For many years now, Tampa has been a hot bed of comedy open mics. While still not the most popular entertainment option, comedy open mics occur nearly every night of the week. This is our list of the top ones:
This now leveled lot in St. Pete, used to be an exuberant trailer park bar, complete with beautiful bright neon pink lights on the sign outside, low-key demeanor making it feel real divey, (like a roadhouse,) and good hometown boys working the bar who had no problem going out back with you and letting you smoke in their truck. This place had it all. Claw games, drunk old men on scooters with unicorn heads shouting at the stage, Rickey Hicken. This place was the first place Dan Steen took his clothes off and ran around outside. Completely Nude. There’s video! This one is coming in at #10, because while it’s one of the most gritty raw good-time-rooms John hosted, it only lasted a few months, and the audience was rarely ever attentive, or even interested at all in what was going on. In fact, many times they were upset or offended that comedy was happening in the room with them. Constant anger towards the performers! Mean heckles! Non-stop action in this place. Sadly, it was leveled to the ground, but that’s not why the show stopped. They canceled the open mic about a month before the building was completely torn down. But you know what they say. In the words of Jon Taffer, “If your bar is failing, start an open mic comedy night. It’s your last Hail Mary.”
9. District Tavern
“Come on Downtown and check out the city’s hottest open mic comedy, at a venue that Megastar ‘Drake’ himself has hung out in!” Is something that John used to say when District Tavern had an open mic comedy show, but sadly that venue only lasted 2 weeks before giving up on comedy. The first show, plenty of people were there, lots of comics, lots of audience, some comics may have made some Trump jokes because it was election time. John got nothing but good feedback from the patrons, however the next week the open mic night fell on Halloween, and sadly very few comics or audience were there, so the manager canceled the open mic the following day, citing lack of business and “some people were offended by the Trump jokes.” This venue doesn’t really deserve to be in the top 10 comedy open mics, however, because superstar “Drake” hung out there after his show at the Amelie Arena, to think that Tampa comedians got to perform in a venue that Drake deemed worthy of visiting, must mean that we, as comedians, are as cool as, if not cooler than, Drake.
8. Jazz House
“Right on 7th avenue in Ybor comes Jazz House Jokes! Every Tuesday at 9pm you can catch some of the cities hottest up and coming comics at this beautiful venue, located right next to the burned down amphitheater building!” Is also something John used to say, before this open mic was canceled. With a prime location and infinite foot-traffic you would think this one for sure would be a success, people, talent, lovely venue. Sadly, audiences just didn’t show up. Nobody really cares about Open Mic comedy, which is fair, because how many times have you gone out to watch somebody practice the job they want? Pick up basketball? You don’t go watch a blacksmith work on their craft unless it’s at the State Fair. Nobody wants to see someone who’s not a megastar do something. Anything. If you’re not good at it, we don’t want to see it. And that’s why nobody cares about open mic comedy, because a lot of the time, it’s not the greatest material, it’s people working on figuring out what’s funny, but people don’t focus on the journey, they focus on the destination so when a comic falls flat, it can spoil an entire show, because the audience thinks, “oh this is what this is,” then tunes out. Not to say good comics can’t bring a room back to a roar, but for newer comedians it’s hard to do that when you’re so focused on delivering your material, so it’s not an ideal condition for anybody there. This one only lasted about 5 weeks, but it was notably fun because John was able to run over from the Hub downtown after running his monthly showcase to catch the end of the open mic at Jazz House and hang out with the rest of the community. The venue had wonderful red lights shining on black painted walls on the interior and exterior of the building. It had a Comedy Store feel. It was on a buzzing street. There were moments it felt like a real comedy room, with a good crowd, and an awesome stage. It had so much potential. Whether or not the venue still functions is not entirely known. The building is believed to open some times on the weekend, but nobody has been in there since John was seen there with Deon Cole after hosting a weekend with him at the Tampa Improv.
