So one of my favorite students Skyped with me today.
He was upset about a comedy show he did.
It was a show he produced.
It was a show he emceed.
And it was a show that he didn’t do as well as he wanted.
“It was especially rough because I put the show together and I didn’t go over as well as I would’ve expected.
There’s no ‘magic’ solution to knowing how an audience will respond but it helps if you understand a little bit about comedian/audience dynamic.
There are a lot of reasons to why an audience doesn’t respond well to certain jokes.
In front of one audience one night a joke might rock, the next night, in front of a different audience, that very same joke might get groans or nothing.
That’s not uncommon and it happens for a reason.
Fortunately we can get a handle on the reasoning.
We might not be able to solve the problem all the time but we can at least understand why so we can make an adjustment, either during the show or at another show.
Sometimes the reasons are right in front of us. Sometimes the reasons are not visible.
Indulge me with a quick scenario:
In the middle nineties, I was doing a gig in Utah for a little known company called Hewlett Packard. We were at a restaurant, upstairs. The audience was well-dressed, some were keeping the bartender at the open bar busy, so I figured, This is going to be fun!
I started my show and I figured since we were in Utah I did a riff of jokes about Mormons that culminated with…
It received a mediocre laughter at best, but it was nervous laughter and that was only from a select group of people– If you guessed, the ones who were drinking… you’re right!
I couldn’t understand why the audience wasn’t laughing. I mean I just did this round of jokes the night before and got screams and applause!
In the eighth minute, someone in the audience handed me a note.
It said: “This crowd is mostly Mormon.”
That explained it!
They had a background, experiences and an understanding about being Mormon that wasn’t going to allow them to look at my point of view about Mormons and see it as “funny.”
According to Dan O’Shannon in his book, “What Are You Laughing At, these are called “Reception Factors.”
Other ‘Reception Factors” might include:
- Physical Health
- Social Situation
- Feelings about source
- Method of Communication
There are others, of course but this spreads a vast umbrella over the “Reception Factors” of an audience.
Once I received that note, I was able to adjust. But I don’t just adjust, I acknowledge. I’m about transparency on the stage.
One of the things I learned is that complete candor can save you in moments of discomfort–like this one.
So I read the note out loud and then said, “Wow did I just step in sh–” then I stopped short of saying “shit,” giggled, looked at them as coyly as I could, and said “Poop,” in an overly cute way.
And although that doesn’t sound funny, the situation was funny.
In fact, the audience didn’t just laugh, they applauded…and for different reasons…
The people who were Mormon laughed at my embarrassment and candor, while the people with the cocktails laughed, because the way I delivered it could have been read as a sardonic mocking of the Mormons’ strict adherence to not using profanity.
Or I’m pretty sure that’s what was going on…
Bottom line is this. Use the simple formula of M.A.P. Material-Audience-Performer. The material should suit the audience and should suit the performer.
And when you don’t know what’s going on acknowledge then… ask…then…
Make a joke about yourself, switch gears and do some material that’s not designed to insult the intelligence of that particular audience’s “Reception Factors.”
What are some of your worst experiences with material and audience?