Why I LOVE a Small Audience
Whenever I perform for a small crowd, after the show, without fail, someone tells me how bad they felt or how sorry they are about the turn-out. Truth be told, the only downside to a low turn-out is the economic impact. Otherwise, I actually ENJOY smaller, more intimate audiences.
For instance, I had a fun couple of days in Michigan over Valentines weekend. Even though, due to the holiday, the venues were expecting big turn-outs, but for various reasons, that did not happen. The crowds were maxed out at around 20 or so people in each club each night.
I like the challenge of a small crowd because it gets me out of my head. It helps break the pattern of the scripted routine. I really appreciate smaller crowds because they force me to stay present to the moment on stage, paying attention. It’s a vital skill to develop.
Small audiences will help you sharpen your act and create new material. Having to do a lot of improv with them, slowing down my pace a little, jumbling around my material helps put me in a creative flow state.
I have a lot of gratitude for whoever attends one of my shows. Sometimes there might not be very many people, but it’s almost always the perfect people. And I just want to make sure everyone has a great time and gets their money’s worth. I’ll stay on stage as long as it takes to make sure that happens, without wearing out my welcome. Rule #1 is always leave them wanting more.
A lot of times I hear comedians complain about the crowd not “giving” them enough energy or response. Well, the people aren’t there to GIVE you anything! They are already giving you their time, attention, and money. They bought a ticket to the show, food and drinks at the venue, and might have a babysitter on the clock. It’s our turn as comedians to then GIVE the audience what they came for- a great time escaping their real-life troubles. We owe them that.
I’ve noticed that sometimes an audience might really be enjoying the show, but just not responding vocally. I can be like that. I really like the comedian, I think they’re funny, I just don’t always laugh out loud. There are just certain things at certain times that are going to get the spontaneous belly laugh from me, but that’s rare.
Instead of just getting on stage and reciting material, deliver a performance from the heart in the moment. Be true and real. Don’t just deliver a canned performance. That’s a recital, not a performance. I always want to have fun with the crowd. When I just focus on having fun with the people who ARE there, it’s easy to keep going and going.
But I’m not one of those guys that never gives the crowd credit for being a bad crowd. If you can give them credit for being a good crowd, you can give them credit for being a bad crowd, too. Some audiences are just plain rude. And then it’s just going through the motions to collect a paycheck, trying to demand people’s attention. And in those situations, the failure of the event is not the fault of the performer.
Shows need to be promoted properly, so we avoid light turn-outs. One thing you can be sure of, if there’s a light turn-out for the event, somebody is losing money. For that reason alone, we should always strive for full houses- to maximize the return on investment. I screen my gig offers hard, mostly looking for people to work with who will actually care about putting butts in seats. If they don’t seem to care that much about marketing and promotion before the show, it’s a good indication of that the audience will be like.
That said, even with the best laid and executed promotion plan in place, you will still experience tiny audiences from time to time. And in those situations, too often, I hear comedians complain. “They weren’t giving me anything…” etc, etc.
They were giving you their attention! Try being a little more engaging instead of just reciting the material like you normally would. Drop the jokes, drop the canned material. Or maybe they are just laughed out and you’re going to have to accept that.
I highly recommend to my fellow performers to spend more time as audience members. Not as comedians evaluating the other comedian’s set, but a true audience member who’s only intention is to have a good time. Incorporate the lessons from that experience into your next performance.
These are just the random thoughts I have about life as a road comic. I like to record talking through these concepts, mostly to serve as future reminders to myself so I don’t get sloppy and always stay at the top of my game.
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