Tom E. Morello steps off stage and quickly shuffles to the back of the bar. The audience, with an image of his sonogrammed testicles fresh in their heads, reward him with a smattering of cheers and applause. The Boston native has just painted a rather personal and unpleasant scene for the 30 people watching, but it got a laugh. And that’s the best payoff for any comedian.
This night, Morello is just one of 14 comics to hit the stage for Studio 13’s open mic. Some do well. Others fall short and leave the stage looking at their feet rather than at the audience they failed to impress. My performance lands me in the latter category. This is only my tenth time on stage and tonight found me fumbling through my routine and sweating through disinterested stares from the audience. But it’s all part of the process.
In San Antonio, the road to becoming a comedian has become more accessible than ever before. Being lucky enough to jump on staff with Laugh Out Loud Comedy Club when it opened its doors in November of ’09, I have had a front row seat with regard to the expansion of comedy across the city. In the first few months of my time working the door at LOL, it was common to see people walk by the club and cautiously peer in as if alien life forms were on the other side of the glass. The idea of spending an evening at a comedy show rather than a movie or bar just wasn’t something a lot of people were familiar with.
Shows like the one at Studio 13 have become increasingly common as of late, ever since LOL provided a nucleus for the comedy scene with its Tuesday night open mic. Any given Tuesday draws 30 to 40 comedians ranging from established locals to oblivious dreamers.
Jeff Hines, a soft-spoken English transplant, has been managing the club since its opening and for years before that at the downtown River Center Comedy Club. Hines says open mic night is important for more than just the traffic it generates for the club. During open mic nights, Hines uses his experience to evaluate the talent of potential emcees for both LOL and the downtown River Center Comedy Club. The avenue to opening for a touring act is open to anyone; having suitable talent is where it gets tricky.
Hines warns those interested in trying stand-up to keep one thing in mind: it is not easy. A comedian does not just get on stage and “go.” The few that have managed to craft a livelihood based around the art that is comedy have all put countless hours into whittling a set that flows properly. Be it pacing, timing, content, stage presence, posture, or crowd work, there is always something that can be fine-tuned to make the act tighter, thereby eliciting more laughs.
Morello’s experience speaks to the opportunity available in San Antonio. Having spent the past 12 years in the rooted Boston comedy culture, the 36-year-old felt that no matter how strong his material was or how much sweat he put into his craft there would always be a limit to his success caused by the glut of comics holding seniority over him. However, within six months of relocating to San Antonio, Morello has already procured several headlining gigs at showcases all over the city.
“Both scenes are similar, a bunch of guys 18 to 40 years old with good material. The main difference is that in San Antonio, instead of 300 comics, you have maybe 70. I don’t feel like I’m waiting for someone to die to get my chance,” Morello said.
Further development of the San Antonio scene is coming via ambitious comedians that have begun to promote showcases citywide. FunnyMan Comedy Works is Joshua Jay’s first foray into the world of promotion. Despite having performed comedy for just over eight months, his legwork has yielded an open mic every other week at Studio 13. “It’s been growing in steps,” he said. “I put in the hard work and then boom, it hits.”
The comics interviewed for this article advise would-be comedians hoping to break through in the business simply to get on stage as much as possible. Anyone can be funny around their friends, but standing in front of a showroom full of people, or, more likely, a sparsely populated bar, is the only way to work out the inevitable kinks that come with developing a set. On this night in Studio 13, I failed to do my job, to make people laugh. But tomorrow brings another stage and another audience. And in San Antonio, I likely won’t have to look far. •