Comedy Myth #1: There are no bad audiences

Myth #1: There are no bad audiences.

I once opened for a guy whose entire act was a PowerPoint presentation about the tech industry. This was at a comedy club in Silicon Valley, on “technology night.” He killed, because of course he did. It was a hometown crowd. But I guarantee he would have experienced a different reception in a Texas dive bar. It’s always dangerous to generalize, but this is my party and I’ll generalize if I want to: a Texas dive bar crowd is unlikely to lose their collective mind over jokes about “boolean loops” and “code refactoring.”

The idea that all crowds are created equal is nonsense, and as a comedian you need to realize that not all audiences will enjoy your particular brand of funny. To put it bluntly, you’re eventually going to run into a crowd that hates your face.

If you end up in front of the wrong crowd, don’t beat yourself up. And don’t beat them up, either. Nothing is worse than a bitter, bombing comic who’s berating the crowd because his/her material isn’t working. Every once in a while, bombing is no one’s fault. Try to win them over, and if you can’t, do your time with as much grace and poise as you can muster, preserve whatever dignity you can, then shrug off the L and move forward. You literally can’t win them all.

To clarify, I’m not saying you should give up if the first couple minutes of your set aren’t working. I’ve watched comics open to boos and end with a standing O. (And vice versa.) I’m also not providing excuses for bad comics. If you’re bombing regularly, that’s not the fault of crowds; that’s on you. Actually, let me say this: if more than 1% of your sets are going poorly, you’re not a good comedian yet. A professional comic does well 99% of the time. And as you get better and better, you will be offered better shows in more desirable venues, in front of excited, paying crowds, and you will have been selected by bookers because they know that you will do well in front of those crowds. As you get better, everything gets easier, and 99% of the time you shouldn’t be struggling. But 1% is still statistically significant: out of 100 shows, at least 1 of them will probably suck.

And that SHOULD be the case. No matter how big you get, you’re going to need to try new material somewhere, and that means you may occasionally accept crappy bookings, you may end up in a dive bar in Texas. You may be standing in front of an audience that hates your face. When—not “if”—that happens, don’t sweat it, roll with the punches, get back on the horse, blah blah other cliches.

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