So You’re Not Connecting With The Audience, Now What?

This happens to me more often than I’d like. There’s a few different techniques that I’ve tried, all with limited success:
1) If you bumble your setup, you can just say “oops I got my tongue twisted, we’re gonna rewind time” (make a tape rewind sound, then start your joke again)
2) If your first punch line doesn’t hit, change topics
3) Keep going with the joke, and if three punch lines in a row miss, just acknowledge it, “You’re right, I need to make that funnier” (just don’t get in the habit of always doing this, especially at open mics because it will almost always get a laugh but for the wrong reasons)
4) I have this issue too, but try to commit to the joke more. You might not be connecting because it’s not evident you fully believe what you’re saying. This is particularly true when you’re doing an act out. I have a funny video I need to upload of an open mic I did a couple weeks back where I decided to do the same joke 6 times in a row (it was a 10 minute open mic set) because I decided the joke wasn’t funny and I needed to really commit to it.
5) This is more for a real show than an open mic, but it can work if there’s audience members that aren’t comics: If you notice jokes aren’t working, stop doing jokes and have a conversation with the audience. This is annoying if you’re trying to work out a joke and have limited time, but it will save the set.

You’re in the middle of a joke, or even worse, a set, and you see that the audience isn’t connecting or following what you’re saying. This is bound to happen occasionally (hopefully not too often) and how you deal with it can make or break the set.

Here’s a few different techniques that I’ve tried, all with varying levels of success:

  1. If the problem was you stumbled over your setup, you can just say “oops I got my tongue twisted, we’re gonna rewind time” (make a tape rewind sound) and then start your joke again
  2. If your first punch line doesn’t hit, change topics
  3. If your first punch line doesn’t hit, keep going with the joke. If three punch lines in a row miss, just acknowledge it, “You’re right, I need to make that funnier” (just don’t get in the habit of always doing this, especially at open mics because saying this will almost always get a laugh but for the wrong reasons)
  4. Try to commit to the joke more. You might not be connecting because it’s not evident you fully believe what you’re saying. This is particularly true when you’re doing an act out. There’s an open mic I did a couple weeks back where I decided to do the same joke 6 times in a row (it was a 10 minute open mic set) because I decided the joke wasn’t funny and I needed to really commit to it (video of this is coming soon).
  5. If you notice jokes aren’t working, stop doing jokes and have a conversation with the audience. You don’t even need to try to be funny. Some audiences just want a talk show style therapy session. (I’ve found this tends to happen with smaller crowds of 8 to 15 moreso than with large crowds.) This is annoying if you’re trying to work out new material and have limited time, but it will save the set.

Have additional questions on this or other topics? Click here to learn about my mentoring services.

Other Comedy Tips:

  • 10 Steps to Become a Great MC
  • 3 Tips To Planning A Successful Comedy Show
  • Are Any Topics Off Limits?
  • Barking Tips
  • Clayton Fletcher: Auditioning Q&A
  • Clayton’s 7 Tips
  • Clayton: When To Become A Full Time Comedian
  • Comedy Economics
  • Dealing With Hecklers
  • Eleven Observations About The Comedy Business
  • Five Basic Improv Techniques
  • Five Tips For Your Comedy Event To Run Smoothly
  • Free Comedy Content Economics
  • Hi-Tech Comedy Interviews
  • How To Make Money In Comedy
  • How To Put Together A Great College Comedy Show
  • How To Record Your Own Comedy Album
  • How To Self Publish A Book Through Kickstarter
  • Interview with John Vorhaus
  • Intro to Improv
  • My Comedy Mindset
  • My Writing Process
  • Not Connecting With The Audience?
  • Organizing Jokes
  • Overcoming Stage Fright
  • Producing a Show: Getting Audience
  • Producing a Show: Running The Show
  • Producing a Show: The Comics
  • Producing a Show: The Venue
  • Road Work Tips from Danny Browning
  • Stealing Jokes – Ben's Thoughts
  • Ten Tips To Succeed During a Check Spot
  • The 8 Different Types of Comedy Audiences
  • The Pecking Order
  • Treat It Like a Job
  • Types of Shows for Beginners
  • Types of Spots
  • What To Do When Nobody Laughs
  • Why I Won’t Be a Pro Snowboarder
  • Your First Stand Up Performance
  • 5 Tips for Overcoming Stage Fright

    A lot of people are scared of speaking in front of large groups. And that’s when you’re not even trying to get them to laugh. At one of the open mics I go to, a newer comedian asked me how I overcame being nervous on stage. (My hands used to shake while holding the mic and I would never pause after punch lines.)

