Since this blog is read is by both comedians and non-comedians, let me put this out there. I have never met a comedian who wanted to be heckled. You don’t become a work every week comic by just being able to shut down hecklers. You have to possess at least 30 minutes to start touring as a feature. No booking agent looks at your promo tape and expects to see a bunch of crowd rap. You get hired off of your material.
Now, I think my material is really solid and I know it has plenty of laughs per minute, but my greatest strength is how I deal with an audience. This is generally to my benefit, as when there is a rowdy crowd I can use my improv skills to keep them from taking the show over. When it’s a crowd with no energy, I can bring them into my show to levitate their collective spirit. These are great skills to have as a road comic or at a major comedy club. I have this burning desire to make every show seem memorable.
This would seem to the layman to be exactly the attitude you should take as a comedian. While this style will keep you working, it doesn’t translate to video. You can post the most amazing audience riff which is slaughtering in the comedy club and most of it is lost when you post it on You Tube. This is why standup on TV is so generic. There just is no way to bring that live energy to a video screen. It is very much like music where some bands are far better in the live setting than they are in the studio. Same goes for standup, as some comics are precision joke machines on TV, but nothing changes when they get in front of a live audience. You might has well stayed home with their DVD.
Being a great improviser is something to behold in a comedy club, as the energy from that leaves the audience with the feeling they will never see that same show again. Comics like Jimmy Pardo, Greg Fitzsimmons, and Todd Glass bring this type of what’s going to happen next energy. It takes supreme confidence to be able to succeed with this type show. You have to not only be unafraid to walk the tightrope of being one person holding control of 150 people, but you have to embrace it. When you succeed, there is nothing more exhilarating I’ve experienced in standup.
Last weekend I was at one of my favorite clubs, the Joke Joint Comedy Club. Run by Ken and Becky Reed, the club has a unique mix of standup every night. This is greatly aided by the deep stable of talent that MC and Feature the club from the Twin Cities area. I know this will probably ruffle some feathers, but I think there are as many good feature acts based in the Cities, as there are in the rest of the whole Midwest. Acme Comedy Club open mics have helped develop a great comedy scene there and the newer clubs like the Joke Joint and the House of Comedy have brought even more opportunities to develop. I’m sure there are shitty comics from the area, but I haven’t worked with one in a long time who wasn’t at least solid.
What the Reed’s have done is bring in some headliners who are not Acme-like. As good as most comics that come out of the Acme building are, they don’t always translate well to other places. I’m not just talking outside the state, I’m talking in the state and even in the city. The crowds at the Joke Joint are more working class and they don’t want to watch 90 minutes of ironic detachment. They prefer Everybody Loves Raymond to 30 Rock. They prefer classic rock to shoegazer. No judgments here, I just think it was a void that the Reeds have filled. Last week the show was beautifully balanced with MC Raleigh Weld and feature act Dave Johnson. Both of them appealed to different elements of the audience, while still being able to connect with most everyone. The art of fitting different comics on a show is really missed by a lot of comedy clubs, but every time I’ve been to the Joke Joint, I’ve felt the mix was really balanced.
Now the Saturday first show is the money show. It is the largest crowd and the one that should be the easiest to do well at. The one challenge with the early Saturday show is that it is usually the most conservative, as the audience is usually older. Both early Friday and Saturday shows at the Joke Joint were sold-out, with the Friday show being a great audience. The Saturday show was a mix of really laid back people and a couple of bizarre drunks. I will show how I handled each of them, differently.
The front row featured 3 guys who had their arms crossed. I’m not big on picking on the front row, but body language and non-responsive people sitting there are impossible for me to ignore. At one point I started discussing them and then mentioned that these guys probably don’t like to laugh so to not be rude, they put their fingers in their armpits so they could tickle themselves during my show. I’ve been on-stage for nearly 2 decades and have never heard this type of analysis of this particular body language red-flag, so it was fun for that one to come out of thin-air and into my strange brain.
There was a guy who kept whistling at ear shattering levels after jokes I did he really liked. I finally called him out because it was wrecking my timing. He was towards the back, so I had no idea who he was. What I found out was it was a chick. Oops. I mean this was world-class, construction worker whistling, so I was kind of surprised by this. I told her that I appreciated her enthusiasm, but she should save her obnoxious whistle for the state fair husband calling competition. I finished by saying can you imagine how embarrassed your Mom would be if she was there listening to you? Of course, that woman’s name would be Whistler’s Mother. Look, I’m not above a groaner if I think it reflects some type of off-the-cuff intelligence.
Finally, let me discuss a drunk guy on his birthday and his more drunk daughter. They were both pain in the asses, as often comes when people think it’s my party and I’ll heckle if I want to. They were Minnesota hillbillies, so I treated them as such. I took turns pitting them against each other and discussing their Jerry Springer existence. The weird thing is besides the couple of loonies, the rest of the audience was really laid back. This had changed by the end as I revved up the room into a free-for-all type frenzy. FUN.
Now when you have one disturbance, it is one thing, but when you have multiple fires popping up, it can be nearly impossible to curb the flames. When this happens, I try to make it the biggest circus atmosphere I can. All my more eclectic material goes out the window then, as I mix up my most slamming material with commentary about the audience. I constantly acknowledge every thing that is going around me and discuss how I have lost complete control of the audience. In truth, I actually have more control by mentioning what is going on, as it keeps the audience more engaged than just ignoring the crazy zones and just barreling through my act. That whole deodorant ad campaign they did a few years back about never letting them see you sweat was really corny, but it is true when dealing with a wild audience.
Tomorrow I will hit the late Saturday show I did at the Joke Joint. More hi-jinx, as it was one of the wildest shows I’ve ever done.