.The Improv’s Open Mic Opens the Door to New Comedians

A new season of San Jose Improv’s Open Mic nights puts local comics on stage

Luke Abranches started performing comedy in April of 2021 when his brother (also a comedian) took him to an open mic in New York City.

Luke was 12 years old. 

Now 14, the young performer has already made a big impression on judges and audience members at the San Jose Improv. At a recent Open Mic night, Abranches was selected as a Top 2 performer, securing him a spot at the venue’s Open Mic Showcase. On Wednesday the 14th, another group of performers will vie for the Top 2 spots, when Open Mic night returns to the Improv.

Abranches says that when he walks onstage, audience members immediately start laughing because of his age. But he doesn’t mind; the laughs are the goal.

“I’ve walked out on stage to laughing so I’m already killing,” he says.

Though his material revolves around being a high school freshman, he says everyone can relate to the hardships.

“I actually think it works better that they’re older than me, it helps them feel nostalgic, or even reminisce on past moments when they were in middle school or high school,” he says. 

The young comedian is grateful for the opportunity the Improv’s open mics have provided. While he doesn’t mind performing for an older audience, he can’t even cross the threshold at most comedy clubs for another seven years.

“It’s definitely, obviously, a big opportunity. I really appreciate that the San Jose Improv did that,” Abranches says.

The Improv’s open mic nights operate like talent show auditions. Eighty or so performers show up each night, of which twenty are randomly selected to do a four-minute set. Performers whose jokes don’t land, or who don’t connect well to the audience, get the boot. 

Top 2 performers of the night are selected based on audience laughs and the judging of organizers David Williams and Ato Walker. Those comedians later appear in the showcase night along with the other open mic winners, and have the opportunity to open for national headliners visiting the Improv.

When Richmond comedian Cordé Snell was given the opportunity to open for one of his comedy idols, Eddie Griffin, he was “starstruck.”

“It was probably one of the best shining moments of my comedy career,” Snell says.

Snell grew up watching Griffin in movies and comedy performances. Winning a Top 2 slot in the open mic and making an impression on the judges put clips of his comedy in Griffin’s hands. 

When the two met backstage, Griffin complimented Snell’s act. 

“He’s like, ‘and then I saw your stuff. You pretty funny, man.’” Snell says. “Like, Eddie Griffin thinks I’m funny, oh my God.” 

He opened for Griffin for four sold-out shows over two days. 

Organizer David Williams says the open mic’s goal is to recognize and incubate local talent in the thriving San Jose comedy scene. While most of the performers are from San Jose, some come from around the Bay Area. Others have come from as far as LA and New York. 

“I want to get as many comedians out there as possible,” Williams says. “I want to open the door to as many people as possible.” 

Williams adds that even comics who don’t get into the Top 2, and therefore don’t make it to the showcase, get invaluable feedback and repeat opportunities for time on stage. 

“We take that opportunity to give them the feedback,” Williams says. “This whole open mic thing is…to get them to understand what it’s really like when you’re working with the professionals.”

His co-organizer, Ato Walker, says “the vision was to try and figure out how to have an open mic at the San Jose Improv that was somewhat equitable.”

Walker says they’ve “captured lightning in a bottle” in creating a new door for taking risks in San Jose’s “edgy, punk rock” comedy scene. 

“We present the opportunity, we’re advocating for these comics, because we saw them in real time,” Walker says. “That’s where that opportunity to grow and learn and live your dreams comes in.” 

Open Mic

Second Wed of the month, $5

The Improv, San Jose

1 COMMENT

  1. Austin comedy scene can learn a thing or 2 from San Jose. Proud to be from San Jose.

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