    Tip #1: There’s no real shortcut, getting over stage fright just comes with reps. The more you’re on stage, the less nervous you get. If you can get comfortable with complete silence (when neither you nor the audience is talking) you’ll be well on your way. 

    Tip #2: Practice deep breathing for five minutes before getting on stage. Focusing on taking deep breaths helps calm the adrenaline and still the mind. Picturing your performancein your mind and hearing the laughs and pauses works well in conjunction with breathing, as long as you can remain positive. 

    Tip #3: Read “The Inner Game of Tennisthis will help you with most of everything you do in life, not just getting comfortable on stage. The basic summary of the book is to turn off your conscious, questioning everything mind and to trust your subconscious. This book is basically about how to get in, and stay in, “the zone”. I highly recommend reading it even if you have no intention of getting on stage (or playing tennis). 

    Tip #4: Use external mood alterers. A pro comic I know said he uses alcohol as his crutch and has been doing it for over 10 years. He mentioned that the first few times he did comedy he was sober and wasn’t funny, so he started drinking, felt more at ease and got funny. He said many pro comics he knows use alcohol, pot or cocaine to get into a good state of mind before getting on stage. I don’t recommend this strategy, as you never know when an entire state can run dry on coke. This tip may also be an issue if you’re overcoming stage fright to present at a work conference at 9am…

    Tip #5: Channel the nervous energy in a positive way. Being nervous in and of itself isn’t bad, it’s what you do with the nervousness. There was a recent ESPN article about Tiger Woods who was quoted as saying, “The day I’m not nervous is the day I quit… Of course I’ll be nervous. That’s the greatest thing about it, just to feel that rush.” If the greatest golfer still gets nervous (and he doesn’t even have to speak!), it’s okay if you get feel it too. Just try to turn it into something you can use while speaking.

    In conclusion, accept that you’re going to have some nerves. Acknowledge that it’s natural, know you’ve gotten through it before (unless it’s your first time on stage) and this should already make you less nervous. Then when the adrenaline occurs, either turn that nervousness into a positive, or do your best to ignore it.

    Have additional questions on this or other topics? Click here to learn about my mentoring services.

    Other Comedy Tips:

  • 10 Steps to Become a Great MC
  • 3 Tips To Planning A Successful Comedy Show
  • Are Any Topics Off Limits?
  • Barking Tips
  • Clayton Fletcher: Auditioning Q&A
  • Clayton’s 7 Tips
  • Clayton: When To Become A Full Time Comedian
  • Comedy Economics
  • Dealing With Hecklers
  • Eleven Observations About The Comedy Business
  • Five Basic Improv Techniques
  • Five Tips For Your Comedy Event To Run Smoothly
  • Free Comedy Content Economics
  • Hi-Tech Comedy Interviews
  • How To Make Money In Comedy
  • How To Put Together A Great College Comedy Show
  • How To Record Your Own Comedy Album
  • How To Self Publish A Book Through Kickstarter
  • Interview with John Vorhaus
  • Intro to Improv
  • My Comedy Mindset
  • My Writing Process
  • Not Connecting With The Audience?
  • Organizing Jokes
  • Overcoming Stage Fright
  • Producing a Show: Getting Audience
  • Producing a Show: Running The Show
  • Producing a Show: The Comics
  • Producing a Show: The Venue
  • Road Work Tips from Danny Browning
  • Stealing Jokes – Ben's Thoughts
  • Ten Tips To Succeed During a Check Spot
  • The 8 Different Types of Comedy Audiences
  • The Pecking Order
  • Treat It Like a Job
  • Types of Shows for Beginners
  • Types of Spots
  • What To Do When Nobody Laughs
  • Why I Won’t Be a Pro Snowboarder
  • Your First Stand Up Performance
  • 9 Tips for Your First Stand Up Comedy Performance

    You love comedy. You watch all the great (and some not so great) comics and lots of comedy tv shows. You’ve probably written a few jokes and you’ve toyed with the idea of performing. Here are some tips to motivate yourself to get on stage and what to do when you’re there.

