The Joan Rivers Clap

Joan and I talked many times about her signature, seal-like, long-armed clap when she entered or exited the stage.

As you may have read in my very first Huffington Post piece about how I hate, hate, hate when performers tell the audience to give themselves a round of applause. It’s ludicrous, theatrically and directorially weak and just cheesy.

But Joan’s entrance clap wasn’t to cue them to clap. It wasn’t to get the crowd going. It was two-fold.

Many comics will accept the rejection whole heartedly but not the accolade. Which is why many comics bow and exit quickly after a set. Joan’s physicality of clapping to the audience was emotional deflection to get through the very uncomfortable moment of having to accept the audience acknowledgment without being dismissive or unappreciative. Somewhere inside we think aren’t fully deserving of it. Especially at the top of the show when she hadn’t done anything yet, and you never know how the show is going to turn out! To this day I don’t have a theater, casino or cruise ship MC intro me to “rev up the crowd”. I’d rather get them there on my own merits.

But the clapping to the crowd was also welcoming them, acknowledging that they showed up, and that they have entered into an agreement and partnership for this evening’s mutual experience.

The  extended arms clap at the end of her performance was something else. It was an acknowledgment of the audiences listening skills, intellectual consideration, non-judgmental willingness to go with it.

Her focus and fear was getting through an hour and ten minutes without falling off the trapeze wire. And so the outreaching clap was her finish line, release of the pressure valve for not having anyone walk out or boo or God forbid respond with silence.

She was thanking you for upholding your end of the audience agreement to be “all in” with her. But just so you know, she wasn’t begging or needy. She was the professor. The clap was giving you a passing grade for your work.

Like Johnny calling you to the couch, Joan gave the long-armed clap as the proud stamp of approval to you, if not as a smart, savvy person then at least one that likes to laugh and can leave their baggage at the door while she does the heavy lifting.

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