How to Be a Good Comedy Audience

Inspired by an article on Hip in Detroit about how to be a good music fan, I decided to write about what it takes to be a good comedy audience.

1. Research the comedian you’re going to see.  There are a crazy number of a varieties of comedy.  It’s like ice cream.  Baskin Robbins sells 31 flavors because not everybody likes chocolate or vanilla.  Some people love Superman…and if you’re one of those people, you’re wrong!  Comedy is the same way.  Maybe you like the nimble wordplay of a Myq Kaplan or the introspection of a Marc Maron or maybe you just like an angry hippy to smash a watermelon on stage.  Those are just three examples of the many, many kinds of comedy out there.  All are valid.  Comedy clubs generally only serve one kind of ice cream each week.  I love Moose Tracks.  I’d hate to go to a comedy club expecting Moose Tracks and find out that week they were only serving Raspberry Sherbet.  I hate Rasperries!  So research your entertainment options.  Most comedy clubs have a website where they list the performers.  And most performers have clips of their act available online.  I wouldn’t walk into a movie house and just plan on seeing “movie”.  No, I’d know exactly what movie I wanted to see because I researched the product  first.  I should have stuck with the ice cream analogy.  I’m hungry.

2. Don’t get drunk before a show.  Notoriously, I’ve noticed the second shows Friday and Saturday kind of stink.  I always assume some of the people there wanted to make the first show, but were running late, so they spent the time at the bar.  Don’t.  Maybe go grab a coffee drink instead.  Much like ice cream, there are a ton of flavors of coffee drinks too.  When I write with my friends, if a joke or a premise is hard to follow, we always point out that we’re sober and paying attention.  How is that bit going to play out with an audience that’s drunk?  Oh!  Also, many clubs have a two drink minimum, so there will be plenty of time for drinks later.  You don’t really need to tailgate a comedy show.

3. No one cares about your stupid phone.  It’s the 21st century.  Most of us have had cellphone for over ten years now.  It should be muscle memory to turn off that ringer.  I don’t think a week went by in any club where there wasn’t at least one mistake.  Also, checking a text or something during a show lights up your face and it’s freaky.  Seriously, from the stage, once you get past the first couple of rows all we see is a sea of darkness.  If all of a sudden a glowing face pops up from the shadows it’s a little jarring!  Even if you’re checking your phone under the table, we can see it.  If you can see the screen, we can see your face.  If you are anticipating an important text and your silent phone vibrates, run to the bathroom or something to check it.    It’s kind of like if you were at your job and a face popped up over your cubicle like a Whack-A-Mole game and said, “Hey!”  It would throw you off your game a little.  It might even make you pee a squirt.

4. Patience is a virtue.  If you go to a restaurant, chances are you walked in at the same time as maybe one or two other groups.  At comedy clubs, everyone arrives within the same window more or less.  The waitstaff has to take everyone’s drink order almost at the exact same time.  Then everyone is finishing up those first drinks roughly at the same time too, so the staff takes everyone’s second order simultaneously.  Oh yeah, and check drops happen at the same time.  It’s hard being a waiter or waitress in a comedy club because the action isn’t staggered like it is in a restaurant.  There are no down times.  You’re always on the go.  Give them a break and try to understand that.  They’re busy.  Tip them well too.  They work hard and deserve it.

5. Check drops suck.  Some clubs do a great job.  My favorite, when it comes to check drops, is Skyline in Appleton, Wisconsin because they just don’t do one.  When you leave, you tell the cashier what table you were at and you pay then.  They have someone set up specifically to handle that while the rest of the staff cleans the room.  Oh yeah, and because you have your money out, you’re probably more likely to buy some of our merchandise, because we’re waiting just around the corner…more on that in a second.  Check drops stink because they happen at the exact same time, like I pointed out earlier.  If you’re with a big group and the waitstaff didn’t separate your table’s bill, ask for a copy and divvy up the money later.  It’s just math.  It’s not rocket science…yeah, maybe after the two drink minimum it feels like rocket science.  Oh!  Here’s an idea, just round up and tip the aforementioned waitstaff a little extra.

6: Don’t heckle.  This should probably go without saying.  You weren’t there when we wrote this material, so we don’t need your help when we’re delivering it.  Some comedians, like myself, interact with the audience.  There’s kind of a skill to that, beyond just being able to stay in control.  When I interact with someone, I try to find someone who looks like they’re into the show.  I don’t want to ruin someone’s night if they look like the kind of person who doesn’t want to be the center of attention.  My personal favorite thing to do is finding the biggest, scariest looking guy in the front and bounce back and forth with him for a little bit.  Generally, I found that guy to be pretty cool.  Do you know who I never want to talk to?  The drunk idiot who doesn’t realize the show isn’t about them.  Maybe you’re charming in your day to day life and people like you.  Maybe they’re just being nice to you because you have a fragile ego…which I suspect is often the case in people who can’t have the spotlight on someone besides you for 90 minutes.  The point is, you’re not charming in a room full of strangers.  Shut it down, yammer mouth.  No one cares.  The hardest heckle to deal with is the person who isn’t trying to be mean, but is genuinely trying to help.  You’re not.

