Is Every Audience Completely Different?
Yes, every audience is…sigh…completely different? No. I find there are four general kinds of audiences.
First, there are the audiences who laugh at everything. They not only laugh at your setups and punches, they also laugh at the improv you do or any crowd work, pretty much they laugh at everything. After these shows, you’ll be looking for the person you’re supposed to pay for having so much fun.
Second, there are the ones that only laugh at material. They don’t laugh at improv or crowd work or anything spontaneous. They just want a show of planned out routines. These are the easiest audiences for most comedians to play as they have honed their show, so then it’s a matter of finding your rhythm to maximize the laughs.
Third, there are the ones who don’t want material, but laugh at interaction or improv of some kind. These are fun if you have the chops to riff with the audience. To handle these kinds of audiences is the reason I teach crowd work and ranting. It’s much safer to learn how to do crowd work in the supportive environment of my workshops.
And fourth, there are the audiences who don’t laugh at anything. This is where you earn your pay. The comedian becomes an archaeologist in search of a funny bone. I teach being present and flexibility in my workshops so the comedian has a chance of uncovering some laughs.
For me, the hardest situations to deal with were the audiences that were split. The ones made up of a mixture of the several types. The section on the left liked crowd work, but didn’t laugh at material. And the section on the right only wanted jokes and refused to laugh at any interaction.
This brings up the question, “How do you handle a split audience?”
The first thing to do is to be connected to the group of people in front of you to get a read on them. Only then can you figure out what kind of material they’ll laugh at and how to approach it.
One technique I’ve used is to call it. By pointing out to the audience that one section likes jokes, while the other sections like interaction, it’ll wake them up to the differences in this audience. Then you can purposefully do jokes to one section, and then overtly ad-lib with the others. Doing this shows the audience that you’re handling a split audience and it can become a part of the comedy.
Be creative and figure it out. This is just one of the reasons I’m always saying,”The most important thing about stand-up comedy is your relationship with the audience.” They’ll tell you everything you need to know about how to make them laugh, but you must learn to listen.
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