7. Yard of Ale
Comedy! Comedy folks! Come on in, free comedy show! Some of the best comics in the state, right here, for you, tonight. The “Yard of Laughs” Thursday night comedy show is one of the most epic in town. Located right on 1st avenue in Downtown St. Pete, John is able to rally people into this bar, every week, running a killer comedy open mic with some of the city’s favorite comics. The audience listens sometimes, if there’s not sports on, or it’s not too late in the night when everyone is completely wasted. The open mic follows trivia, so sometimes people left over from trivia stick around and listen to some of the comedy. Sometimes there’s really bad hecklers as well, it’s a balance. Also, it’s right downtown, so when the show is over everyone can walk next-door to MacDinton’s or do cocaine in an alley! The stage is raised up in a corner of the room by the entrance, so you get a feeling of superiority being on the stage higher than everyone, with prime opportunity to heckle incoming patrons from the stage. The audience is the worst part of the show, but who cares? You’re in St. Pete on a Thursday night! Something good will probably happen. This is definitely worthy of the #7 spot on the list of best comedy open mics. Come check it out every Thursday at 10pm. Except you can’t anymore. Because it was canceled after 6 months. (But to be fair, that’s about 5 months longer than anyone thought it would last.)
6. Blue Note
Located right on Nebraska Avenue, this open mic really has that city street vibe to it. Just a short stroll from the encore developments in the heart of downtown, this comedy open mic is the perfect place to buy a Coors out of a cooler and watch some amateur stand up comedy on a Saturday night at 10. Yes, you read that correct, on a Saturday night at 10pm, you can come out and see some cleverly honed syntax be delivered orally. No jokes too dark for this dimly lit venue. I think a total of 3 non-comedian audience members have been spotted here, excluding the owners, making it an intimate vibe, where comics feel free to explore their premises loosely in a fun, unstructured manner. All performers get pretty much as much time as they want to perform, as John is just trying to make the night last at least 2 hours, so he can get paid. Also, this open mic is canceled. It lasted maybe 4 weeks. It’s coming in at #6 because it had a pretty raw, positive feel to it, and also, one night Matt Fernandez came out to it, which is pretty cool, because he never really came to John’s open mics.
5. 5 Star Dive Bar
Coming in at the appropriate #5 spot we have 5 Star Dive Bar! Just a skip away from 7th avenue in Ybor, this cozy venue sits right next to a pizza shop that will bring food right into the venue! How cool! The stage has a window that faces the street, another plus! Friendly bar staff, completely random audience members that stumble unknowingly into a comedy open mic, offended tourists, angry underage children, friendly locals. A plethora of onlookers! Fun guests! Cool decor! With a literal “diving” theme, this place is a great dive bar, covered in pictures of underwater life, and a cut-in-half mannequin diving through one side of the wall to the other. One night a man who couldn’t speak English wandered in and began begging people for money to visit his sick wife in the hospital. Another night a man live-streamed the whole open mic from his phone for “Ybor TV.” John only hosted this open mic a couple weeks before giving up on it and passing the hosting duties to his friend Tim Chirikalov, who then ran the open mic for at least a month or so before it officially ended.
At the appropriate #4 spot we have 439! We used to joke that the venue was 439 square feet, because it was so small, but it was because its address was 439 1st street, the second open mic on that street John started. The owner of 439 is a magician also named John, who serves drinks and performs magic tricks for the guests, right at the bar! With a night of comedy and magic, what more could you want? Apparently, a lot more, because not only was the mic canceled, the bar closed due to lack of business, making it the second time John hosted a mic at a venue that completely shutdown shortly after. At least, unlike Brandy’s, this structure is still intact, so we didn’t mess up too badly. This open mic was intimate and passionate, because it was well lit, and tightly packed, so literally an audience of 3 could feel like a full house. Three’s company. There were regulars for this open mic and they genuinely enjoyed comedy, it was always a very fun, positive, pleasant feel in this place, as everyone was very engaged, because when a bar is so tiny, you can’t really be a loud asshole without everyone immediately noticing. For all these reasons, 439 is the fourth best comedy open mic in Tampa.
