking of which, this goes out to those aforementioned ‘common grunt work open mic comics’, who this whole diatribe was really for to begin with.
My beautifully broken brethren, please, you must listen to me. It is absolutely vital that you take in this information, because truthfully, the onus falls on us to be aware of stuff like this.
Do you like doing stand up? Sure you do. Do you want to get work as a stand up? Of course, who doesn’t? Do you want this to be your job? Well, if you’re serious about it, you need to remember that the microphone is LITERALLY THE ONLY TOOL YOU WILL EVER USE AT THAT JOB!
That’s it! It’s the only thing! You can do it without a stool, you can do it without a mic stand, hell, you can even do it without proper lighting or a stage if you really had to! You NEED to know how to use and fix a shitty microphone! JESUS CHRIST, you don’t even need to know how to ACTUALLY F**KING fix it! You just need to wrap the thing under your GODDAMN hand, and hold it with your MOTHER-F**KING-C**TING-F**KING thumb! THAT’S… F**KING… IT!
Thank you for reading my intelligently worded, heavily researched manifesto.
Please send this to any comedian or public speaker you know that is still afraid of seventy year old technology.
– J.D. Renaud