    1. Get on stage as soon as humanely possible. You don’t want to over think it, start making excuses and end up never getting on stage.
    2. Don’t get on stage without first running the jokes by your friends and seeing if they laugh. If your friends don’t laugh at any of your material, you either have terrible friends or terrible jokes. You decide.
    3. Keep a note card in your pocket. No matter how much you practice, your mind can go blank the first time. My mind would go blank at least once a set my first ten or twelve times on stage.
    4. Slow down. You’ll almost certainly be nervous and start to rush through your punch lines if there isn’t instantaneous laughter. It takes a long time to get comfortable with silence, but for now, just talk slower. Think you’re talking too slow? Slow down more anyway.
    5. Videotape it. Or if you can’t afford a camera (most still digital cameras have a video mode), get a $20 voice recorder or download VoiceNotes for your iPhone (if you have one).
    6. When you see a light, that means you have one minute to wrap it up. Don’t run your time. Chances are you’re not gonna be that funny your first. You don’t want to piss off the host and club manager as well.
    7. Don’t stop until you finish all your jokes or time runs out, no matter how quiet the crowd is and how much you feel like dying. Embrace the feeling of wanting to kill yourself, if you get hooked on this stuff, you’ll feel it many more times, even when you start getting paid to perform.
    8. Being nervous is normal. You’re stepping outside your comfort zone so you may feel some nerves or adrenaline before hand. That’s fine and natural. Know you’ll be fine once you’re up there and talking. If you’re up there and feel nervous for more than the first minute, you can say it aloud, the truth of the situation will probably get a laugh.
    9. Try to have fun. You’re not gonna get a half hour special or a sitcom deal from your first time ever on stage (this isn’t the 80’s!). So just try to enjoy it as much as you can.

    Have additional questions on this or other topics? Click here to learn about my mentoring services.

    Other Comedy Tips:

  • 10 Steps to Become a Great MC
  • 3 Tips To Planning A Successful Comedy Show
  • Are Any Topics Off Limits?
  • Barking Tips
  • Clayton Fletcher: Auditioning Q&A
  • Clayton’s 7 Tips
  • Clayton: When To Become A Full Time Comedian
  • Comedy Economics
  • Dealing With Hecklers
  • Eleven Observations About The Comedy Business
  • Five Basic Improv Techniques
  • Five Tips For Your Comedy Event To Run Smoothly
  • Free Comedy Content Economics
  • Hi-Tech Comedy Interviews
  • How To Make Money In Comedy
  • How To Put Together A Great College Comedy Show
  • How To Record Your Own Comedy Album
  • How To Self Publish A Book Through Kickstarter
  • Interview with John Vorhaus
  • Intro to Improv
  • My Comedy Mindset
  • My Writing Process
  • Not Connecting With The Audience?
  • Organizing Jokes
  • Overcoming Stage Fright
  • Producing a Show: Getting Audience
  • Producing a Show: Running The Show
  • Producing a Show: The Comics
  • Producing a Show: The Venue
  • Road Work Tips from Danny Browning
  • Stealing Jokes – Ben's Thoughts
  • Ten Tips To Succeed During a Check Spot
  • The 8 Different Types of Comedy Audiences
  • The Pecking Order
  • Treat It Like a Job
  • Types of Shows for Beginners
  • Types of Spots
  • What To Do When Nobody Laughs
  • Why I Won’t Be a Pro Snowboarder
  • Your First Stand Up Performance
  • The Comedy Business: Types of Spots

    This is a continuing series of posts about the business and production side of stand up comedy that most people don’t know about. Click here to view part one which explains the different types of shows.

    The Stand Up Format:

    Every stand up show has multiple performers. Even the stand up heavyweights that play in 20,000 seat stadiums like Dane Cook (love him or hate him, he plays huge venues) have at least one comedian perform before them to warm up the crowd.

    For well known acts, the format of the evening is usually: Opener, Middle and Headliner, with the emcee coming on in between comics. For clubs that showcase new talent, there can be anywhere from 7 to 25 comedians performing in a given show so the format would be more like: Opener, Middle, Middle, Middle …. Middle, “Headliner”.

    The types of spots:

    Emcee: Your host for the night, he (or she) usually does some crowd work at the beginning, introduces every comic, and keeps the show running on schedule by giving every comic the one minute warning light. (Comics are told in advance how much time they will be given on stage and it falls on the emcee to remind them when time is running out.) The emcee is not expected to tell many of their jokes, but if a comic “bombs” (gets very few or no laughs) then the emcee is also expected to tell a solid joke or two to win the audience back over before the next comic gets up on stage.

    Opener: The first comic that the emcee introduces. He is the opener and usually has the shortest amount of time. His job is the warm up the crowd and get them laughing, so that they are ready to be rolling on the floor for the later acts. It’s interesting to note that even with the same material, a comic will get more laughs later in the show. At the start of the show, the audience is not warmed up and is less receptive.

