TRAVERSE CITY — Forty eyes peered at Jeremy West while his train of thought chugged down the tracks and left him behind on the empty stage.
The respectable murmur of laughter that followed his first bit subsided and gave way to a gaping quiet West desperately needed to fill.
Ominous silent blinks and the occasional rattling glass filled the darkened sea of half-empty tables.
“Seriously, I had like five jokes, now I’m drawing a blank,” he said into the mic — it’s cord leading like a lifeline into the shadow off stage. “No one’s booed yet. I had prepared for that. Now, I feel kind of let down.”
He groped for a moment before diving headlong into a modestly successful joke about his cat’s hygiene. It evoked chuckles — not the resounding belly laughs he needed, but it wasn’t silence, either.
And it’s an experience every comic stumbles through repeatedly.
It’s not like the audience at the InsideOut Gallery wasn’t warned before the start of the first Rotten Cherries Comedy Open Mic night. And none of them shelled out more than the cost of a drink to watch seven aspiring performers play a kind of comedy Russian roulette.
Dave Basey, the organizer of the open-mic nights, admonished the small audience early in the night, reminding the onlookers that open mic is where comics learn what works.
“Remember, this is an open mic,” he said. “It is where you practice. It is where it’s OK to suck. This is where people get good.”
Basey took the reins as emcee, peppering the audience with a wise crack or two during short intermissions between comics. He’s probably had as much experience slinging out what he thinks is his best material only getting lukewarm laughs in return.