For beginner and veteran comics alike, an open mic is a valuable medium for trying out material before an audience.
Michelle Alexis Newman’s ongoing series, “The Open Mic,” serves a similar function: She pairs her portraits of comics with an original, handwritten joke as an opportunity to show their stuff to viewers.
The idea for the project came a few years ago when Newman was wandering Seattle’s University District with her friend, Devin Badoo, and they stumbled upon Giggles Comedy Club. On a whim, Badoo, who’d never done stand-up before, decided to try doing a set during the club’s open mic.
“He was actually pretty good. The audience wasn’t too abusive toward him. They were pretty forgiving,” she said.
Badoo and Newman stayed through the entire open mic and, when they eventually left, Newman found that she couldn’t stop thinking about the people she’d seen on stage.
“It felt super vulnerable to me. It was people performing who hadn’t seasoned their act yet, so it was like a practice session. That was fascinating to me because I’d never thought of comedy as a process,” she said.
That night was the beginning of Badoo’s foray into comedy, and the beginning of Newman’s project. For her first shoot, she photographed Badoo, creating lighting and background conditions in her studio that mimicked the neutral look of a comedy club’s stage. From there, she began recruiting other comics from Giggles to sit for her.
Since the project began, Newman moved to L.A., where she started frequenting comedy events at the Downtown Independent and Echoplex. She’s been photographing more established comedians in her new city, including a few who’ve been on Conan. Still, she strives to capture comedians of all skill levels, and no matter what stage they’re at in their career, she said, they all occasionally return to their roots for an open mic.
“Even Louis C.K. will just drop in on an open mic sometimes. It’s part of their process and their practice and structure,” she said.
You can follow Newman on Instagram.