Don’t Sing Opera to Wrestling Fans

Select the right place to perform your humor.  Say no to requests which are not a fit for you.

Last week I attended an open-mike comedy night (as a spectator) and was reminded how difficult a performing situation can be when the fit isn’t right.

It was an amateur comedy show at a night club.  It was amateur in the sense that the performers were not paid.  Most of the comedy performed was quite good.  Some of it was excellent.

The venue was a nice, modern, clean night club packed with more than 100 people.  The crowd was a good, professional group of people who were there to meet friends.  It was not a bunch of drunks.

The problem with the venue was that it was not a comedy club.  Most of the people had NOT come to watch a stand-up comedy show.  They had come with the intention of meeting friends and talking.  So during the show, two-thirds of the crowd engaged in conversation while the other third strained to hear the comics over the buzz of the crowd. 

When the show started, I was standing in the back of the room and found it impossible to understand the performers.  From a performer’s point of view, it was not a pretty picture.  Funny material was lucky to get just a titter from the front row of tables.  I moved to a seat at one of the tables close to the stage.

What was being offered was not a match for what the audience was expecting.  It was like singing opera in a room filled with people who came to watch wrestling.

It’s been about thirty years since I performed in a stand-up comedy club.  I didn’t realize at the time how fortunate I was to have a real comedy club to perform in.  People came to watch comedy and when the show started, they stopped what they were doing and paid attention to what was happening on stage.  The comics still needed to be funny, but at least they had an environment where being funny was possible.

If you’re ever going to give stand-up comedy a try, I highly recommend not commiting to a performance until you first visit the venue to see what a typical open-mike night looks like.  What is the stage like?  How is the sound and lighting?  How about the crowd?  Are the performers having fun?  Or are they shaking their heads in frustration?  If experienced comics are struggling to connect with the audience, would a novice have a chance?  Does it look like a place where you would have fun performing?  If not, look for a better venue.

The attitude of caution applies to all speaking opportunities.  Avoid those which are not a fit for you.

  – Speaking to the wrong audience is not good.  For example speaking on a liberal topic to a conservative audience is probably a bad fit, or visa versa.

  – Speaking in a room not properly equipped with a speaking platform, sound or lights, might not be fun.

  – Speaking outdoors, especially doing humor outside, is often a no-laugh situation.

  – Speaking to an audience who was not expecting a speech, is sometimes not a good situation. 

  – As you attend the School of Hard Knocks, you’ll have some bad speaking experiences which you can add to your avoidance list.

Go into every speaking challenge with your eyes open.  Try to commit only to assignments which give you a good possibility of success.  And remember that in a bad situation, part of the crowd is aware of the challenges you face.  The other part of the crowd is totally unaware of how bad the speaking situation is.  Neither group needs to be reminded by the speaker how awful things are.  So when you find yourself in a bad situation, smile, give them your best, and don’t let them see you sweat.  Some of the audience understand and will enjoy your performance, and the rest of them won’t even know you’re there.  Any lack of response is, most likely, not a reflection on you.

Learn from every experience and you’ll be a better speaker the next time the platform or the audience challenges you.