Wednesday, September 30, 2015

By Applause, Who Hates Audience Polling?

The thing that turns me off the fastest when watching an open mike is a comedian who’s polling the audience.
“Hey have you guys heard of X?”
I immediately have something better to do. Get a beer, double check my setlist out back, compliment a prior comedian’s set, go try and take a dump in a bar bathroom. 
Audience polling is amateur hour. Here’s why:
You only have 4 minutes, and you’re burning part of it interacting with the audience in a way that’s not going to fundamentally alter your bit, unless it’s a bit specifically about audience polling. What information are you gathering that’s going to help your next three and a half minutes? What’s the outcome of “Have you guys heard of X?” Here’s a two scenarios: 
1) They actually need the knowledge to get the joke. Well, then, you’re fucked if they don’t know it, aren’t you? Are you going to explain all the necessary backstory to ensure the joke hits? Then that’s your setup and you don’t need to ask permission to do it. 
2) They don’t need any of that information and the joke stands alone without it. Then why ask? You’re just getting further away from the next laugh, AND irritating at least one audience member. You’re also risking crickets and plowing on regardless. Remember when you’re on stage, YOU are in charge, not the audience. Don’t cede the power by asking them stupid questions you don’t need the answer to.
Furthermore, you should be relentlessly editing your material. Words need to go. The first pass of a joke is forty five words . . . the next pass of the same material should be pared down significantly, maybe only thirty words are left. There’s a reason it’s called a “tight five” and it has nothing to do with getting laid.
Finally, let’s talk about what you’re doing to your audience members when you poll them. 
You’re essentially telling some of them they’re dumb. “Have you heard of this?” Anyone who hasn’t now feels stupid and uncomfortable. How much are they going to laugh?
Fucking stop it. I spend most of my time onstage trying to not call the audience dumb - lots of you are probably in the same boat. Don’t dig your hole deeper with this “Have you heard of this?” horseshit. 


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