By Colin Hunter
Every Tuesday night at Oakham House a makeshift stage is set up and Ryerson’s creative students are given an outlet for expression called “Open Mic Night.” In this case, open means very open.
“Anything goes,” says the night’s host, an impish, wild-haired young man known simply as Happy Joe. “Whether you play music, whether you can twist your eyelids in some weird way, or whether you can hold a can of pop between your shoulder blades — anyone is welcome to come show off what they can do.”
‘If you name it we’ve done it’ — Odelia Bay, RyeSAC prez
If gross-out humour or body contortion isn’t your speciality, Joe insists you could grab a guitar and play a couple songs.
Now on an extended hiatus from his studies at Ryerson and working at a belly dancing school by day, Joe says his true passion is hosting Open Mic Night every week. He was a regular performer at the weekly event last year. His incessant smiling during his trademark morose acoustic guitar direges earned him the cheeky nickname, Happy Joe.
Happy Joe’s unbridled enthusiasm for the open mic concept made him a natural successor when the previous host stepped down. “He handed down the chalice with a beer and a cigarette,” says Joe.
Joe strives to maintain one ideal: anyone, no matter what his or her talent is, should be given a chance to show off.
“The idea is just to give everyone the opportunity to get behind a microphone and perform, whether it be music, poetry, or whatever else they can do. All they have to do is sign up before the show, and go for it,” he says.
It’s a formula that has proven successful. Oakham House night manager Mike Lunkruus says on an average Tuesday night about 75 people come to take in the performances, or to perform themselves. “It’s a place where you can show off any talents you have, or just sit, drink and enjoy the show.”
Attendance at Open Mic Night has been growing since its inception several years ago, thanks to positive word of mouth.
“Tuesday is now the second busiest night of the week,” Linkruus says. “Not far behind the Thursday pub night.”
Asked whether he or the bar has ever considered charging a cover for the night, Happy Joe dismisses the idea as blasphemy. “As long as the youngsters keep buying the booze at the bar, Open Mic Night will never, ever have a cover.”
Matt Hryhorsky, a second-year information technology student, has played guitar and sung every Tuesday night this year. He is working on a demo tape and finds Open Mic Night a great opportunity to hone his stage skills.
For him, the real joy is the sense of community the event fosters. “It’s a great outlet for artists, who normally wouldn’t get the chance to play, to get the full support of the other musicians. There’s no greater feeling than playing and getting that kind of support.”
Hryhorsky adds that there’s another important draw for budding artists. “You can get drunk for free because the bar gives free beer to performers,” he says.
Happy Joe is, not surprisingly, happy about the success of Open Mic Night, but vows to make it bigger and better as the year goes on. “My goal is to pack the crap out of the bar every Tuesday,” he says.
With a slightly sinister smile he adds, “My goal is also to destroy all dance music and kill Thursday nights.”
RyeSAC president Odelia Bay rarely misses a Tuesday night at Oakham. She sees it as a telling testament to Ryerson’s character.
“One of the main strengths about Ryerson is our diversity,” she says. “The Open Mic Night is a way to encourage and foster that diversity in a really cool environment.”
‘My goal is also to destroy all dance music and kill Thursday nights.’
Diversity is an understated word when one considers some of the performances held at previous Open Mic Nights.
“We’ve had all sorts of insane things here,” Bay says. “We’ve done sexual yodelling, we’ve had a chocolate-covered grasshopper eating contest, we’ve made some big-ass origami on stage — you name it, we’ve done it.”
Could a mic be any more open than that?