What Do You Do When Nobody Laughs?

Reader and aspriing comedian Andrew asks:

How do you react when people don’t laugh? Do you just go straight onto the next bit and pretend that there weren’t supposed to be laughs at that specific point?

Hey Andrew,

My answer to this still evolving.

At first, my natural tendency was to 1) die a little inside if the crowd didn’t laugh at something I thought was funny and then 2) speed up my delivery so people don’t notice that was a failed punch line.

My current method is to stop talking after what I think is a punch line, stare straight into the audience and wait 2 to 3 seconds. If you’re confident enough and the punch line is somewhat funny, you’ll usually get a laugh. If it doesn’t happen, you still die inside, but you need to move on without speeding up.

Keep in mind, not talking for one second when nobody is laughing will feel like ten minutes. During a show I’ll think I paused for 10 seconds, but on tape it’s really only 2 or 3 seconds.

Other times, I’ll also just admit that joke failed, and I get a laugh from that. “Wow, I’m never doing that one again,” “God, I hope the next comic is better than this” or “You’re right, that wasn’t funny.”

If a joke doesn’t work with a few different audiences, it’s time to cut or rework the joke. The larger an audience is, the more useful their response. It’s a lot harder to get 3 people to laugh (especially if they’re comics) than it is to get 30 or 300 people to laugh. Laughter is contagious.

I’ve also been playing a little bit with forcing out the laugh even if they don’t want to laugh by just waiting and waiting, after a 5 or 6 seconds, the tension usually gets awkward and they laugh (watch some of my recent videos for examples –I’ve been working on just staring at them until they laugh).

One last method I’ve been playing with is saving half a joke until people don’t laugh. I have a bit about “When someone doesn’t laugh at a joke, I just assume they’re deaf.” I’m now saving the second part of that, “Turn up your hearing aid” for if/when a joke fails.

Wanna try stand-up comedy yourself? Consider taking my NYC Comedy Class or booking a private one-on-one comedy coaching session (in person or via Zoom)

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5 Replies to “What Do You Do When Nobody Laughs?”

  1. “God awful”…. there is a bit right there, courtesy of that douchebag. …. when does something become “god” awful? lol

  2. Wow Ben where have you been all my comedic life??? LOL 😀 these tips are phenomenal!! I just read your article on how to produce your own show and boy was it helpful! Though I’ve produced several shows, I needed some new guidance. I wish I would’ve known about when I first started doing stand up 12 years ago…hello! Nonetheless praise God I found you now. Thanks so much for sharing your expertise and wisdom.


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