Audiences – Go figure

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.

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Eye Contact!

I’m astounded at all the things we have to teach our kids. I knew signing up that being a parent is hard work, but the pressure to not screw them up is stunning. So, Shane and I really have tried to raise kids who are hard working, kind, fun-loving and warm; and I think (so far) we’re doing a pretty good job. But since Maddy turned 13, I’ve really started watching the teenagers of the world because the upcoming years are going to be so different from the ones we’ve already had. And the one thing I’ve noticed is that the teenagers today (said in a raspy curmudgeonly voice) is lack of eye contact! These young ‘uns hardly look at each other! And that seems to have translated into young adults who can be blissfully unaware of the rest of the population.

Think about it, when kids play these days, they are usually plopped in front of a video game where they look not at each other, but the screen in front of them. I will allow that their on screen characters probably make eye contact before they blow them to kingdom come, but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count.

Even walking up the street together, they’ll be chatting, but while they’re chatting will be looking down to their hands, texting madly. Or having a coffee at Starbucks – sure they’ll be at the same table, but they might as well be in different cities because although their coffees are side-by-side, their eyes are locked onto the laptops in front of them…crazy. Maybe that’s why shoes have become such an important (and expensive) thing – ‘cause that’s all your friends really see of you from one end of the day to the other.

This lack of eye contact phenomenon has led to kids who really don’t know how to be part of an audience, how to be aware of the crowds around them. Go to any movie and they’ll be talking away (and likely texting) – probably because they have a TV at home almost as big as the cinema screen, so perhaps think that they’re in their own basement. I dunno. We had a big group of first year college students at the club on Thursday; they had bought out the whole place for a fund raiser. And kudos to them! But when it came to show time, they truly didn’t know how to behave. They weren’t bad kids, just seemingly unequipped to shut up and watch a show, if for no other reason than to let everyone else enjoy it. Any time one of the comics would say something, they’d blurt out “Me too!” kind of noises. For example, you’d mention something about a cell phone and you’d hear murmurs of “I have a cell phone, too!” “So do I!”; exhausting and weird, indeed.

So, with this new found knowledge, I’m going to make sure my kids learn eye contact, and therefore, that there is a whole world around them. Because God knows when Maddy gets her first boyfriend, I don’t want to ask her if he’s cute and have her response to be “I don’t know”…“But he’s got awesome Nikes”.

In fact, I’m going to interrupt their game of “Call of Duty” right now and tell them so.

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The Most Forgettable Face in Showbiz

I have a peculiar cross to bear; it would seem that I truly have the most forgettable face in all of Canadian showbiz.  Now, I’m not looking for pity, I’m just stating an indisputable fact.  I’m not even sure why, but I swear to God, people don’t remember me.  And I don’t just mean audiences, I mean my peers, too.  This is particularly frustrating because I have an amazing memory for names and faces.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had the conversation:  “Nice to meet you, Martha” “Erm, we’ve actually met a number of times” “Really?” “Yes, in fact we performed together a few months back”.

Alternately, I get people who say they know who I am… “Didn’t we go to high school together?”  “Aren’t you Mike’s sister?” Sigh.

Recently, I ran into a comic who’s just moved here from out west who I had met 4 or 5 times – and he totally blanked on me.  When I called him on it, he claims it’s because he hasn’t seen my comedy.  Poppycock!  I haven’t seen his and…ah, nevermind.  Then there was Martha Chaves – a wonderful, funny woman, who could for the life of her not remember my name!  I mean, there are (I’m pretty sure) only TWO Martha’s working in Canadian comedy – and she is one of them!  If for no other reason than the fact that Martha is a pretty obscure name, you’d think she’d remember!  (To be fair to her, she now knows who I am…).

This is not a new thing, it’s been this way all my life, but it’s beginning to become something of a concern now, only because it’s helpful to be a performer who people remember.  I don’t know why, it just is.  (Kidding, I know why!)

So, I’m thinking I’m going to have to do something drastic.  Nakedness on stage is out; not because I’m a prude, I just want ‘em to laugh for the right reasons.  Perhaps jumping and yelling during my act.  Naw, too many people do that already.  Hmmm.  Ah, feck it, I give up.  I’ll just ride this out, tell my jokes and not worry about it too much.  And if you ask me “Didn’t you go to Camp Ocheewachee?”, I’ll just smile and say, yes, yes I did.

