Developing my standup comedy skills at Open Mic

in Culture / Entertainment/LEIPGLO/What's on

It’s 2019, so the time is once again here to count on all of those “firsts” for a new year. First trip of 2019, first date of 2019, first new hobby of 2019 – this list can go on indefinitely.

Fortunately for us, the first LeipGlo Cocktail Open Mic of 2019 is also on the horizon. On the evening of February 8th, Leipzig will once again be graced with multiple flows of on-stage talent.



 

Rest assured, there will be singing, poetry, story telling, possibly even burlesque, and in my case, a variation of getting up on the stage and trying to evoke a certain action from the crowd – laughter. Some of you may know it better as standup comedy, and for the sake of brevity in most situations, I also address it as such, but I don’t think I’d class myself in the category of standup comedian just yet.

This is my story of developing my own flair of a stage presence, and how an open mic and other avenues can help you do that too.

Defeating stage fright early on was a skill gifted to me.

A lot of people have stage fright, and I think this makes sense. The most sociable humans in the world can also immediately lock up on stage, and justifiably so. I mean when you think about it, there’s actually nothing natural about it. You get up on a stage, the spotlight is literally on you, you’re now the focus of every set of eyes in the audience, and you now must command the atmosphere of the room. It’s really not an easy task, especially if this is a skill you’re still looking to develop!

I’ve been fortunate enough to have life throw me some challenges in this area, so I’ve kinda just developed this skill passively over the years. Very early on in my professional career, I was a weaponry and tactical communications systems specialist for the United States Navy. That is a lot of military jargon, but one of the things I actually had to do daily in combat zones was brief various commanding officers on the status of all systems in the region.

These were top level officers – we’re talking like two to three steps away from the President of the United States when it comes to military operations. I was twenty years old when I started doing this, and yes, it was stressful at first. High level officers (or top brass, as we like to call them in the military) do not care about the how’s and the why’s with all this technical stuff; all they want to know is what level of readiness stuff is at so we can react accordingly depending on varying situations.

Going through this grind DAILY at such a young age is going to eventually make you impervious to stage fright.

And that it did. After going through various tours in the Middle East, talking to these guys didn’t faze me anymore. Since then, getting up in front of any other crowd hasn’t intimidated me.

Tackling stage fright is one thing; being eloquent on a stage is something completely different.

So my time in the military gave me the confidence to get up in front of any crowd without the fear of having all eyes on me, but it didn’t really do anything for my stage presence. – because this is something else entirely. When I spoke in front of these guys during my military time, it wasn’t very entertaining, and there was really no story involved. I just showed a bunch of charts, diagrams, maps, and other stuff while people nodded in agreement. Done.

As you can imagine, honing the public speaking skills of their personnel is not really a high priority for the US Military, so no one ever really trained me on how to have a good stage presence. Sure, afterwards I had some speech classes at university, but like many things that are not related to your primary field of study, I just kinda blew these classes off.

There are, however, two things that have really helped me develop a stage presence:

1. Becoming a master of Toast

My last employer stateside hosted its own Toastmasters chapter, and had bi-weekly meetings. What’s Toastmasters, you ask? It’s an international organization completely devoted to enhancing public skills in a supportive environment. Official Toastmaster clubs will always be operated in English, regardless of where you find them in the world (basically every major city). Naturally, there are affiliate associations of Toastmasters which operate in the local language as well. I did this for about two years back in Boston, and the three things I loved about this were:

  • Safe and productive speaking environments. Everyone at Toastmasters has the same goal, so there is no harsh judgement. It doesn’t matter if you completely mess up your first speech, the audience and organizers will give you the feedback necessary to do better next time.
  • Structured learning. Public speaking entails a lot of different elements, and people don’t generally see this at first. Toastmasters will give you different objectives to hit on every speech, such as body language, or voice tone, or using different props. This gives you the opportunity to build one skill at a time.
  • Table topics. This is my wildcard here that basically was the catalyst for my pursuit of comedy. “Table topics” are impromptu 2-3 minute speeches at Toastmasters. Audience members are randomly selected and given a topic, and have to give a speech on the fly. I realized very quickly I had a natural ability to perform well with this style of speaking.

For those interested, Leipzig also has its own Toastmasters chapter and a German equivalent, Leipziger Redensfreiheit, where you can improve your skills right here in this community.

