Learning To Read the Audience

As a magician, I learned many years ago that the best magic to perform was the magic that the audience loves.  That seems obvious.  But sometimes, those popular magic tricks were not the same ones that were MY favorites.  In fact, what became one of the hit items of my walk-around, close-up magic act was a trick that I never liked.  The first time I saw it performed at a magic convention, it was obvious to me how it was done.  But I was a magician…and I needed a lay person’s point of view.  In time, I learned to like the trick, because my audience loved it.  The true test is the audience response.

The same situation exists when delivering humor from the platform.  You want to use humor which grabs the audience.  If you’re doing humor YOU love…but which the audience doesn’t…you lose.  If you do humor that doesn’t turn you on…but which knocks your audience out of their seats with laughter…you win.

The trick is not to be able to know what YOU think is funny.  The skill you need is the ability to predict, in advance, what YOUR AUDIENCE will think is funny. 

I’ve sometimes heard that comedy is a numbers game.

Yes and no.  It’s a numbers game in the creation process…but not in the delivery.

When brainstorming, you want to create as many funny lines, as many choices, as you can.  From a multitude of choices you distill the list to the funniest line or word.  It’s definitely a numbers game.

Some people treat the delivery process as a numbers game too.  They throw a lot of lines against the wall to see what sticks.  And while that process does tell you which lines are funny…which lines the audience laughs at…it doesn’t train you to be able to PREDICT which lines are going to be the best. 

You become a better judge of what the audience thinks is funny by trying to predict which lines are strongest BEFORE you deliver them.  Rather just delivering a quantity of lines to find out which ones are funny…you instead are delivering lines to verify the accuracy of your predictions of which lines are the funniest.  Because in real speaking situations, you normally have the time and space to use only your best single line.  You need to train yourself to know how to pick it.  And that skill comes from understanding that humor creation is a numbers game…humor delivery is not.

That explains the change in our monthly humor contest submission process.  Most of our readers submit more than one line.  Many submit more than 10 lines for every contest.  That’s great.  We’re hoping to improve our contestants’ humor skills by requiring them to pick what they feel are their best three lines before they submit them.  When someone does that, they learn to be a better judge of what’s funny to someone else.  And that’s a key skill for using humor from the platform.