“SEATTLE IS A weird city,” says Jack Slattery, as he glances down at my driver’s license before letting me in. “We don’t have to make bumper stickers about how weird we are. We just are.” His Portland dig earns a chuckle from a pair waiting in line behind me. It’s the first laugh of the night at Club Comedy Seattle’s Wednesday open mic. 

Longtime Seattle comedian and event producer Rick Taylor says that no matter how good comics are, nights like this are essential to their creative process. “The function of an open mic is to get the comedians up on stage and give them a chance to work on their material,” says Taylor, who owns the club. “It’s workout night. This is the comedy gym.” 

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Around 7:15 p.m., host Phil Burton warms up the stage with a few jokes of his own and lays down some ground rules. “Remember, this is a monologue, not a dialogue — so no heckling.” 

By night’s end, 32 comics have taken their turn at the mic for a three-minute microset. Jokes range from tried and true comedy-club fodder (therapists, pornography, veganism) to the introspective and unexpected (the immigrant experience, genderqueer dating, childhood fantasies about G.I. Joe). 

Some comics glance down at notecards, making impromptu decisions about which bits to try out. As notable as what is joked about is what isn’t. Not a single comic laments “cancel culture,” and nobody seems interested in jokes about quarantining or life during the pandemic. 

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“I might see what the people before me do, and go off of that,” says Mary Lou Gamba, while scrolling through notes on her iPhone. “If that doesn’t trigger a joke, I can just riff on the audience a little.” 

Located on Capitol Hill, Club Comedy Seattle seats about 100 people and fills up quickly on open-mic nights. Roughly half of the attendees are comics, which means the laughs don’t necessarily come easy. “It’s a supportive but discerning audience,” says Slattery, who works the door and is the final performer of the night. “They aren’t going to laugh at just anything.” 

Meaghan Gross took her first stand-up comedy class after her kids moved away to college. Eight years later, she’s now developing her first hourlong set. She says the local comedy community can feel a lot like siblings. “There can be some shoving in the back seat, but for the most part, we really enjoy watching each other grow.” 

Regulars say it’s not unusual for comics to workshop the same jokes multiple times over the span of a few open mics. Taylor says that’s part of the process, and he listens closely to recognize how the bits are evolving. “That’s the craft element of this; it shows you’re working at it.” 

Throughout the night, Taylor makes a point to come out from the kitchen to give a few young comics an approving fist pound after their sets. A pound from Taylor is clearly a high honor. Second only, of course, to a big laugh from the audience.