Recently I popped into a small Sunday night produced show in NYC. Started an hour later than advertised; but I’m going to save that pet peeve for another article. What fascinated me wasn’t the fact that there were less than 5 civilians in the audience at all (shit happens). What fascinated me was the reaction of the comedians to this poor showing. I knew a few comics who were there either personally or through Facebook connections, but on this night I sat quietly in the room just to watch.
A younger comedian got up to the front (there was no stage) and immediately acknowledged the lack of audience. He then proceeded to completely mail it in. He took out his notebook and just started plowing through material in front of the most intimate of audiences. Completely void of personality, care, or remorse he continued while occasionally admitting “yeah I haven’t done this one before.”
Now there is major problem here but before I begin I will say that not everyone on this show did this; I am simply referencing one comedian in particular that night but it is something that happens at far too many comedy shows.
The problem is RESPECT. If you were asked to perform comedy; whether you are paid or not, and whether the audience is paying or not paying, and whether there is 1 AUDIENCE member or 400 AUDIENCE members, YOU HAVE AN AUDIENCE. Respect them! You have one chance to make your audience like you, laugh with you, and remember you. Perhaps you are only on stage for five minutes. Well, you better give that audience the best five minutes you can possibly give them. Every time you are on stage is a unique moment for you and for them. You are sharing an experience that will never occur again. You want to perform for an audience, right? Well you should realize that an audience of two is an audience nonetheless, and to make an audience of two laugh is just as important as any.
The other issue regarding respect is that the booker or producer asked YOU to be on their show. There are thousands of comedians in the Tri-State area right now, but they chose YOU. You better respect that show and have respect for that booker or producer for putting their time, effort, money, and reputation on the line every single show that they put their name on it. If you are booked to perform, you must understand that it is NOT an open mic. That bookers show is NOT a chance to “work shit out”. You want to throw in a newer joke in your set? Go ahead, but do not disrespect the audience by going to your notebook and fiddling around.
If you are reading this, this applies to you. You are not Louis CK, Chris Rock, or Jerry Seinfeld. You are not owed anything, nothing is being handed to you, and your fan base is not strong enough that you can ruin a relationship with that booker, producer, or audience. You need them more than they need you. Respect them.
The Audience Perception. You can judge them all you want, you can pander to them your entire set, but one thing is certain- You Don’t Know Who Your Audience Is! Maybe you met John Smith in the crowd who is an accountant. Maybe you just insulted the show, shit on the venue, and tore into poor Mike (one of maybe only 5 audience members) for no reason. Maybe it was funny. But what you don’t know is that John Smith’s Brother is the owner of Smith Brothers Comedy Club. You just blew it. This happens far more often than you would ever imagine. Sometimes all it takes is for that one audience member to tell his industry buddy about how badly you treated the show.
Why am I so disappointed and writing this? Well first of all of course; out of respect for bookers and producers everywhere who have a crummy turnout, feel horrible about it, and now the comedians that they carefully selected to be there are shitting all over it openly to the small crowd that DID come out (well that crowd will never be back now btw because you made them feel shitty for being there in the first place!) But the other reason is because the comedian I’m referring to had reached out to me multiple times to be booked on one of my shows.
He never met me. He didn’t know I was there. He disrespected that show. He treated a show like an open mic. He will never be booked by me even for a guest spot.
Respect Your Audience. They are YOURS when you are on stage. Respect Them