In a previous blog, I wrote about passing several milestones on your way to stand up comedy success. I’ve mentioned how it will take years to hone, perfect and get to the level every aspiring comedian dreams of. Tonight, I add one more notch to my journey.
Allow me to set the scene. Five comedians have already taken the stage. The first three completed sets of seven to ten minutes. The fourth comedian performed for almost half an hour and really got the crowd going. The fifth comic, and producer of the show, took to the stage and picked up where the last comic left off. He completed a twenty minute set and, for the most part, kept the attention of most of the audience, however, some of the patrons were beginning to get back to their regular, rowdy bar activities. By the time he was done, the audience no longer seemed to be in the mood to devote their attention to anyone holding a microphone.
Here we go:
1. I took the stage to no intro music. Considering that the promoter had just finished his set and was acting as the DJ for the night, I was out of luck!
2. All of the patrons seated at the bar had now started talking loudly and carried on their camaraderie despite the show in progress.
3. I came on to no applause. I literally walked up on stage and was handed the mic by the promoter, who made a valiant attempt at a very nice eulogy, er, I mean, introduction.
There is where it starts. The noise in the bar is too loud to get in to any prepared material. There are still a few tables up front with people who are gazing right at me as though they were about to witness a traffic accident but don’t have enough time to react, so, they just stare intently. In eight years, I’ve learned a thing or two about a crowd like this.
First, FIND THE ONES THAT ARE STILL WITH YOU. I spoke to those tables directly and was able to “Roll” nicely, with crowd work, into some of my prepared material.
Secondly, I’M THE ONE WITH THE MIC. The people seated at the bar may be talking loudly, but I’ve got the power of the mic! I spoke right into that big headed cone and pressed on to the delight of the people that were still pulling for me.
Thirdly, if I noticed that I’ve lost the attention of some of the willing and able members of the audience, I BROUGHT THEM BACK WITH A CONVERSATION DIRECTED RIGHT AT THEM. Yes, this required more crowd work, which might go over well, or not, but I was letting them know that I still needed them and who can help but not feel wanted at that point?
I moved fast so as not to let one laugh go stale. Kind of like licking that ice cream cone before too much of it melts into your hands. Yuck! I believe in pacing yourself on stage, but when the distractions are fast and furious, you NEED TO BE QUICKER TO THE PUNCH.
For about fifteen minutes, I struggled, and I CALLED THE MOMENT. I said, “I don’t care that I’m bombing. This is not new to me. I’ll stay here for another fifteen minutes while you all stare at me and watch the tragedy unfold. At the beginning of my set, I had stepped off the stage and walked among the front row of tables. At about midway through my set, the promoter motioned at me from the back of the bar to get back on the stage. I responded with, “You want me to bomb in the spotlight? I’d rather go through this in darkness!” With that statement, I won over a few more people who, I would assume, were ENDEARED TO ME BY MY SELF DEPRECATION.
By about the twenty minute mark, the bar chatter had completely died down and most of the audience was now hanging on my every word. I was now the center of attention, finally! I plugged along, and now, it was a real comedy show again. I finished strong and after I set the mic down, the majority of the audience, individually shook my hand and paid me compliments that will ring forever in my ears.
Is this the only time I’ll need to face this type of crowd? Well, if I’m going to be doing this for a living, I figure I will need to go through this at LEAST 100 or more times.
IF YOU’RE IN STAND UP COMEDY ONLY FOR ITS SUCCESSES, YOUR JOURNEY WILL BE A SHORT ONE.