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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.

What gives?”

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…

[gn_quote style=”1″]…for years I thought RV’s that had those bikes on the front of them… were Mormon hunters… is that wrong?”[/gn_quote]

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?

    1 Response to "“This Audience is Mostly Mormon”"

    • Nick Hawkins

      I bombed for the first time ever tonight. Since I am in my first year of doing stand up I knew it was bound to happen eventually. I like many always thought of bombing was the audience being silent and not laughing at my jokes but this was not the case at all.First off I was preforming at a place where I have preformed before and done quite well.Even though I was rough and off tempo my material saved me and I got a ton of laughs,that was the first show.Now to the Bomb my second show. As I went to go check in as I usually do before a show I learned that even though tickets where not being sold at the door yet the every seat in the place was sold out. How could this be? Well it was this guys birthday and he wasnt a comedian but he wanted to do stand up for his birthday. So all his friends traveld from various surrounding southern states to atlanta for his big birthday event and bought every srat in the place. Doing an open mic you are under pressure to try to get as many people as you can to support the show. So I worked extremley hard promoting the show and I had to call everyone I got to go to the show and tell them not to even bother coming since the show was sold out do to the birthday group. Right away I knew things where not going well but I told myself well atleast its a packed house so itll be a good show right? I couldnt have been more wrong. Out of 15 comedians preforming the birthday boy was last 15 and I was right in front of him 13. Not a great spot but oh well I done great here before so no worries my material was strong. By the time I got on stage the crowd was not in the best mood they where waiting for the birthday boy and tired of waiting. I was deadmeat as soon as I walked on stage. They hated me, they didnt want me to be there,all I was to them was someone in the way that would make them wait longer for the very reason they came to the show. I used my trusty opener that always kills. Got a few chuckles and confused looks. The rest of the show went the same way. My material was forcing a few laughs but they didnt want to laugh they didnt want me to be funny. They wanted only one thing, me off the stage. I ignored it and continued my set like it didnt bother me. Then the boos and hecklers started. I remember thinking man if they responded that way to this joke then they will really hate me when I start my next joke and they did I was right. I couldve handled it better but the club had a no booing/no heckler policy which the didnt enforce so I was unprepared for the situation. I told them I knew what was happening and told the audience i knew and told them i am cutting my set short and ending it now. They cheered and aupplauded me leaving the stage.It was my first bomb. Not laughing and being silent is one thing but when they yell and boo and just want you off the stage before you even start is another.

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