As a stand-up comedian, I’ve seen it all. Well, maybe not all of it. But most of it. Or, if not most of it, then at least some of it. But regardless of how many things I have seen, the fact remains that there may or may not have been some things that I have seen. At least when I have my eyes open on stage.
As most comedy fans are well aware, there are an infinite number of factors that affect a stand-up performance: the temperature of the room, the sound level of the microphone, whether or not the microphone is plugged in, what cartoon character the microphone is shaped like, whether or not it’s actually a microphone and not a sleeping robot snake. And then, of course, there’s that unavoidable peanut loving, mice fearing, ear flying elephant in the room: the audience.
It strikes me (as it does most comedians I’ve spoken to, who, for the purposes of this article, will remain anonymous and fictional) that comedy would actually be a lot easier and more pleasurable for everybody involved if we did away with the audience completely, much like baseball eventually did away with the barbaric rule that the losing team be forced to dance by shocking their feet with cattle prods. Unfortunately, until the comedy gatekeepers finally answer my letters and take my many suggestions (like having mandatory make your own sundae displays at all Monday night shows), an audience-less live comedy show will remain an unfortunately unfulfilled pipe dream. The only thing left to do is adapt to the audience, that smoldering, anonymous, judgmental pit of faces, toying with your emotions like a cat playing with a mouse or an unusually feisty fish skeleton.
Each audiences is delicate and unique, like a snowflake. And, much like a snowflake, there exists that ever present urge to simply roll them all together and build some sort of Frankenstein-style comedy audience snow-monster-man, because after all, even though they’re supposed to be different, all snowflakes really just look the fucking same. But each comedy audience must be treated differently, because it’s important to remember that every single person on Earth has a different sense of humor and you must conform your performance to best suit them.
What follows is an admittedly rudimentary guide to some of the audiences I have encountered, and the best ways I have found to deal with them.
High School Students: High school students are difficult to perform for. Their brains are a stormy, surly maelstrom of misplaced hormones and Internet memes. The best way to endear yourself to them, before they rip you apart like a scene out of “Lord of the Flies” is to sink to their level. Mention that you have a Twitter, and the use of a web age buzzword like that will make them think things like “Hey, this cat’s pretty hip. I can really pick up what he’s laying down, and his glorp his flipments.”
Middle-Aged Adults & Older: Middle aged audiences are exactly like high school audiences, only the opposite. Please take my advice for them and reverse it.
Elementary School Students: Elementary school students are just like all other audiences, only smaller. And much more willing to cry when they dislike something. Unlike high school students, they haven’t experienced things like Twitter or Facebook yet, and are still using children-themed social media like TwitterJunior and FaceColoringBook. Avoid hot button issues like religion, politics and who was better on Cheers: Diane, Rebecca or Norm.
Blind Audiences: Audiences that are entirely blind can be a tricky experience, that really tests the limits of most stand up comics. The best thing to do is rely heavily on verbal jokes, downplaying physical comedy and any jokes where the punchline involves a detailed description of a color. Also, as a general rule, jokes about Ray Charles are off limits, but feel free to unleash on Stevie Wonder and Bruce Vilanch.
Blind-Deaf Audiences: For these audiences you should…actually, I don’t know. I’m not sure what you should do in this situation. Why are these people at a comedy show in the first place?
Cannibal Audiences: Unlike the other items on this list, I have never personally experienced an audience made up entirely of cannibals, but I have seen cartoons that seem to be reasonable facsimiles. Try to avoid any joke that calls attention to how delicious you taste. If at any point you find yourself being boiled alive in a giant pot, do not lose hope. There may be a way to get out of their with a well-timed zinger.