I was at the Comedy Shrine outside Chicago this past weekend. Really a good set-up for standup and we had a sold-out show on Saturday that I had friends and family at. The audience was a good demo for me, so it all looked promising.
Show started fine and things were in a good groove when I go into my bit about how I like to curse at the elderly. The final punchline has to do with how they are out there spending our social security, if you don’t believe me, go to your local casino and watch one of these blue haired bitches at work. “Ding, Ding, Ding. There goes my Grandson’s inheritance. Ding, Ding, Ding.”
It’s a bit that usually does well, but it just got a lot of moans. This had mostly to do with there being an elderly couple sitting off to stage-right. Very old people can impact a show much like when children are in the audience. Material with some edge can suffer greatly when the crowd feels badly that it might not be appropriate for someone there that night. I get it when it comes to kids, but I have always figured if you are an adult, no matter what age you are, when you decide to show up to a comedy club, I’m going to do my thing.
As the show continued I started to question if it was my senior citizen friends that were making the audience more judgmental or if it was a much worse problem…was this group filled with the worst type of people…groaners? I can accept pretty much anything from the audience. You can heckle me, I can deal with that. You can sit there quietly, I can deal with that. I have things to change these behaviors in my standup trick bag. What I can’t solve is groans. I purposely don’t write jokes that get groans because it’s the worst sound I can hear onstage. The sound of a groan hits my ears like the voice of Gloria Estefan. I really feel ill when I hear either one. Well despite me not having any jokes that usually get groans, I must have had 10 jokes that got groans last Saturday. Now I have to admit it only seemed like 3 or 4 women who were the groaners, but groaning can be as contagious as laughter. A couple misplaced groaners can get the rest of the crowd thinking that is a proper reaction, as well.
I was getting a lot of big laughs, but every time I hear a groan, it’s like a deep personal affront to me. It totally throws me off my momentum. I can’t explain it, except to say it leaves me with nothing to respond to, unlike a heckle where I can use my brain to come back at. Groaning is the most destructive passive-aggressive act a comedy club audience member can do to a standup.
To try to battle this groan-y behavior, I pulled out my job interview bit that I don’t do very much anymore. It’s an audience participation bit, which usually injects a great energy to the show. Well, even this got a groan at one point. So I didn’t totally snap, I just moved on. Then my very senior lady offered up a question. Check out the video to hear how that went.
So on a night where it seemed like forces were all in unison to conspire against me, (I should add the mic went out at one point) the real haymaker was about to land. Even sweet Granny got in on the fun. Here come’s the important lesson.
Never try to outdo an audience member who says something funny. Let them have their moment. This is never more the case when an 85 year-old woman is slinging one-liners. (I wanted to say that I had been toppled by a Lesbian Harry Caray, but I knew that would make me public enemy No. 1 with most of this crowd, so I just bit my tongue and let her have her night.) The most important thing to always consider is your performance funny and is it memorable? You can still have control of the show, while looking like you’ve lost it. What I do in this situation (I think you can see this from the video) is to slow everything down and come off as calm and collected as possible. The only time I would ever let an audience member take my mic is if they were a child or a person of a very advanced age.
So everyone left talking about this show and how great time they had. I promise you, it wasn’t what I had planned, but it worked out in the end. I wouldn’t want every show to be like this, but don’t be afraid of embracing the chaos. My first comedy DVD was called Scott Long’s 3-Ring Circus.