Last week I performed at a college town in Ohio. It was a bar gig which had a small audience. Probably about 20 people there, for which 17 of them were of college age. Here are a few things I’ve learned when doing a show for a smaller audience.
- Don’t talk at a small audience. Try to be as conversational as possible. If you are standing in front of a small group it comes off very stagey to do the show like you are in front of a larger crowd. To not break the 3rd wall in front of a small group just doesn’t work. Asking questions of the people there is a good way to engage, without coming off like they are being put on the spot.
- Don’t blame the people that are actually there. Since you won’t be getting huge laughs and it will be nearly impossible to get on a roll, it is your instant reaction to blame the people there. I’ve seen it happen too often. It’s okay to acknowledge the difficulty of the show, but don’t blame the people that are there. Remember that it is only natural for a smaller audience to be more reticent to laugh loudly, as the situation makes everyone more self-conscious.
- Change up the way you present your material. It will be hard to be really animated in front of a small group, so instead, slow down your delivery. You are going to get less laughs and you will probably go through your material more quickly without in front of a smaller group, so speaking a little more deliberately will help off-set this. It also helps a smaller group pay more attention. One thing I do to make a small audience feel more comfortable is to sit on a stool during some of my material. It’s make it more intimate, like I’m a storyteller.
- Smile more. When you have a small group it’s vital that you come off likable, even if your material is edgy. Unlike in front of a larger group, you can’t risk turning off even 20% of the crowd, as you will die a quick death without everyone staying on board. Watch Daniel Tosh sometime. He says some of the most awful things, but he has that big toothy grin which allows him to get away with murder.
- Acknowledge the truth of the moment. I cringe every time I hear a comic say something like “you might be laughing, but…” when the audience didn’t laugh. It is even more important to not throw out filler lines like this when the crowd is smaller. It makes everyone want to yell BULLSHIT, when you say something like this. I probably over-analyze my jokes sometime, but I hate for any part of my show to come off like I’m not connected to the audience. Good or Bad. It is never more important to have this attitude when you perform in front of a smaller group. I never judge a comic off a great audience, I judge them on how they do with a difficult one.