Photo by Sarah Kinbar
Kevin Deane at a Wednesday comedy open mic at Bull & Bush
Venues booking major comedy acts, like the Improv, Hard Rock Live and Dr. Phillips Center, are no doubt important to Orlando's comedic ecosystem, but the best of the best don’t serve up laughs at big venues unless they’ve had a ridiculous amount of practice.
In Orlando, an important breeding ground for local comedic talent is the Wednesday night open mic at Bull & Bush, the British pub in the Milk District. Though it may not get as much attention as the Shit Sandwich weekend night at the same venue, dozens of great entertainers consistently show up and make hump day the best day of the week.
When he was younger, St. Cloud comedian Kevin Deane started watching Chris Rock and Eddie Murphy and quickly recognized comedy as “the last remaining art form that allows people to tell the truth.” He started doing open mics in 2016, and by 2019 he took his comedy seriously enough to make a career of it.
Bull & Bush’s mic on Wednesdays is one of the more reliable local proving grounds, in his opinion. “When I'm trying out new material I take it to Bull & Bush because I know that there's gonna be people there who will pay attention,” says Deane.
He’s right, the room is packed, but often it’s more full of comedians than patrons. Deane thinks that Bull & Bush makes sense as a week-night destination.
“In terms of these post-pandemic times, there would be so much value if people broke up the monotony of what they were normally gonna do on a Wednesday night and went and experienced live comedy. There's statistics that show changing your routine, changing your pattern, can release endorphins,” he says. “It brings out happiness and we're literally doing that. You're coming to a mic and getting laughter. You're getting surrounded by people who may not look or think like you. There's diversity. No two comics are alike.”
Deane’s set takes the audience on a rollercoaster. He frontloads it with controversial topics like race, gender and sexuality, and then gets into storytelling about his relationships and parents. His set is spiked with hot-button topics throughout, and it’s the open mics where he hones his craft and tests new bits on the audience. In other words, he needs open mics. They are essential to growth on the comedic journey.
Bull & Bush is under new ownership, and the future of this Wednesday open mic may be in jeopardy. The owners, understandably, want to make sure every night they’re open is revenue-positive. As such, the ratio of comedians to patrons needs to change immediately.
Ross McCoy, the official host of the mic, has this to say: “We don't live in a communist-funded society where the arts are state-sponsored. We do our comedy work in businesses, and they have to make money to be able to pay electric bills, their booze license, food and staff. Like, stuff adds up quick, you know?”
McCoy is doing his part to drum up business: He posted in a private Facebook group for local comedians and encouraged stand-ups to be Bull & Bush customers, not just visitors who do sets without placing orders. He also added flair to Wednesdays by mixing up the hosting duties. Now a different comedian plays host each week.
This Wednesday, Jan. 25, Danielle Mathis, a very funny comedian whose hosting skills are as strong as her stand-up, will be in charge. On Feb. 1, Jake Ricca takes over. Ricca has translated his YouTube success to the mic and has built a strong stand-up following over the past few years. On Feb. 8, Nifer Sims will be on deck. Sims has an acting and improv background and started stand-up in May of last year.
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