How are crowds different for open mic vs. a real show?

Last week’s St. Louis Funnybone open mic was sold out.  Well over 200 people crammed into a packed showroom on a Tuesday night at $5 a head to hear what I consider one of the best club open mic nights in the Midwest.  This packed house atmosphere gave a lot of people their first chance to feel what it’s like to work in a professional show setting since our regular open mic audience numbers are usually under sixty.

The unfortunate thing is that there wasn’t enough room for any of us to sit in the showroom and watch each other.  I say that also to point out that I didn’t see anyone else’s set except the person in front of me (which went well).  My point (and lesson) for this week is that if your jokes flop in front of this kind of crowd, you need to get rid of them.  They might work at a small open mic at Mr. T’s Hoagie Hut (I wish that was a real place).  They might even work in front of sixty at a regular open mic where the bar is often set a little lower.  They could even have helped you do well in a comedy contest, but if they don’t work in a regular show atmosphere, you’re hurting your chances of ever making money.

So how do you even decide if a joke worked?  Obviously laughter and even applause are what you’re aiming for, but what about other reactions…like groans?  If you have a joke that gets groans, especially in a short set, it better be the only one with that response and it still needs to be really funny.  I’ll admit, audiences groan way too often and they think they have the right to openly disagree with something, but there’s no rule against them.  It’s going to keep happening.

As an adult, judge whether they’re genuinely disgusted or just PC offended.  The groans are a signal to you that you just hurt your likeability.  “But Tosh gets multiple groans every episode of Tosh.0.”  He’s Daniel Tosh; he’s on television; his target audience pops each other’s “bacne” in dorm rooms.  See what I did there?  It’s gross and not funny enough to use.  So evaluate your set and think about the reactions that your jokes are getting.  A club manager is not going to let you open up a show and disgust his/her audience while they’re placing food orders.  The feature and headliner won’t want to work with you.  Every joke that gets a groan makes it much harder for you to get a good response on even your best stuff.  Don’t be lazy, write some jokes that are funny outside of your demographic.  Anyone can get groans, aim for laughter instead.  It will lead to work.


And now my attempt at an ad for my book…  “Inspired” by Jonah Mowry’s “What’s Going On” video.

2 thoughts on “How are crowds different for open mic vs. a real show?

  1. Rob, for the most part I agree. But let’s not forget, a groan is a spontaneous emotional response, and as comedians that’s what we’re after. Somebody told me a long time ago that in the final score, groans count the same as laughs. To some degree, that’s true.

    I have a two jokes that almost always bring a mix of groans and sometimes explosive laughter. And in both cases, the jokes supplement the surrounding material in a way that makes the whole bit kill. Never once have they turned an audience against me. Instead, they bring us closer.

    The key is making sure the groans are good-natured, and that they add to the audience’s enjoyment. When groans start to out-number laughs, or turn the audience cold, the joke absolutely has to go. But a couple of groans here and there aren’t necessarily a bad thing.

  2. Yeah, I agree with you on that. Because your jokes are funny and it’s in a set longer than four minutes you get by on these jokes. I’ll admit, as a comic it’s so satisfying to get them to work, but as a someone trying to get MC work it’s best to just play it safe and be funny. It’s one of those “don’t try this at home” things (like the moves the poker pros use on TV). Thanks for commenting!

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