Comedian after comedian took the stage last night. Many in the line up, took the mic and proceeded to yell into it—in a 68-seat comedy room.
This is a 68-seat comedy room. The acoustics are great. The distance from the foot of the stage to the back of the room cannot be more than 45-feet and you have a mic and a sound system.
Why are you YELLING?
I thought hard about whether or not to write about this. I mean: “Shit, I’m 50. If I talk about comics ‘yelling,’ am I just being an ornery douche?”
What made me do it? I thought about the other comics who hit that stage and didn’t yell. They told their stories and their jokes and they let their organic antagonism drive the emphasis in their voices when needed to drive a point home. They got great laughs.
The others just YELLED. Not only did they yell, they yelled with the mic against their faces.
Not sure where this comes from. Is it a need to hear yourself or is it just a simple misunderstanding about the nature of the sound equipment you are using? Or is it because you’re thinking, the joke isn’t funny, but if I yell it, the audience will have to think it’s funny.
Either way, there are some things you should know about volume.
First,—and this may seem elementary—the sound system is designed to amplify your voice. You don’t need to shout. Unless of course your persona is loud, (Lewis Black or Bobcat Goldthwait).
The Benign Violation Theory
When you shout into that microphone, the sound comes out of the speakers and its intensity is increased along with the volume. When it’s too loud for the room, the audience will actually back away from you and in some cases, mentally shut you off.
The psychology of it in relation to comedy, is called The Benign Violation Theory. When an audience feels violated (directly or indirectly) they turn away from a performer rather than engage with them.
It’s the complete opposite effect you want from your audience!
The classic mistake of a comedian or rapper or speaker is to substitute volume for the genuine emotion of frustration or enthusiasm.
Yelling into the mic doesn’t get the audience excited. It causes them to close down or worse, get angry.
Second, if you need volume to make your point, pull the mic away.
You’ve seen singers when they pull the mic away from their mouth. They do that because they know that when they project more, the volume increases and when the volume increases it can offend, or violate the audience’s sensitivities—or their eardrums, (not to mention peak the sound system and distort).
If, as a comedian or speaker, you need to increase your volume or yell to make a point or play a character, pull the mic away, you might find that the joke is actually good enough to stand on its own.
If the joke is not strong enough and you have to yell to make it seem stronger or funnier, consider looking at the root of the joke to figure out what you were trying to communicate. When you discover precisely what that is, try to look for an analogy (something that situation is like) to create recognition (a powerful laughter trigger), or see if there is some irony that you can point out in the material.
Often in irony you will find opposites (great for creating surprise), or hypocrisy.
And when you find hypocrisy you will find an audience that wants to laugh at the hypocrite to retaliate.
Take this line:
“Focus on the Family Founder, James Dobson said this gem the other day: ‘If we allow Gays to parent, they will raise gay children…’ We interrupt this comedy show to bring you a special bulletin: Straight parents have been raising Gay children for centuries.”
I use this line in my act. There is clear irony present in the line. Within that there is the hypocrisy of what this clown, Dobson, is saying. When the audience sees how ridiculous that Dobson’s statement is, they want to laugh in his face. So they do, and I DON’T HAVE TO YELL IT!
So for the sake of your act and the sake of our eardrums, practice your mic technique, then try to find the irony or analogy to drive the joke so the audience is laughing at the material not your volume.