    Middle: Can be one or more comics that go between the opener and the headliner. Some (bringer) shows don’t have a headliner, so everyone is a middle comic except for the opener and the:

    Check Spot: Considered the worst spot to get. This is usually right before the headliner goes up and is when all the tables in the crowd are given their check. This is the worst spot because most people momentarily stop paying attention to the show and examine the bill, get out their wallet, and figure out who owes how much. Some talking usually occurs. And since not everyone is able to receives their check at the same time, constant talking is heard throughout the check spot. This spot can also be part of an emcee’s job.

    Headliner: The last person to go. Usually, producers “save the best for last”. At major comedy clubs and stadiums, this person’s name is usually the reason you decided to come. Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock are two examples of headliners. By this point, the crowd is nice and liquored up, and is usually familiar with the comic coming up next, so they are expecting hilarity. During open mics, the last comic to go up is also called the headliner but in a derisive /sarcastic context.

    How The Lineup is Determined

    “The Lineup” (which comic gets which spot) is determined by the producer of the show. A producer can be an individual renting out a performance space, or the comedy club itself (usually represented by a manager). The lineup can be created days or weeks before the show (in the case of well known comics) or it can be created during the show, where a comic is given a 2 minute notice that they are up next.

    The producer’s relationship or contract with each comic, how many people came to see a certain comic that night (if it’s a bringer) and the comic’s name recognition / the comic’s level on the comedy ladder (a post about this topic is forthcoming) all help to determine the line up.

    Paid vs Free Performances and Guest Spots

    The same factors that determine where in the lineup a comic is performing also help to determine whether the comic is getting paid, being given a guest spot, or has to do something in return for stage time (bark or bring friends).

    A guest spot is a “present” to the comedian performing. A comedian can be given a guest spot for a number of reasons including: being friends with the producer, doing something helpful for a producer previously (like bringing a lot of people) or because the comedian being given a guest spot also produces a different show and the has “traded spots” with this show’s producer (most producers are also stand up comedians).

    Once you are able to make a crowd laugh consistently, you need constant stage time to keep improving your craft. Producing your own show and trading guest spots with other comics is one of the best ways to gain extra stage time, exposure to other audiences and to network with other comedians.

    Have additional questions on this or other topics? Click here to learn about my mentoring services.

    Other Comedy Tips:

  • 10 Steps to Become a Great MC
  • 3 Tips To Planning A Successful Comedy Show
  • Are Any Topics Off Limits?
  • Barking Tips
  • Clayton Fletcher: Auditioning Q&A
  • Clayton’s 7 Tips
  • Clayton: When To Become A Full Time Comedian
  • Comedy Economics
  • Dealing With Hecklers
  • Eleven Observations About The Comedy Business
  • Five Basic Improv Techniques
  • Five Tips For Your Comedy Event To Run Smoothly
  • Free Comedy Content Economics
  • Hi-Tech Comedy Interviews
  • How To Make Money In Comedy
  • How To Put Together A Great College Comedy Show
  • How To Record Your Own Comedy Album
  • How To Self Publish A Book Through Kickstarter
  • Interview with John Vorhaus
  • Intro to Improv
  • My Comedy Mindset
  • My Writing Process
  • Not Connecting With The Audience?
  • Organizing Jokes
  • Overcoming Stage Fright
  • Producing a Show: Getting Audience
  • Producing a Show: Running The Show
  • Producing a Show: The Comics
  • Producing a Show: The Venue
  • Road Work Tips from Danny Browning
  • Stealing Jokes – Ben's Thoughts
  • Ten Tips To Succeed During a Check Spot
  • The 8 Different Types of Comedy Audiences
  • The Pecking Order
  • Treat It Like a Job
  • Types of Shows for Beginners
  • Types of Spots
  • What To Do When Nobody Laughs
  • Why I Won’t Be a Pro Snowboarder
  • Your First Stand Up Performance
  • Keep Tightening Material

    Last Saturday was the first time I got consistent laughs throughout my set. The laughs weren’t as hard as when I Killed (I think it was due to a smaller audience), but they kept on coming.

    In comedy, “to tighten material” means “to shorten it”. And that’s what I’ve been doing. The constant laughter in the video is a direct reflection of that. Editing myself down to fewer and fewer words about a topic is one of the most painful things for me (and many writers) to do.

    I have an irrational emotional attachment to my words, especially to punch lines that I find funny but the audience doesn’t react to. Although it takes me longer to dump extra words than it should, I have been doing it, and I’m going to continue to do it, even if it feels like I’m murdering one of my children every time I hit the delete key.

    Here’s the set: