There is a certain revelatory beauty in every open mic, in watching a rookie attempt their first public performance or a musician introducing you to their newest jam. In our area code, there is also a wealth of talent.
The 2010s were a golden era for open mics in the South Bay. Every week, one could attend several in downtown San Jose, along with a dozen more throughout the Valley. If things go according to plan, there will be even more of them this spring.
These days, Nirvana Soul Cafe aims to be the open mic lighthouse in downtown San Jose’s SoFA District. Starting this month, they offer a weekly line-up of open mic nights that will feel familiar to the former Caffe Frascati crowd. Beginning Jan. 12, local humorist Eli Schwartz will host the cafe’s comedy and poetry open mic nights (held on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively), while singer-songwriter Joy Hackett will host a music-based open mic on Fridays, with a showcase held each first Friday of the month.
Surely, at most open mics, you will hear something that you never want to hear again, but good hosts like Eli and Joy know how to move the show along. Comedian Ato Walker, meanwhile, is the kind of host who can also be the show.
Beginning in 2009, for four years Walker hosted his downtown weekly comedy open mic at Britannia Arms. He followed that with a weekly show at the Caravan Lounge in 2015, which he organized with comedian Rachel Warner (also Best Bartender, Metro’s Best of Silicon Valley 2021) and held right up to the shutdown.
There are few people in this scene more supremely comfortable on stage than Ato Walker. So it was a boon for the South Bay when David Williams, general manager of the San José Improv, connected with Mr. Walker to develop the first official comedy open mic to be held inside the historic theater. Being the boss of the largest comedy venue in a forty-mile radius, Williams eagerly explored the Bay Area comedy landscape, attending nearly every open mic from Sacramento to Santa Cruz.
Ultimately, he felt the potential to grow comedy was strongest around San Jose. His dream was to finally bring an open mic to the 20-year-old Improv, and he knew that Walker was his emcee.
“I needed someone who truly represents the South Bay and Ato epitomizes that in every way,” Williams says.
On Dec. 8, the Open Mic at the San Jose Improv launched to a crowd of over 120 people. Williams and Walker hoped for 20-plus comics to sign up for a shot at a four-minute set on the historic stage, but their expectations were blown away when 65 comedians showed up from all over the Bay. The 18 comics who made the list were, in Walker’s words, “so good that they confirmed why it is so important to have an open mic at the Improv.”
The Improv’s next open mic will be held Jan. 12, but Williams says that if it gets any bigger, they may need to expand to twice a month.
Comedian Pete Munoz has been hosting the comedy open mic at Woodhams Lounge in Santa Clara every Monday for almost nine years. “We started on 408 [April 8th] in 2013,” Munoz says.
A San Jose comedy veteran, Munoz’s reputation as a quick-witted, no-holds-barred host has helped boost Woodhams as one of the most sought out and notorious comedy open mics in the Bay Area. Folks can sign up in person—show at 8pm.
Since May of 2021, Comedian Matthew McCarron has hosted an open mic at Off The Hook sports bar in Campbell. Like many hosts, McCarron was initially very concerned about the spread of infection, but performers have been good about masking, and none of the hosts interviewed for this piece were aware of anyone contracting the virus through open mics.
McCarron rotates hosting duties with other comics, like Mel Michelle, who hosts her own comedy open mic at Britannia Arms in Cupertino on Thursdays. Michelle has noticed that on the nights she hosts, there are more women comedians on the list—a trend she welcomes. Both shows begin at 8pm and folks can sign up in person.
Even with so many events mentioned, it is a pleasure to add the Caravan Lounge Comedy Show back to this list. Rachel Warner has confirmed that comedy will return to Wednesdays beginning Feb. 2 with a slate of rotating hosts—including Ato Walker.
If nothing else, there will be plenty of open mics to keep us all boosted this year.