(Interview with David Benedetto and Julie Mitchell engineered and edited by Sarah Holtz)
Even on the soupiest of soupy Monday summer nights, New Orleans-based comedian and writer Julie Mitchell can be found holding court over the BEAR WITH ME Open Mic at the Mid-City bar Twelve Mile Limit.
“Two other women who did stand up here and I started it,” said Mitchell, referring to comedians Molly Ruben Long and Ariel Elias who now live in New York. Beginning as a weekly meet-up to do writing exercises, the group soon began to shop around for a location to put on a full show.
And thus, the idea for BEAR WITH ME was born. Two years and some change later, Julie and co-host Laura Sanders are keeping the night going.
Originally from Durham, North Carolina, Mitchell moved to New Orleans on a leap of comedic faith. “I didn’t research,” said Mitchell, “I knew music was huge here and I just figured that the arts would beget the arts and other artistic communities would have legs.”
Luckily, she found the city full of funny and talented people interested in stand-up, improv, visual arts (and plenty of other things) looking to collaborate and perform. And, the best part, it’s growing. In the years since moving here Mitchell says the scene, “has exploded exponentially.” As comedy continues to rise in the New Orleans, it’s important to highlight the role venues serve in the relationship.
“A bar is a good space because people in this town love to drink. We have been so fortunate. At Twelve Mile Limit, all the bartenders and the owner, Cole, like stand-up so they’re really accommodating,” said Mitchell, mentioning that the Twelve Mile staff even built a stage just for the weekly show.
Be it known that this open mic is open for any and all to sign up and that for beginners and veterans alike, the show’s audience serves as a great equalizer. “Stand-up is the loneliest art—I think—because if people don’t like what you’re saying, there’s nothing you can blame it on…it’s just you,” Mitchell said.
She added that enclosed spaces don’t help a rough set. “They’re kind of trapped there, so if they don’t like you it’s not like they’re polite usually. It’s like they really hate you.”
Despite the vulnerability of the stage and a sometimes demanding crowd, Mitchell thinks a lot of success comes down to confidence on stage. “That’s the thing I’m working on right now: being comfortable,” she said, “A part of it is selling it to the audience. If you seem nervous and [seem] to care a lot, it puts a lot of pressure on them and they’re more likely to not find things funny.”
“If I’m really comfortable and I have a joke that bombs, then I’ll just be like, ‘That one was good!’ and then I’ll say ‘F– – you guys!’ And then they’ll laugh because if you’re confident, people are more at ease,” she added.
For Mitchell, comedy has been a constant and evolving interest. “When I was little, I would watch stand-up, and I would love it,” she said, “I don’t think I thought about it as this is what I want to do; I just really identified with it and it shaped the way I thought.”
“I think that for a lot of people that do stand up, it’s because humor is a coping mechanism for them. For me, even if I’m upset and crying…something can just happen in a moment and I’ll just burst out laughing,” said Mitchell, “Even if something is sad or [something] really bad is happening, I think it’s very important for me to constantly be reminded that nothing really matters that much and everything is kind of funny.”
BEAR WITH ME Open Mic Comedy happens every Monday at the bar Twelve Mile Limit, located at 500 Telemachus Street. Sign up is at 8:30 P.M. with the performance starting at 9:00 P.M. You can follow Julie Mitchell on Twitter @juliepoptart.