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Book Pitch

Okay, so I have a great idea for a book. It’s a suspense/murder & mayhem type of story. The plot revolves around a relatively average woman, mother, and wife; hell, I think I’ll make her a comic for extra dramatic flair. Her life is moving along quite nicely, not perfectly, but she has no major complaints. Then one seemingly innocuous month drives her to the edge of sanity and she goes on a deranged killing spree. The month will start out very well; she’ll have a wonderful, busy weekend away from the kids doing what she loves best, comedy. But slowly, things start to unravel. It starts with her younger child’s birthday party. She thought it would be lovely to host 7, 9 year old boys to McDonalds, a movie and a sleep over. Little did she know that these boys would, in a group such as this, turn into demon children; spitting over theatre railings, aiming at the grocery store vegetables 4 stories below, running across busy streets en mass despite screeches from our heroine/villain. The “sleep-over” portion of the night was an exercise in quelling screams and scratching fights that would have tried the patience of Mother Theresa herself. She somehow manages to survive this night, but must spend much of the very next day preparing a Thanksgiving meal for 11 family members with one oven and a history of over-cooking turkeys. She knows she’s over-extended herself, but it’s too late to back out now! Once again, she pulls through until her realization that she has booked the dog in for her rabies shots the very next day almost pushes her over the edge. How could she forget how much the dog hates needles and how much she hates making her dog have needles? How?! Life gets back on track for a few days, which tricks her into complacency! Next thing she knows, the weekend is once again upon her and this time it’s her older child’s 13th birthday (oh how she despairs her January fertility!). But this time, it’ll will be 7, 13 year old girls to Mandarin – where she learns that at 13, you must pay adult prices for the buffet! $24/child! The credit card happily does not get rejected, but there will be only money enough to feed 3 family members for the rest of the month…who shall go without? Hmmm. Then (will she ever learn?) a sleep over. Surely, though, 13 year old girls will be so much more manageable than 9 year old boys! It’s surprising how wrong a woman can be. She was unaware just how high in the decibel range young girls can hit when shrieking. It was 4 a.m. before the house was silent and our heroine/villain can be found muttering and rocking herself back and forth, back and forth in a dark corner of the kitchen. Saturday dawns, but can she rest? No! The family must dress up and drive out of the city for a family wedding. Was it fun? She can’t remember. Although she didn’t drink (though the temptation was there), the night remains largely blank. This clearly is the beginning of the end for our beleaguered woman. Although the week that follows is mostly one of calm, the damage is done, until the next weekend arrives and she must pack the family up once again for yet another wedding out of town. The five hour drive in the pouring rain should have been the sign she needed to turn back, but she is beyond help. And because she is cheap as well as quite probably demented, she decides the whole family should share one hotel room. This does not help matters. On the Saturday night, the night after the wedding (where she managed to fool everyone with a smile and a hearty appetite!) and the night before her husband’s birthday, the stars seem to align and push her to an abyss from which she will never return. Because not only does her husband wake her up from a sleep only minutes old by sleep-walking to the hotel door where he turns on the lights and wrestles with the locks with such violence our heroine/villain nearly has a heart attack right there and then, but her young son reacts by yelling out in his sleep “Tell me who you are! Tell me who you are!” needless to say, another night with no sleep. The birthday cake she later bakes for her husband is not a pretty one, but his fear of her is real, so he says nothing. How does this story end, you might ask? The end of the month brings Halloween and the ensuing pursuit of the perfect costume which may well be her denouement, when she ultimately goes out of her mind and wreaks havoc on the world. It’s good for her that there is much fake blood around that particular night, so as to cover her tracks. Although the extra hour of sleep afforded by the clocks turning back just after midnight on Halloween might just save her after all. Read the final draft to find out!

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Canadian Comedy Awards Part 2

This week is the last instalment of my breathless account of the Canadian Comedy Awards.  If you missed last week, well, it was all giddiness and happy talk, because the weekend was wonderful. That, and I don’t get out much.

Saturday was the last full day of the weekend.  I had every intention of attending the Comedy Writers seminar, but it was at noon, and God help me that was too early for my injured body.  The injuries were self-inflicted via lack of sleep and booze, but painful all the same.  I did, however, drag my sorry self out of bed to make it to the Shehori brothers talk on promoting yourself, which, though advertised for 1pm, was actually at 2pm.  This was a good thing, however, as it gave me a chance to have a giant breakfast of Eggs Benedict which it turns out, was just what I needed.

The Shehori’s seminar was great, though I wish it was longer!  I have much to learn when it comes to self-promotion.  Sometimes I long to just get up there and tell my jokes, but unfortunately we have to sell ourselves if we want to get anywhere.  My head is on the verge of exploding with all the stuff I’ve had to learn in the past year or so, but such is the nature of the beast.

After the Shehori’s, Harry Doupe ran his “Staleness of the Industry” talk.  I had no idea what to expect, but it was funny, funny, funny.  Then there was the Town Hall meeting, where I was very tempted to put myself forward as “Member at Large”, just to ensure that I could go the awards next year, but chickened out in the end…

The Gala show was on the Saturday night, but was sold out (which is great), but meant that most of the comics in Saint John couldn’t attend (which was disappointing).  Shane and I were all ready to head out for dinner when a friend gave me her two tickets.  I was thrilled, but that meant that we had to get ready in about 10 minutes… Managed to get out the door in time, but had to grab a Timmie’s sandwich and eat it on the way; glamorous, me.  The Gala was wonderful, but made me realize that although I didn’t mind losing to Nathan, I woulda traded almost anything to be in his spot on that show, playing to 800 people in that beautiful theatre.

After the Gala was the Comedy Network’s party which was great fun, and Mary Walsh was there!  Didn’t work up the nerve to meet her, but was content in the knowledge that Gordon Pinsent and I are BFF’s.  Later, back to the green room where some generous comics refilled the fridge, and dancing and pizza ensued.  The only scary moment was when an angry, topless and clearly high local guy tried to start a fight outside on the smoking deck.  Although we had the numbers, he clearly knew he was facing a group of comics and could have taken us all.  The police arrived (such excitement), dude talked himself into getting arrested and the party carried on.

Another late night, but had to get up and catch the shuttle to the airport.  So many things could have gone wrong, i.e. the driver planned to get us to the airport at 11:30 for our noon flight (we talked him ‘round – don’t know what he was thinking), the flight was overbooked, there was no coffee in the lounge… but we took off on time, arrived on time, the car started and we were home to the loving embrace of our kids by 2:30.  Of course, my triumphant return was marred somewhat by the kids greeting… “Hi Mommy!  What’s for dinner tonight?”  Reality can be a harsh mistress.

So that was the CCA’s for me in a nutshell.  Many congratulations to all the winners, nominees and especially the organizers – a great time from beginning to end.

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