If you want to become the next comedy sensation or mega rock star, you've gotta start somewhere, right? Up-and-coming comedians, singers and poets take the stage each week at various open-mike nights throughout the East Valley in an effort to get their voices heard.
We found a few fun spots — from poetry slams to music jams — where the next Michelle Branch or David Spade may be carving their path to stardom.
Variety at Undici Undici
The next generation of Pete Yorns and John Mayers patiently wait their turn to take the stage at Undici Undici Fine Art Coffeehouse on a recent Wednesday during open-mike night. Singer and guitarist Russ LePrie takes his turn in the spotlight, strumming his guitar and moving through mellow rock songs titled "Nightlight Jesus" and "Smitten" for an eclectic packed house.
A few teenage girls swoon as LePrie rocks the mike, while a more rowdy bunch of intoxicated young men randomly screams out sentiments such as "you (expletive) rock" and "rock and roll, man."
“This is hands down the best open-mike in the Valley,’’ LePrie, 25, of Mesa says of the Monday and Wednesday occasions, which range from music jams to stand-up. “They have the best crowd, ambience and equipment. They treat an open-mike as if it's a stadium.’’
While each performance varies — from a fortysomething man belting out Johnny Cash to a man in his early 20s playing guitar with his mouth — the coffeehouse treats each performer as if he or she were a rock star. Regardless of the performance, the audience never hisses or boos.
“The crowd is pretty receptive,’’ LePrie says. “It's a good place for musicians to get their start.’’
Undici Undici Fine Art Coffeehouse (1111 S. Longmore, #3, Mesa,  649-0713) hosts open mike from 8 to 11 p.m. Monday and Wednesday. Admission is free and all ages are welcome.
Comedy at Sets
Twenty comic hopefuls take the stage each week when the Sets hosts the Funniest Person in the Valley contest. The contest — which started at Tempe Improv and then moved to Celebrity Theatre before settling in at the Sets — gives wannabe comedians a chance to shine during a four-minute performance. An audience vote determines a finalist every week.
Creator and host Jimmy Danelli says the Sets is “the Cadillac of open-mike nights.’’ For the finals, which are held on the 10th week, judges from cable TV networks Comedy Central and HBO help determine the winner, who receives $1,000 and a chance to open for a national act.
Danelli says open-mike nights provide comedians with a chance to find their voice and work on their material. “I'm all for open mikes,’’ he says. “I think comics need stage time.’’
Danelli says comics must sign up two or three weeks in advance to perform.
The Sets (93 E. Southern Ave., Tempe) hosts the Funniest Person in the Valley contest at 8 p.m. Friday. The next contest begins July 18. Call Jimmy Danelli at (480) 982-7257 to register. Admission to watch is $10 ($15 for the finals). People younger than 21 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Singing at Jilly's
Open mike takes a karaoke turn at Jilly's American Grill, with performers — including some of the restaurant's staff — jumping on stage and getting the crowd involved in singalong renditions of covers such as Live's "Lightning Crashes," Billy Joel's ‘‘Piano Man,’’ Bon Jovi's ‘‘Bad Medicine’’ and the Righteous Brothers’ ‘‘You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling.’’
“Everybody is pretty accepting here so far,’’ says open-mike host Todd Miller, who co-hosts the weekly night with Ethan Newman. “We've only been doing this for three weeks and it's getting better every week.’’
Miller says a few local musicians have stopped by to perform. “I think everyone is looking to get their voice heard,’’ he says.
But don't think that you have to be a pro to sing. Everyone is welcome to take the stage at Jilly's, whether they're the next Christina Aguilera or an in-the-shower crooner.
“Everybody has something to offer, whether it's attitude or talent or both,’’ Miller says. “Everybody brings something to the table.’’
Jilly's American Grill (7301 E. Butherus Drive, Scottsdale) hosts open mike from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday. Admission is free. Call (480) 368-8663 for more information.
Poetry at Priceless
Priceless Inn's poetry slam is packed on Thursdays — the bar's busiest night of the week — when Emerg McVay of Valley band Bionic Jive hosts the Blunt Club. McVay, along with Bionic Jive tour manager Keith Nichols, came up with the idea for the poetry slam when the band was touring with hip-hop outfit D12 last year.
“It started out slow at first, but now it's catching on,’’ he says. “It's interesting. You have all different poets from all different walks of life meeting in one spot.’’
In addition to poets, you'll find DJs, graffiti artists, break dancers and MCs.
“We have all the elements of hip-hop in one spot,’’ McVay says. “People like to come down because it's not like your normal slam poetry spot. And you don't have to be a slam poet to compete.’’
First-place prize is $50, with other performers winning gift certificates, concert tickets, T-shirts and CDs.
The audience can enjoy $2 drafts, domestic longnecks and well drinks until 11 p.m.
McVay says open-mike nights are gaining popularity in the East Valley. “Now people see there's an outlet to be successful at it,’’ he says. “The trend is catching on.’’
Priceless Inn (5014 S. Price Road, Tempe) hosts open mike from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday. Cover is $5. Call (480) 897-1466 for more information.