…every once in awhile, it is.
One of the biggest proverbs in standup is that you don’t blame the crowd. I think this is true, but occasionally there is an audience that just never jells. Recently I did a show in a small, midwestern city where this was the case. Background: It was a packed house on a Saturday night, so that looked promising. The opener (names have been left out to protect the innocent) went up and ate his balls, though, which did concern me since he was not some alt. comedy type act doing the type of standup that makes middle-aged, mid-sized citied Midwesterners feel irritated. He had jokes and he had punchlines. He was also likable onstage. Ominous. Despite this inauspicious beginning, though, my confidence borders on megalomania, so I still expected to kick ass. I had always done well in this room before. Time for me to change things up.
Before I go any farther, here’s a tip to comics. If the act before does not do well, don’t start your show with a hey let’s first give it up for (insert name). The crowd has already made it known they weren’t buying what that person was selling, so it’s best for you not to get attached to their stage death. I’m sure some of you are reading this thinking I’m being rude or mean by putting that out there, but standup comedy is not a team sport. If you want to be part of that world, go into improv. Standup is a survival of the fittest game and if the comedian before you doesn’t do well (if it’s there fault or not), this is not the time to try to make them feel better about it. I’m not saying to shit on them, as that is cruel (unless they are great friends of yours and they are already successful in their field), but by asking the crowd to give it up for them will just magnify how poorly they just did from the low-energy, pity applause they will receive.
SPECIFIC ADVICE FOR MC’s: I have mentioned this before but when you come back onstage after someone who did poorly, don’t feel the obligation to ask the crowd to give them another round of applause. If you feel you must, make it quick and go right into your announcements or whatever else you need to do before you bring up the headliner. Exception is if the said comic had been a dick to you, than feel free to expose them.
If you are hosting a regular show or an open mic and it’s not been going well, NEVER throw-out a “So are you guys having a good time?” Always have a pulse of what is going on. They have proven they are not having a good time so you are just magnifying this with your statement. Comedy shows are organic, so don’t be a fucking MC robot.
I hit the stage very focused on changing the energy of this lame audience. My voice and body language was one of I’m confident and in charge. The opening lines which always work, barely did though. Now at this point I should mention that there was a bachelorette party in the room. Now I’m not as big of a hater on bachelorette parties as most comics because I realize that they are an important money maker for the clubs. As long as they are policed, they can be managed, especially if you have comics who can think on their feet. No managing this night was going on. It was just the comics fend for themselves. What made this especially problematic was 1 of the women was blotto. Early on she started saying I should take my shirt off. (I told you she was blotto).
Now I would prefer to not have a cordless mic, as I think the sound is better with a cord, but it worked in my favor this particular show. I walked into the back of the room and started policing these bitches myself. I hit them with my patented, aggressive/passive style and it worked ok. Still, the material I had wasn’t connecting like usual. So we are going to play like this, okay. I went in front of the blotto party member, opened my shirt and then went to the next table and did the same for a some poor dude. This got a huge response and bought me some time.
I should mention at this point that I’m not putting everything on the bachelorettes. This whole group had 1 major thing in common, they were not big fans of comedy.
I do realize that this is reading so if the audience doesn’t like your material Scott, they aren’t good, Sort of, yes. I see my act as some place between old school and new school standup. During moments of my show, I ask a lot out of the audience, but I have plenty of sex jokes to usually keep everybody laughing hard. This is a probably a flaw of mine, but I get so damned competitive about making an audience laugh that I will bail from my challenging material and reach into the bag of drinking and relationship jokes if I face a group like this. I did this and guess what, this stuff really connected with them. This 5 minute chunk isn’t hacky stuff, but definitely more audience pleasing fluff than my typical stuff. (FUCK OFF THOSE OF YOU CALLING OUT HUMBLEBRAG) Now on one hand that was why I brought out this material I rarely do–to get them back on board, but here’s the no-win situation they had put themselves in: Their laughter made me hate them more in some ways, as I thought less of them. (How fucked up in the head am I, right?)
I went into my most challenging stuff soon after and did pretty well, but it was never to the level I’m used to. I tried about every move in my comedy trick bag to get them going. As I walked to the back of the room right after I finished, I told the opening act that I hated these people. Then I set up my merchandise and willed myself to put on a smile and try to take every dollar I could from these muthafuckers wallets.
The morale to this story. There are a few times where a group of people get together and they form some bad energy. So every once in awhile you can blame audience. Having said that, let me finish on this note. I did an open mic that same week that was so good that the show was like stealing. Judging comedy is like judging gymnastics…you need to throw out the best score and the worst score. More specifically, don’t hold on too hard to that great show or that one where you took a massive dump onstage. The truth is in the middle.
One last note. FUCK YOU FUCKERS. IF YOU DON’T LIKE TO LAUGH, STAY THE FUCK HOME. That was my time, Goodnight.