Saturday, 11 April 2009

Which audience is the most important?

When you are onstage performing there are various audiences to consider. Here are the main ones you have to deal with on a regular basis.

1 - The crowd
2 - Yourself
3 - The owner/manager
4 - The other comedians
5 - The objective third eye

So, who is the most important of these 5? Who should you play to and cater to? As with so many things in stand-up there is no one answer. Many people would reflexively say "the crowd" that's what you are there to do; keep that crowd happy. To my thinking this idea is incorrect at the most fundamental level. A good comedian should predicate their act not on what they think the crowd wants but on making the most of their own approach to comedy. You shouldn't try and find things you think a crowd will like, you should work on what you think is funny and then figure out how to make it work with your crowds. Aside from the root-level problem the crowd is problematic as the ultimate arbiter because one has to play many different types of crowds - sometimes to keep a bunch of small town drunks happy requires that you degrade your own performance and if you do that on a regular basis inevitably your act will suffer over the long haul.

Playing entirely for yourself also has certain dangers. It is certainly a brave approach and can lead to a more confident and experimental style but treading the line between that and becoming a self-rightous and self-indulgent comic must be done with great caution. It is important to assert yourself and your own style and sometimes that will mean swimming against the current but to make a habit of depriving your act of empathy will serve only to poison your act and yourself. Play to yourself, but don't make a habit of doing it at the expense of your crowd, or you become a risk for any booker to hire

The bookers, agents and other comedians are the very specific audience at the back of the rom and it's tough to ignore them. Sometimes, you don't want to ignore them. In a showcase situation, be aware of what they want to see and try to show them the side of you that fits the bill - another situation where just going for laughs won't always serve you well. When it comes to this particular set of viewers, you can usually score some extra points with a few occasional lines which are designed to please them without alienating the crowd too much - it's fairly easy to do. "Playing to the back of the room" can be fun in bursts but unless you are a well-established headline act it's inadvisable to completely direct your show that way: it's easy for the rebel to become the causeless martyr.

My personal favourite is the third eye. That independant, objective third eye. Imagine that the show you are doing is being recorded and watched far in the future by a wise unbiased judge who is able to simply see how well (or badly) you have constructed and peformed your comedy. How does it stack up in the big picture? Did you lose the crowd part-way through but ultimately deliver a well crafted performance that was a step forward in your own creative evolution? This sounds so perfect, but pandering to perfection can damage your realities. You can entertain that third eye but have the crowd and the bar owner completely turned off, so you have to weigh your options. In the end, it's a mixture of all these audiences that should motivate you and hopefully attempting to achieve a balance is an enjoyable process.

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