I have given up trying to figure out audiences. Actually, the idea of a group of people, no matter how large or small, who are mostly strangers to each other and you can be lumped together and treated as a unique entity is bizarre. But we do it all the time, as performers. We say “what a great audience” or “tough audience” and on and on.
Early on, we’re told “don’t blame the audience if you have a bad set” and “the audience is smarter than you realize”, like the audience is a living, breathing creature. But really, it’s not, it’s a whole bunch of individuals who happen to be sitting with a bunch of other individuals watching a comedy show. Scott Harris made mention of this in one of his MC’ing columns and I couldn’t agree more. Sure, they have the shared experience of the show in common, but often that’s where it ends. What does the hen party share with the middle aged couple or the staff of a dental office out for a company celebration?
And yet, and yet… there is always a feeling you get from the audience as a whole. It’s like everyone has made a tacit agreement to behave a certain way that night. For example, I MC’ed at Absolute Toronto the week before last; on the Friday night, I walked into the club and could literally feel the wonderful mood generated by the audience. There was a buzz in the air and a joyousness that permeated the room. Not shockingly, the show was fantastic. Big laughs, no bad sets, not even a flat joke. But then on the Saturday early show, it was a completely different vibe. Walking into the club I felt a discomfort from the audience, and a sense of piss-off-ed-ness. I saw people arguing at the box office, and others stomping angrily across the room. I have no idea why the mood was like that, but it was, and it came out in the show which was decent, but nowhere near the heights of the previous night.
Now one could argue that the comics might unintentionally react to the mood of the audience and give either a terrific show or a less than stellar one, but I think it’s more than that. I think that the members of the audience feel the intangible vibe of those around them and it moves from person to person like dominoes. And that in turn affects their whole demeanour for the show, which usually leads to an inevitable outcome – the show is wonderful, poor or simply “meh”.
Or, I could be full of shit and have spent waaaay too much time trying to figure this all out. Ultimately, though, we really don’t have any control over it, we can only do what we do – make ‘em laugh or die trying.