3. James Joyce
James Joyce, John Jacobs, it just made sense! Every Monday, come on out to Ybor’s most lovable community bar, the James Joyce. Award winning food, guaranteed crowds due to its proximity to 7th avenue, an exciting city nightlife feel, this open mic has it all! And they do Lobster Monday’s? During the open mic? Can life get any better? I can’t think so! Innumerable taps behind Best of the Bay bartender, Chris’ back. Booming speakers, and a homely fireplace foreground that the performers perform in front of. A bouncer with head tattoos who constantly heckles. Although it’s sometimes annoying, it still adds to the magical charm of this place. Truly a Tampa treasure in itself. This is one of the best open mics in Tampa Bay hands down. Except it got canceled after 6 months because of “Football,” then when football ended they never brought it back because it was “too offensive” and they didn’t want to “censor the comics,” and said they had complaints from some of the regulars, which maybe I can understand, because there was a time a comedian shamed a woman who claimed she was deaf and he said something along the lines of “Bitch no you’re not!” Or the amount of comics who just said distasteful tragedy jokes, which to be fair I may have done a couple, but you’ve got to understand, I was a few years younger, I’ve refined my humor, it’s better now, but anyways, it was one of the best open mics ever, and maybe one day it will come back. Probably not, but maybe! Write your congressperson.
In a 7th avenue gay bar in the heart of GAYbor city lies the greatest comedy open mic you could ever attend on a Wednesday at 6 pm. Have you wondered what amateur stand up is like while the sun is still out? Well wonder no more, presenting: Liquid Comedy. Everybody gets 10-12 minutes, just like all of John’s other mics, (more if you’re good) there’s a built in audience of regulars, because it’s happy hour 2-for-1 Coors, there’s two long grids of neon lights on either side of the venue, they let softcore gay porn play on a projector screen behind the stage, (which they’ve forgotten to turn off sometimes) and big plate-glass windows in the front, so the sun can still shine into the dark-neon interior of this beautiful homosexual oasis. Center stage stands a giant pulsing tower of lights, almost like a giant space unicorn horn, that changes colors. We’ve had patrons from Malaysia come in to share their first taste of America at our comedy open mic. We’ve had men shake their penises at the stage, and towards the audience. That’s right, one time when a guest was going to the bathroom he shouted at John, “You have a small penis!” Then John shouted back, “No I don’t, you do!” Then the guy said, “Then lets see it!” And John said, “No, you do it, I’m not doing it!” Which is where he made his mistake, because the man then immediately exposes himself and started shaking his penis to the stage, and to the crowd at the bar. That then inspired a man at the bar to take his penis out and wave it back at the stage. This happened after the owner had recently told John that, “The vibe during the open mic is feeling too hostile,” because there had been incidences of comics saying bad things and people pretending to be comics, doing things when John wasn’t there to monitor what was going on because he had to get to the Tampa Improv for the 8 pm show, back when they still had Wednesdays. Anyways, the mic was shortly canceled after the men exposed themselves during the mic, but it will live on at the #2 spot forever, because of its uniqueness and excitement. You never knew what was going to happen in that place, and it was always fun. Even though it started at 6 pm on a Wednesday.
1. Cafe Hey (Updated February 2022)
This is the only mic on this list that is still active. Come on by every Monday to the longest-running open mic in Tampa Bay. Hosted by Josh Santos, the Dirty Comedy Latte at Cafe Hey has given a platform to nationally touring acts and comedians from all across the world. This small intimate space is mostly visited by comics that are not in the mood to drive to St Pete or are attempting to attend both. Santos is also the bartender/sandwich maker/marketer/photographer for the event. It is fun watching him struggle to try to do all of that while running the venue.
Honorable Mentions: Dunedin Brewery, Tampa Improv, Side Splitters, Steep Station, Coconuts, Debine, Spitfire, Bigfoots on the River, Pink Piano, Laugh Out Lounge, Emerald, St Pete Brewing, Brü, New World Brewery
Honorable Mentions: (not active) Iberian Rooster, Pegasus, Green Light, Brix Lounge, Red Star Rock Bar, Skitz & Gigglez