2. Improv Comedy

As just mentioned, I really liked doing those “table topics” at Toastmasters, so my last 6 months in Boston I decided to sign up for an improv comedy course. For those unfamiliar, improv is where a group (at least two people) will act out scenes with no planning at all, and they have to try to make it funny! They have to rely on each other to keep the story going.

via GIPHY

While I didn’t do this long enough to start getting into stage performances, I did do it long enough to train myself to use parts of my brain that are normally dormant. There’s a lot of weird exercises you’ll do in improv which will help you develop the needed skills to think on the fly. This can really help out with stage fright, teaching you how to very easily recover if you lose your train of thought on the stage. When you know you can do that, your confidence and delivery onstage really show it.

How am I using these stage skills today?

I work in marketing, so I talk a lot for my job. The capacity in which I work in Leipzig requires me to hold a lot of presentations and workshops all over Europe, so being good on a stage has been an extremely beneficial skill to have in this regard. I also know exactly what kind of speaker I am – a winger.

I’m not the type of person who prepares to get up on stage. In fact, I’ve noticed that in my case, preparing too much actually causes my performances to suffer. I will only use slides if it’s absolutely required, because I hate slides. It doesn’t matter what I am about to do onstage – I typically come up with a core concept in my head a couple hours, at most, before going up, and I spin the rest up on the go from my own life experiences. Knowing how I speak, and what makes me most comfortable on the stage, is a skillset that will be useful for the rest of my life.

How did the LeipGlo open mics bring me to yet another level?

I started this article talking about getting into standup comedy, and a big part of that is owed to the open mic events! This is the 6th one coming up in February, and to date I have only missed one. I’ve gone up on stage at every single open mic I’ve attended, and have worked on my on-the-fly storytelling skills.

I call myself a hybrid comedian, because that’s truly what I feel I am. I don’t write proper jokes for my performances like a more experienced, “pure comedian;” rather, I pull real life experiences I’ve had, and give them flair to make them humorous, relatable and entertaining. Everything I say onstage is a real thing I’ve experienced or gone through.

I’ve also “officially” started doing standup comedy for Shameless Showcase, which hosts quarterly English standup comedy events in Plagwitz. So between Shameless and the LeipGlo open mics, I’m doing some kind of comedy performance about once every month and a half.

What I love most about the open mic is the vibe of the crowd, and the variation of everything that is happening. You never know what the next person on the stage is going to do, and this keeps everyone in the crowd really engaged: One minute you’re listening to professional opera singers, the next you’re hearing light-hearted stories about a Filipino kid (me) growing up in Chicago dealing with racism.



I owe a lot of development in my stage presence to the open mic, and am humbled that they’ve asked me to actually be the headliner at the next one. Does it add an extra element of stress? Sure. Is that going to throw me off? Nah.

I recommend Leipglo’s Cocktail Open Mic to everyone, truly. It doesn’t matter if you want to get up on the stage or not, and I will emphasize again: anybody can go up on the stage to do anything they want, there are really so many cool things happening. You might discover something you never knew existed in Leipzig, or meet someone who shares a passion that you have as well.

So swing by on February 8th, get inspired, and maybe even laugh a little bit with us.


Cocktail Open Mic Vol. 6: Letting go

Friday the 8th of February 2019, 8-11:30 PM

LOCATION:

Baileo – Tanzpassion Leipzig is right upstairs (second floor) from the club ELSTERARTIG – Dittrichring 17, 04109 Leipzig

HEADLINER:

Shawn Segundo

HOST:

Peter Seaton-Clark


Performers sign up at door and get in free, plus one free drink of their choice


PROGRAM:

8-8:30 PM: Welcome drink & mingling

8:30-9:30 PM: Open stage (anyone can perform)

9:30-9:50 PM: Break & mingling

9:50-10:20 PM: Open stage (anyone can perform)

10:20-10:30 PM: Shawn Segundo

10:30-11:30 PM: Open stage (anyone can perform)


BYOM – bring your own music


5€ cover | 3€ reduced
THOSE ARRIVING IN FIRST HOUR GET A WELCOME DRINK

Part of the proceeds goes to LeipGlo fund

Public and performers mingling at Stan's bar at our Cocktail Open Mic on 8 June, 2018. (Photo: Justina Smile Photography)
Public and performers mingling at Stan’s bar at our Cocktail Open Mic on 8 June, 2018. (Photo: Justina Smile Photography)

Shawn eventually made his way from his home country of the United States to Germany in 2014 and is now the Marketing Director at SpinLab – The HHL Accelerator. When he’s not helping startups scale, he can normally be found trying to learn another language, dancing salsa, hip hop, or on his longboard, doing stand up comedy, or simply just jamming on his ukulele.

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