2-3 hour marathon shows sap the life out of the crowd. If you're one of the last comics to go up, it can be pretty depressing. A dozen people in the room who are tired and don't feel like laughing. It's tempting to just phone it in, get conversational, give up on doing any written stuff, etc. I've done it before.
But then you watch an established comic work a room like that and you see something different. Last night, Rick Shapiro and Gary Gulman went up late on one of those shows at Comedy Village. And they still got laughs. Rick's always a tornado on stage, regardless of the size of the crowd. I've seen Louis CK kick ass in a similar, dozen-people-in-the-room situation too.
They do it right because they don't know how else to do it. It's built in. The energy, the commitment to the bit, the pro-ness. There may be some modulation, but there's never any quit.
There's a frame thing going on in those situations too. If you have a strong enough mental frame, you can seduce others into it. People will follow a strong attitude. If you know you're funny and ooze that confidence, other people will buy it too. It's your job to put the wind in the sails.
There's no point in sitting around and waiting for hours to get up on stage just so you can phone it in. Better to view it as a test. Can I turn this completely dead room around? Can I follow a total hack that has people squirming and bring 'em back? The plus side of it all: If something works in a dead room with just a few people, then you know you've got something.
"Stage time in this city is too valuable to waste." -Gary Gulman
Sandpaper Suit is NYC standup comic Matt Ruby's (now defunct) comedy blog. Keep in touch: Sign up for Matt's weekly Rubesletter. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Stage time in this city is too valuable to waste"
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