Hey, but you just wrote that you talk to the audience.  What’s up with that?

Like a Christopher Guest movie (This is Spinal Tap, Best in Show) I’m following a rough outline of how the scene is going to go.  A heckle is verbal dog poop there to screw up your day.  If you really think you’re that funny, many clubs have an open mic night.  Put your money where you mouth is and find out.

7. Sit in the front.  I have no idea why more comedy clubs don’t just have mandatory seating.  I was just in a city where every single show the front row was always completely empty.  I get it, you don’t want to be part of the act and the front row is scary.  It’s not the end of the world.  Before I started doing stand up, I went to a show at Second City and sat in the front.  There was an intermission, the lights came up and the only female cast member was right there at the edge of the stage in my face.  She quizzed me and my date about our night and then the entire cast improvised a song and dance number about how terrible it would be to be out on a date with me.  It was horribly embarrassing.  But you know what?  The next day everything was fine.  Many…I’ll go as far as to say most comedians don’t like to talk to the audience.  You’re pretty safe in the front.  And those that do like to talk to you, myself included, try to make an educated choice about who we talk to.

8. Buy some merchandise.  I have a friend who is in a band on a record label.  The first time he came to see me, he asked if the promoter rented a van or something for me and the other comedy to travel.  Nope.  That kind of thing doesn’t happen for the most part.  Unless you’re seeing someone with a few good television credits, we’re traveling on our own.  Maybe we’re doing it in our own car or we’re at the level where we’re flying into your town and renting a car.  Gas is really expensive.  Comedy club money has gone down significantly over the past twenty years.  During the peak of comedy an emcee (the host) of a show was making as much money as some headliners make today.  Nowadays, a lot of clubs either don’t have hosts or do, but just don’t pay them.  We don’t necessarily sell shirts with stupid catchphrases because we believe in the shirt.  We sell them because we have to.  I personally don’t sell silly shirts because I’d rather put that money into albums.  I have three comedy albums.  I sell them ridiculously cheap.  Pick one up after a show.  Even if we weren’t your cup of tea…or flavor of ice cream…maybe you know someone who might like us more…support the arts.   Sometimes a show we’re not happy with can seem a little bit better if we had some merchandise sales.  It’s not worth it for me to travel without my own opener to split the cost of gasoline.  We don’t make a lot of money.  We may joke that we only work an hour or two each night, but that’s not true at all.  We write, we do open mics, we travel.  If you break down how much most of us make per hour, we’re making less than a fry cook at Burger King.

8. Spread the word.  Almost every comedian is online either on Facebook or Twitter.   Tell your friends about us and tag us in your posts or tweets.  It makes us feel good and it spreads the word.  The clubs are online too.  Tag them.  Tell them you had a good time.  That will help get us back there again next year.   If you didn’t have a good time, it’s probably because of something you did.  Most likely it’s because you didn’t follow the first step of researching your options better.  So if you didn’t have fun, keep it to yourself.  My mom always told me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say, write those words down on a scrap of paper, fold it up real tiny and stick them inside my stuffed tiger’s butt.  My mom was kind of weird like that.   I think most comedy club comment cards are garbage.  Not one of them, that I know of, asks any important questions.  Here are questions I think should be on comment cards:

If there was heckling during the show, did our staff handle it appropriately?

Did we advertise the comedians properly on our website so you were able to research how you were spending your entertainment dollar?

Was our waitstaff quiet and courteous when taking drink orders from the tables around you, so as not to interrupt the show?

Were the sound and lighting adequate for you to enjoy the performance?

If you think of any other ideas, let me know and I’d be happy to add them to the list.  Hope this helps.  Comedy is a very unique art form in that everything about it is almost set against you to make it fail.  We’re writing material to appeal to a variety of people who only have one thing in common, we’re all in the same room.  Maybe this will increase everybody’s odds and we can all have a good time.



About Mike Bobbitt

Sometimes professional storyteller.

Posted on July 3, 2014, in More Misadventures! and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I really like the advice to do a little research before watching a comedian. I am a huge fan of stand up comedy and I am always looking for a laugh. I definitely think that I should surprise my wife and take her to a live show sometime this summer.

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