About a year ago one of my closest friends Nate said to me, "if I was a comedian, my strategy would be to look around the room before I got on stage, and build my set around what I think would go over well." Nate's not a comic, but he is a teacher so he definitely understands performing and reading an audience. I instantly dismissed his advice though, it went against my core beliefs. My mentality was that I was gonna work on the jokes that I wanted to work on to build out my new set. I also felt like his suggestion was a luxury I couldn't afford, requiring me to have a large pool of jokes to pull from. Even thinking about his advice annoyed me at the time...
Fast forward a year or so and my beliefs are beginning to change. Running and hosting these shows has me seeing & performing more comedy than ever. I've gotten to see a lot of comics tell funny jokes, but their ability to connect with an audience and be funny regardless of who's in the room varies drastically. The degree to which they are able to connect usually comes down to three things:
Ten days ago I was in a comedy competition. I didn't win (spoiler), but I had an awesome time performing. I got to the venue early to eat dinner, and started noticing who was walking into the room for the show. Mainly middle aged white people (30's-40's+). To pick my setlist I reviewed my batch of jokes that I was considering telling, and looked around the room to get a sense if they would or wouldn't work based on my gut feeling... And before I knew it I was on stage:
Upon walking back into the "green room" one of the comics said, "Wow Allan you kill with these old Virginian white folk!" And I was like "nah I kill with all crowds" (I didn't actually say that but it would have been cool if I did) As the show continued I spoke with a couple other comic friends about my preparation method that night and they shot back with, "I don't consider the audience when telling jokes." That sounded familiar... Now playing in this artistic space, I think you should ultimately do what you want, but if you don't take into account who's in the room, then you are choosing to ignore a big factor that will impact your set.
As with all things it doesn't have to be one or the other, so don't worry about changing things drastically. However, if you never consider picking your setlist in the way I mentioned, I would recommend giving it a try. I'm glad I did.
Comedian, Author, Improviser Producer, Sketch Writer and Teacher living in the Baltimore, MD. Likes sharing his thoughts on things.
Allan lives in Little Italy/Fells Point, Maryland with his wife and daughter.