Breaking a Comedy Rule: I Blame the Audience

Posing with the staff after a SUCCESSFUL Show at Crackers in Broad Ripple.

One thing most experienced comics will tell you when it comes to a show held in a professional club on a weekend night is there’s no such thing as a bad audience. Well every once in awhile this isn’t the case. Last Friday night at Crackers is a case when I’m going to call foul on the audience.

I was in town already doing a couple things for Super Bowl week in Indy, so Crackers asked if I would feature the club. Definitely. I had worked with headliner Al Jackson before and knew he was a funny, cool dude, so all the better. Now as I’ve outlined before, being the middle act (feature) is the best spot on the bill as you hit the stage during the best part for the audience. No warming up like the MC goes through and no check drops/getting laughed out, like the headliner deals with. Cake.

Well the audience I will speak of was terrible. It was a smaller crowd, 40 to 50 people, but that is plenty of people to have a good show. Before I hit the stage I knew this wasn’t a good group, though, as a friend of mine, who is a funny comic, was MC’ing and he didn’t do well with them. Despite this, I’m egotistical (and throw-in delusional) enough to think that I will always get them on my side. Well not so easy that night. I knew this wasn’t a group where I could be experimental with, trying a lot of newer material, so I hit them hard and was selling it like my life depended on it. An occasional big laugh occurred, but most of my stuff just kind of got a perfunctory sounding guffaw.

Now most comics would in this situation just admit defeat and plow through their 30 minutes and hit the bar. I’m not saying this isn’t the proper way to handle it, by the way. I’m just so fucking competitive I just can’t stand defeat. So I turned the show on it’s head.

So how many of you are at a comedy show for the first time? (A couple people raised their hands.) Well I just want to share with you this is not the way a comedy show usually goes. You see at almost every show I’m part of there is a lot of laughter and people leave feeling like they had a great time. Now I’m not saying this is the audience’s fault tonight, but I will tell you it sure isn’t mine. I kickass night after night, so I do think you need to look inside yourselves and find out what is missing that could keep you from laughing harder at my act. Let me make sure to mention that I’m not blaming anyone individually, but as a group, you do not work well together. Now I have about 10 minutes left of my portion of the show, so let’s suck it up and do better. OK?

The rest did go better from there. It was very risky for me to go at the audience this way, but I just have no understanding why you would come to a comedy club and not want to laugh. I have seen shows where comedians just aren’t well-suited for their people they are performing for, but my current act has been designed to resonate with all ages and all races, except for…

After the show I was out in the lobby selling my merch when people started to come up to me and mention that they thought I was really funny and they were sorry the crowd wasn’t better. That is a very midwestern thing to do, if the audience isn’t great as a collective group there will be some individuals who will take it upon themselves to apologize for that. I’m that type of person, so I appreciate it when I hear it. Now I knew that a large group there that night were black females, but I usually do great with that particular demo, so I didn’t feel like that was the impetus for my having a below average show. Well that was until I saw them come out of the showroom. Upon closer inspection I realized they were all Lesbians.

Now, as I stated, I do well with pretty much all groups. I discuss my bewilderment of homophobia in my show and at least a couple times a month I have a Gay person come up to me and thank me for it. My act I believe resonates better with women than men, since I’m so honest about my personal life. Lesbians have always enjoyed my show, Black women have always enjoyed my show, but…I think Black Lesbians might be my kryptonite. Here’s my simple theory.

I’m middle-aged Whitey. I’m the Man. You know the guy who hasn’t given them one break in their life, so for me to connect with them in a comedic way is I believe pretty damned impossible. I talk in my show a lot about how my life has went off the rails from the struggles parenthood and marriage has presented me. What I was talking about in my show was like a verbal version of me trying to stick my dick in them. They had no interest.

Now I’m aware that I might have just not been their cup of Jolene, but I’m a good justifier when I want to be, so I’m sticking with my larger theory. A dozen Tracy Chapman’s aren’t going to Give Me a Good Reason to Stay onstage. When more than 25 percent of your audience is not buying in, you are going to be fighting it, unless you are playing to over 100 people. Now I know I’ve written some crazy stuff here in the past and I’m sure this is at the top end of nutty for some of you, but this is what I started this blog to do. Analyze specific shows and try to figure them out. My work is done for this one.

Here was a fan after the show who shows me the love.
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8 thoughts on “Breaking a Comedy Rule: I Blame the Audience

  1. Hey Scott, great insight, this coming from the emcee you worked with this past New Year’s at Laugh C.C. You know, the one with the 70’s DJ voice…do a set on Friday it kills, same set on Saturday it bombs. I guess that’s what makes this biz interesting. I’ve found that stand-up definately has a knack to keep you humble. Love the blogs and keep ’em coming…

  2. When I’m at live comedy shows the #1 thing I think about is the audience. I’m afraid that to many people, stand up is not a live event to them as much as it’s something you experience through a recording of some sort. I see people at live shows who seem to be sitting back in awe of this crazy event that they’ve only seen on TV and I can’t fault them for sitting there & waiting for the comedian to make them laugh. They’ll go to a live music show “ready to rock” but they won’t come to a live comedy show, “ready to laugh.”

    I blame it on lack of experience because audiences and people that live in places where more live comedy happens are looser and ready to be a part of the show by being ready to laugh, but in a smaller town or really any place that rarely has live comedy shows the people often don’t know how to act and just sit there even though they will say afterwards that it was funny and they had a great time.

  3. My experience is that smaller towns are better laughers. I find they are less entertainment cynical and appreciate the chance to see it in person. Bigger cities=more cynical. Just my experience, though.

    Not trying to be a contrarian, but I’ve always though Wanda was funny. I think she’s a really good comic actress. Her voice and attitude is obviously an acquired taste, though. My wife can’t stand her.

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