In the stand up comedy classes that I teach, students often ask me how to handle a situation in which a stand-up comedy audience isn’t paying attention.
Here are some approaches:
It’s easy to forget–when people refuse to pay attention to you–that you are in charge. The situation is set up to serve you: You’re the one on stage, the lights are on you, and you have a microphone.
Make them pay attention. The audience will only do what you allow them to do.
It’s your room for the next few minutes. Take charge.
Do Something Unexpected During Your Stand Up Comedy Routine
You must grab their attention. This could mean leaving the stage and sitting down at a table: “Hey! What are you guys doing…your taxes?”
It could mean riffing with the people in the first row, “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to interrupt your conversation with my show.” Do anything to make them pay attention…tap dance, I don’t care.
I was working at a club with Robin Williams and the show was horrible. There were hardly any people, and nobody was paying attention. So, Robin ran out in the audience and yelled: “YOU SUCK!” And then he ran back to the stage and dealt with his own heckle, “Whoa. Out of millions of sperm, you were the quickest?”
He was great at heckling himself and doing heckler lines. Soon everybody was paying attention. Robin commanded their attention.
Robin could insult the audience to their faces, but he wasn’t blaming them. If blame them for being a bad audience, they will follow your lead and blame you for being a bad comedian. Stay committed and keep looking for their funny bone.
Go from Front to Back
Sometimes the people in first few rows will pay attention, while people at the back are harder to wrangle. Don’t let them get away with it.
First, let them know you see them: “Hey guys, back there. I see you.” Talk to them, or even embarrass them a little, “Oh you thought by sitting in the back you were safe. Not during my show.”
Second, invite them into the action: “Pay attention to me or I’ll pay attention to you.” Do anything to let them know that you’re in charge and you’re going to do your best to make them laugh. If you’re having fun, they’ll want to join you in the fun. Once the front and the back of the room are engaged, the middle generally follows.
Third, don’t just drone through your show without paying attention to the audience. They’ll feel safe and continue to do their own thing. If they know they’re not safe from you attention in the dark, they’ll pay attention.
Greg Dean's Stand Up Comedy Classes
In my Stand Up Comedy Classes, I will provide you with skills and techniques that you can apply to your own style of humor. I don’t teach opinion.
In the 40 year career, I have helped to bring successful (and lucrative) careers to many stand up comedians in the business today.
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