Recently I had a terrible experience where I was performing at a live auction. I was to loosen them up to get them to get ready to spend some money. I did my job, and initially they were respectful. But I performed again after the auction and no one was paying attention. I had lost my audience.
There were a couple elements that contributed to the perfect storm:
It was outdoors under a tent
the mic was weak and not a regular PA
We sandwiched the Auction… meaning there were two comics before the auction and two comics after
We allowed for there to be a break between the auction and the 2nd set of comedians*
In retrospect and something I suggested to the Auction committee, it would have been a better fit to have music at the end
*None of these I had control over but the break, which now I know I would have just gone on after the auction.
Recently I had a comedian in my class who had some blue material that in retrospect may have gone too long. He ended up losing his audience because the audience wasn’t into female ejaculate at that moment. Rather then focusing on the possible reasons why this material didn’t work, I think it is better to focus on how to get your audience back.
Every comedian knows when you have lost your audience. It is like bobbing in the middle an ocean of self consciousness. You look out and sometimes all you can do is “power through”… keep swimming upstream with the content that allowed you to lose them in the first place.
I would suggest there is another way… Perhaps you can win them back… It’s not too late
So here are a couple techniques that could get you back on track:
Call it out in the room –
There is usually a reason why you lost them.
It could be that your material made them angry, feel attacked, or was insensitive. We all miss the mark sometimes when voicing our opinion and sometimes what we think is funny is rude to an audience. I have seen comics who use this opportunity to belittle and chide an audience for not thinking their stuff is hilarious. Rarely is it the audience’s fault. Humility and empathy comes into play here. You now know that this material didn’t get the laughs that it would. And if you keep going with it, you will break the trust they have in you. Keep in mind, they don’t need to pay attention you. Though you may have a microphone, they can and will disengage, and when you don’t have your finger on the pulse of who they are. It is best to eat humble pie and just call it out. “It looks like that joke was not funny.” you can think of something cleverer, but simply keeping it real with them may allow them to listen to you again.
It might be something that didn’t have anything to do with your material, they can’t hear you, they were just told that the beer ran out. When you notice it, it is best to call it out. Simply reassuring them that you are in the same boat may allow for trust and attention to be re-gained. Simply address the reason compassionately and you may win them back. For instance, in this terrible auction experience, I noticed that there were 2 out of 60 people that were paying attention to me, so I addressed them. I needed feedback. “Should I keep going on?” I asked. I wanted to be respectful of the event coordinator for putting me on, but I also didn’t want my audience to feel captive. The two people said Yeah. They were enjoying themselves and this was what I needed to continue. Sometimes it’s not you, but calling it out allows you both to start afresh.
Connect and Pivot –
When you see that a joke isn’t working, hone in on the people that you haven’t lost, and see if you can deliver material for them. An audience is made up of individuals, and if you can reach and win a few, that momentum will take you back into trust with the rest. Hone in on the front row. you can even ask them “not really funny right?” It’s an age old trick that allows teachers to get students to pay attention. Ask a question of the person who is disruptive. In this case, don’t shame them but ask their opinion. If they are too disengaged don’t make it into a scene just ask the person close to them… it will quickly get your star students in order. But now that you have their personal attention, pivot, go into your “A” material. This will hopefully close the gap
Win them back with your professionalism- Knowing that this is about connection, focus your efforts on delivering a professional experience. Though their ignoring you cuts you right to your funny bone, breathe through it and try to reconnect. All of the great comedians did not storm off of the stage unless it was part of their bit. Take a note and be as professional as possible. Its easy to blame, ridicule, and lash out. Try to end well and use this situation to learn from.
In conclusion –
It isn’t easy, but when you find yourself losing your audience. Keep in mind that your audience is filled with individual people who really are feeling uncomfortable about the situation. If you can let them know you understand why they feel that way, connect with them, pivot into a place where you know they will enjoy themselves, and finish with professionalism. When you have lost your audience it isn’t time to “power through”, it is time to reconnect and see why they are no longer around.
Geoffrey Neill's philosophy is that everyone can learn to make others laugh. He hosts a Portland class that leads the most timid to develop their voice all the way to crafting their performance. He is interested in making you hysterical! His Farm2Table Comedy shows are about creating a great audience for fresh local comedians. And, like the name suggests, they are all about moving you from growth to delivery.