The "enjoying it but not laughing" crowd

Laughter is what you're going for onstage. That's the measurement. And when you don't get it, it feels bad.

But there are degrees to a dead room. Sometimes you've just lost them completely; They're talking to each other or tuning out or just think you're plain old bad.

But sometimes there's a non-laughing crowd that's still having a good time. People are on the edge of their seats. They're engaged. They're having fun. They're doing everything but laughing. It ain't ideal, sure. But it's good to be able to recognize that non-laughter doesn't always equal failure.

When shit's going REALLY bad, then you gotta call it and address it or try to riff or do something about it. When they're into it but not laughing, you can plow through.

And sometimes that can lead to surprising results. You'll feel like you did shitty but then you'll have people come up afterward and tell you they thought it was great. Um, why didn't you laugh then? Well, there can be all kinds of reasons for that. A shitty host that doesn't warm 'em up enough, an awkward vibe in the room, or something else. Just saying it's good to recognize the shades of grey that exist between killing and bombing.


Unknown said...
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Sam Zayvan said...

I think there is a clear distinction between jokes that are "good" (in that they are clever, intelligent, and that people will remember them after they leave the show) and jokes that get the loudest and longest laughs. Obviously, ideally you want to have both, but sometimes I think you have to choose, especially if you want to kick your comedy to the next level. It's a challenge because as a comedian you are naturally inclined to keep the jokes that get the loudest laughs even if you are just talking about airplane food or farting in your mom's face.

This is a problem I have right now because I have no way of knowing whether a joke is "good" except from 1) the crowd laughing 2) My own judgment (which is radically at odds with what the rest of the world thinks) and 3) whatever my friends or random audience members may happen to tell me after they see it.

So that's hard.

Abbi Crutchfield said...

Sam, how many other ways exist to know joke is good? I think those three are pretty good criteria. One thing I like to do is get feedback from other comedians in a writing room, or at an open mic. But specifically one where we're watching closely and taking notes on each other. It helps to work with comics I also find funny, whose judgment I trust, and who have seen me perform many times before.

Matt, I had a set a few months ago at Ochi's where I told everything exactly how I wanted to tell it, and they didn't laugh once. They patiently smiled and listened. I wasn't scared into my shell, but I was dumbfounded. Finally I turn to a lady in the front row and ask, "If you could use one word to describe me right now, what would it be?" I'm thinking she'll say, "Unfunny. Whiny. Dumb. Corny." She pauses and says, "Um...eccentric?" So that was my note for the night, even though I didn't plan any of my material or delivery to come across that way. Then again, I put her on the spot, so maybe that's the first word that came to mind. I could have been "beer-esque"

myq said...

I feel like you're addressing something different than Matt was bringing up. That is, it seems to me that Matt is referring to jokes that might get raucous laughter from one crowd, but silent appreciation from another (which can happen to anyone, with any jokes, I'd say).
What you, Sam, are talking about, is also noteworthy, and I think Abbi brings up a good point--in addition to the crowd laughing and your own judgments (the intersection of which should be the best combination, unless you and the crowd are both wrong, like a racist delivering stereotypes to a crowd full of KKK members), getting feedback from people you respect, if they'll give it, can be very helpful.
Can you spot "good" comedy from other comedians? Your peers? People you know? If you're friendly with such people, then perhaps they can help you figure out what parts of yourself and your own act are the best.

Then you can perform those jokes in front of one of Matt's quietly appreciative crowds.

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