Reading An Audience

Friday April 30th, 2011 – St. Charles, IL

Two shows at Zanies tonight, and I wish I could have recorded both – if only because of how completely different they were from each other. The early show was a wild fire, with an audience that laughed hard from the emcee’s very first joke to my very last punch line.

These people were the best, and I wanted to get all their addresses and invite them back for free whenever they wanted to show up. They were hungry for comedy and all three of us gave them what they wanted. They loved the entire show, and that makes it fun for us.

Audiences can be very unpredictable, much like juries. Sometimes they’ll like an act or two on a three act show, but not another. I’ve both seen it and had it happen and it’s a part of performing life. The tricky part is, it happens at random chance. It can’t be predicted.

It all boils down to the mix of people who are in attendance. Their personalities mix and it becomes a one time combination of energy which then mixes with the performer’s vibe and that’s why no two shows are ever exactly the same. I’ve been studying this for years.

Size of the crowd has little to do with it either. I’ve seen large crowds lay there and tiny ones explode with laughter. It all depends on that mix, and we as performers are guessing what they’ll like. The more experienced the performer, the more options and tricks up the sleeve, but it’s all still a guess. The audience is always the judge and they have final say.

I remember how intimidating it used to be when I was starting out. I only had a limited amount of material, and if an audience wasn’t buying it on any particular night there was nothing I could do except stay up there and eat it until my time was done. Now, I’ve got a lifetime of experience and I have options. Like an NFL quarterback, I can call an audible.

This process is called ‘reading an audience’, and is a very subtle but necessary part of a comedian’s skill set. It starts by watching them come in and be seated. Do they look to be young or old? Rich or poor? Smart or dumb? Drunk or sober? City or country? The list is endless, but it’s good to have a feel for who’s in the audience in order to entertain them.

Then, it continues to the actual show. There’s a unique vibe an audience gives off every show, and it takes years of performing to be able to sense it. Sometimes they want it clean and sometimes they want it loud and rowdy. Sometimes they don’t know what they want, and aren’t even there for comedy. Those are the toughest, but it helps develop one’s skill.

Tonight for whatever reason, they liked all three of us, and I didn’t question it. I gave it my all, and actually had to stop at points to let them stop laughing and catch up. THAT’S a good audience, and we all loved it. A show like that is what makes comedy worthwhile.

Then, in the late show some boozed up hillbilly chick wouldn’t shut up and interrupted me at least a dozen times. She was asking dumb rambling questions and wouldn’t stop. It was annoying, and I wish people could see how opposite shows can be on the same night.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: