After almost 30 years of comedy shows, my success rate in winning over an audience is pretty high. That includes turning around a tough audience or dealing with different age groups, denominations, distractions etc. Or at the very least, holding my own as best as anyone could in a tough situation.
Singers, musicians, actors … they will never fully understand what the comedy act goes through. First of all, those people are generally not doing their own material so they do not have to carry much of the blame if an audience doesn't like them. In fact, even with their own material, they don't have to rely on the audience at all. They would like to have the viewers in their corner, but if the people don't respond, they can just go on with their song or monologue.
The undertaking to sell an audience on your comedy “bill of goods” is a huge burden with immediate judgement and immediate feedback. It is also one of the only performing art forms that audiences feel entitled to give unsolicited, uneducated critiquing to. Sometimes, even during the performance, regardless of the other 300-2000 audiences members having a fine time. They will see you in the bar or lobby coffee shop eating, walk right up to you and tell you all the problems they had with you and what worked and what didn’t. You’d never do that to your doctor or financial accountant.
I almost never get complaints anymore and when I do, I give it right back to them. I used to think I was providing customer service and had to be nice and take rudeness or apologize. Some comics do what they do, and when the audience doesn't respond well, they take the stance of being too hip for the room or re-educating people about what’s funny. I do believe if you are being paid, then you have a responsibility to entertain. But not everyone is your audience, so know where to book yourself. I also think at a certain point in your professional life, you can correct people when they are wrong. The customer is not always right.
This stage is my office. I come to my office 230 days out of the year for 30 years. I know my job and while I feel sorry for your negative assessment or experience, that's on you.
As we all know, nowadays people cannot wait to be offended. I do 480 jokes in my act. If one bothered you so much that you can’t go on, well, that’s on you. Grow up. I saw you laughing at all the jokes that pertained to others around you. You’re a hypocrite. In addition, you are in a comedy show. Therefore, common sense dictates that what I said is laced in satire. If I really meant the horrible things you think I said, I probably wouldn’t have said it in front of 2000 people.
One woman stood up in the middle of a show I did at the Riviera and said, “I’ve never been so insulted and if you don’t apologize, I’ll never come back here again!” I replied, “Well first of all, I’m not going to apologize. And second of all, I hear Harrah’s is very nice!”
I live in LA now with tons of horrible new comics ... well comedic actors pretending to be comics. Because today’s young people want stage time so badly, they think performing in the corner of a shitty bar with a light, a mic and a mic stand, over a sparse, drunk crowd with their backs turned to you except for your 3 friends and the other wannabe comics “wooping” and “clapping” for ya (because they aren't distracted by actually laughing) IS what comedy is. They think being comic #36 at the Comedy Store at 2am, dressing like they rolled out of bed to exude how relaxed they are, and sucking on stage is a badge of honor like they are gaining dues and experience. The only experience you’re gaining is how to keep sucking in venues that don't support comedy.
Restaurants, bars, corporate events, even comedy clubs, think comedy can be shoved in and work anywhere … like Karaoke … or one of the Hemsworth brothers. It’s disrespectful, degrading and generally doesn't turn out very well. But the owners got their cover charge money and bar tabs so they don’t care. And the comics never learn.
Don’t get me wrong … I don’t need flashy curtains, lights and plush seats. But an audience needs to be set up. The seating, the stage sight lines from the seats, the closeness to the stage, the lighting, the MC, the sound, having too long OR too short set times, and the roster list that does or does not support the ebb and flow of the evening.
In turn, the comic has to have the goods that can deliver and adapt. If you are a 90-pound Mormon-boy-comic from Utah, following a 260-pound-Black Panther from Compton, chances are the audience is going to feel wip lashed from his material to yours. But these are the intricacies of the work. You have to learn how to get in and out of tough set ups. That being said, eventually, you know what sets your act up for success so the booker gets their moneys worth. Asking for a certain place in the roster or a set up is certainly not a bad thing. Just don’t be a diva.
I can usually tell in the first two minutes how the audience is going to be. And there are times, no matter what you do, it’s just not gonna happen for ya that night. When this happens, some comics go on auto pilot, do the base material as written, and get off. It’s a wash. Some comics lay into the crowd which is wrong. That doesn’t make them like you better or understand you more. Others go into panic mode and start spitting out jokes and snipes rapid fire. I, however, nowadays, prefer the opposite. Slow down. Lean into the discomfort and don't force them.
Last night I posted on my private Facebook page a little editorial about how I bombed that night. Now, I rarely if ever bomb anymore. And I never put it on Facebook which is generally used for a sad, lame, masturbatory PR show, or for a sad, lame, masturbatory therapy session. I equally loathe them both. (Which is why I moved my PR stuff to a separate work page).
The post read as follows:
At 7:35pm, I died.
Then I died again around 949pm.
Only moments ago my friend Neal Figueroa texted, "The King is dead" (his word, not mine) and held a moment of silence. Because for the first time since I can remember, I bombed, and bombed two shows in a row. Go big or go home I always say. Ok I never say that and I would've gone home, but my flight is not until Thursday.
I could give you several very legitimate reasons to explain how I was set up for failure by the programming people. But that would sound like sour grapes.
At one point I even said out loud, "I can't believe I'm bombing two shows in a row!" Later in the show I lead into a bit by saying "I have many jobs. One night I do a comedy show…" then inserted, "...Although not tonight clearly...."
I only wish the audience would've walked out on me so we could've stopped the show and gone to the bar. But they decided to stay and watch quietly in the dark.
I have a high track record of winning audiences over. But it was such a ridiculously unbelievable evening, I can't even be upset about it. And I'm not. So there. I welcome your amusement.
In truth the venue put me on at the wrong time, with the wrong audience, the wrong number of shows and an MC that had the personality of a turtle. And after the show, audience members stopped and gave me great compliments, but for my standards, it was horse shit.
But my FB post I got a slew of comments in support or with opinions! It was fascinating and prompted this editorial.
I didn't make the post for a pat on the head or for coddling. I did receive some of that which I appreciate but felt they missed the point. I posted to expose myself from the PR - BS.
There is no shame! Own it! Bask in it! Roll around in it!
As a writer and in exploring my work and life, I think that kind of self-analyzation is more interesting than the PR.
I got a few private messages telling me I should never, ever admit to bombing. I think if you are new in your field or if you are much older, yes, I agree keeping up appearances is necessary so clients don’t think you are too “green” or past your prime.
And while I think social media can be self-damaging to people, the new idea of “behind the scenes” documentary-style content can also be very helpful. Carefully choosing to post the hardships of the work (similar to my recent YouTube video posting on intricate concerns of using the newest puppet in the act), gives people an insight to a craft, demonstrates you have layers as a person, and for some reason, seems to project to industry people, a sense of grit, contemporary freshness and even some weird kind of legitimacy.
You can pay for a comedy act that is polished, experienced, full of credits and awards with years of standing ovations but …
… in the end, there is a factor in the formula you have no control over in a live performance genre that is based on ideas.
Sometimes, albeit perhaps rare, it just - doesn’t - click. And if you want a 100% guarantee that someone’s ideas won’t offend someone , then you should hire an Abba tribute band or a mime. But whether it’s Jerry Seinfeld, Jeff Dunham, or an unknown from Audubon, PA., there is no 100% guarantee in comedy.
PS: After the shows, the Facebook post and this editorial, I found out I didn’t bomb. They were Chinese. So ignore everything I just wrote.
#comedy #standup #writing #standingovation #bombing #comedyclub #theater #performingartscenter #casino #touring
Since the Facebook post and this publishing, I have been privately contacted by numerous performers in different mediums sharing beautiful sentiments like this one ....
Thank you for sharing your post about he show you had. I just wanted to reach out in a private message, instead of the public forum. I'm not sure what the circumstances were that you were put in but I do know you are very funny and incredibly talented. Your post was incredibly helpful to me with a situation I'm currently going through. It was a gentle reminder that all of us, no matter how talented, skilled, funny, kind or smart, encounter set backs and defeats at times. Even the best of us (as you clearly just did). Your willingness to share the experience is what I'm most thankful about because it's often easy to compare our journey's to others and not see their path of success paved with challenges and struggles. Thanks for being willing to keep it real. Your post was the inspiring reminder I needed right now. An entertainment career is an amazing journey, and its one I wouldn't trade of any other our high's are high but the low's can be pretty hard at times. I have no doubt you've most likely recovered and are focused on the next show (another reason you've had more success than failure), but I just wanted to say thanks for sharing. Keep kicking ass.
This is the loveliest note. Thank you so much for taking the time. It's true that to most people, you're only as good as your last show. I haven't felt any repercussions from the powers that be yet. But I have an excellent track record and I'm sure it'll be fine. I'm not sure that anyone could've done any better unless they used a Music act instead of a comedy act. One or two people told me that I should've never posted my failures. But I don't consider it my failure. This wasn't Facebook therapy. It was done for the very reason that inspired your note to me. So that was great. Live entertainment is a trapeze walk. It's always a risk. Surround yourself with people smarter than you for feedback on your work and keep moving forward.