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
______________BELOW INTERVIEW FROM 2015________________
"It kills me that loneliness and boredom often are not motivating enough to generate more art."
How would you describe yourself?
Professionally, I am a stand-up poet—a poet with a healthy dash of humor added for flavor. I am a late-blooming vagabond. A hobo-humorist. A get-paid-to-talk and say-things-my-way. Personally, I love making people laugh and cry in close proximity. I’m an ambivert—half extroverted, half introverted. As much as I love being the center of attention, I also eagerly desire solitude. One state helps me create; the other helps me promote. I love people and creatures very much. I am very honored to be alive in this now.
In his book, The War of Art, Steven Pressfield explains “resistance” as anything that blocks you from creating. What are some forms of resistance for you, and how do you deal with them?
I am often blocked by my lack of focus and motivation to write, due in large part to loneliness and boredom. It kills me that loneliness and boredom often are not motivating enough to generate more art. Three quarters of the time, I end up turning to my addiction: mindlessly surfing the internet until I fall asleep. The rest of the time I will go for a walk or ride my bike. If I am uninspired to write about life, it probably means I need to go live more of it. Whatever happens, I am always sure to never beat myself up for not being creative that day. It does nothing for future me. I am always productive—whether it is a product I can sell or merely a new thing I know, it’s still beneficial to me, especially future me.
Dream dinner party: You, Andy Warhol, and…?
Tough call. On a whim—Frida Kahlo, Nina Simone, Mark Twain, and James Baldwin.
What’s the best creative advice you’ve ever received?
Be patient and keep editing until it makes sense to all of your senses.
Content Magazine Literary Series is curated by
Santa Clara County Poet Laureate David Perez
Entire article originally appeared in Issue 7.2 “Connect”