Stand-Up Poet Mike McGee

Mike McGee is a spoken word artist, author, and comedian. Every month, he hosts a series of live performance events in San Jose and Santa Clara, encouraging comics, poets, musicians, and other artists to contribute to the South Bay’s growing arts community. These include a talent competition (Go Go Gong Show), a storytelling open mic (The Burning Tale), and a literary arts open mic (Live Lit). At these and other events, he displays a rare talent for capturing audience attention and engagement.

According to McGee, the key to this is incorporating both dramatic and comedic material and being aware of audience experience at every part of the process. “It’s my job,” he says, “to make the audience’s facial expressions change—happiness, sadness, belonging. It should be an audible adventure that is malleable in some way.”

His book of poetry, In Search of Midnight, mirrors this sensitivity by offering a series of narrative poems that bring the reader to many different stops on an emotional spectrum. Understated and reflective pieces are often followed by what McGee calls comedic “release valves” that make the collection unique in its readability.

McGee also serves as a board member of Poetry Center San Jose, a non-profit offering programs and events that promote diverse literary expression. He wants to help local literary and performance art communities outgrow some of the traditional rigidity between performer and audience. “A lot of people perform as if the audience isn’t there, like they’re uncomfortable having a conversation, but performance isn’t that different from a conversation. Real conversation,” he says, “isn’t just about you. It’s about everyone involved. It has to be an equal blend of both. The whole time I’m performing, I’m listening to the audience. If you listen, they’ll tell you what they need.”

Video and synopsis by David Perez
Photography by Gregory Cortez

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