If one travels in reverse down the path of a successful standup comedy career, starting at the end, the path would lead right back to where it all starts for any comedian—the land of open mic nights, where comics young and old go to work on material.
Every Tuesday night for the past 12 years, Rob Crean, along with John Paul Rivera and others before Rivera and along the way, have been hosting the #MIDEASTCORN comedy open mic at the Middle East corner room in Central Square. I recently sat down with Rob and John, the latter of whom recently stepped down from the showcase to pursue other ventures, in hopes of giving readers an updated glimpse into the world of startup standup, including but also beyond the laugh-getting and blood-letting that comes with running a regular open mic.
How long ago was it that you two started doing standup?
JPR: I started doing standup September 9, 2009. So, 8 years.
RC: I have been doing this for over ten years.
How long have you guys been running the Middle East open mic?
RC: In October it’s 12 years. I started it with a sketch troupe called Anderson Comedy. Eventually I met John, who was showing up week after week asking me if there was anything he could help with. Over time he became a permanent co-host.
You guys are fun hosts and do a great job of improvising jokes while bringing comedians on or off stage. Is that part of the enjoyment of hosting, and does it help to keep your timing fit?
RC: To me that’s the most fun part of the mic. When someone is onstage and they say something that catches my ear, I’ll lean in and talk about it with John and come up with something we can say when we get ahold of the mic again after their set. That’s definitely part of the fun, but I’m not so sure how helpful it is to staying fit as a comic.
JPR: I think it helps [with staying fit], if you’re able to come up a fun zing between comics, you can keep the energy up, and move things along.
How do you feel about Cambridge as proving ground for new material? Would you say Cambridge is different than other cities?
JPR: I don’t find it to be any different than any other city. I have seen so many great people go on to do great stuff from that mic. I like watching people do their material, seeing people find out they really like doing standup, and sometimes that they really don’t.
RC: I think there used to be more of a difference, or at least it was more talked about, but in general every room is a little different than another.
Over the course of time would you say you have seen more comics come and stay or more of them come and go?
RC: It’s a spectrum. There’s people that are out every night, there’s people that are out a few nights, then there are ones you see once a month. There’s always gonna be ones that quit.
Do you see a lot of oddball acts?
JPR: Yes! I think especially more at our mic than others. We always get odd ball acts because it’s a prime location where people can walk by, see people performing and say to themselves, “There’s a good place to act like a crazy person.”
There seems to more and more TV shows that are based on standup comics. Do you think this will cause an influx of new people to try standup?
JPR: Yes! And I hate it! I watched an episode of “I’m Dying Up Here.” I thought it was the most boring show I had ever seen. People watch stuff like that and go, “Oh, I wanna do that!”
Is there anything that comics do that gets on your nerves?
JPR: If the energy in the room is very low, instead of bring the energy up, they go up there thinking that their set is going to be bad, and instead of bringing the energy back up, they just shit on the room.
Over the years, have you witnessed comics turning on the crowd?
JPR: Oh yeah, but it’s understandable. You tell a joke, no one laughs, and you’re just like, “Fuck you.”
The Middle East can be a loud room and tough to do well in, so when you see someone have a killer set, would you say it’s more of a win compared to some of the easier mics?
RC: Yes. The room just feels amazing when it happens. It’s magic.