In the twelve years that I’ve been performing, I’ve never received a standing ovation from a crowd. One time two guys (out of sixty) gave me one at a one-nighter in Belle, Missouri, and another time a couple of comic buddies gave me one at open mic when I had a new joke work very well. Other than that, not even close. I’m not going to use the excuse of being the middle act either. I once saw Tommy Johnagin get a standing ovation during a Tuesday night open mic at the St. Louis Funnybone. He was around tenth in a lineup of almost twenty comics doing seven minutes of new and strong material (only Tommy).
So are standing ovations something we should strive for? If you accidentally watch America’s Got Talent, they cue them and abuse them every third performer. Though my experience is limited (around 30 shows as a doorman when I was starting out), I’ve never seen a black female headliner not get a standing ovation, and for the record they earned them all. I witnessed famous headliners like Louie Anderson, Jim Breuer, and Kevin Pollack have average sets but still get standing ovations because of who they were. I think sometimes the audience just does it to say, “Thanks for taking what couldn’t have possibly been a direct flight from L.A. to our crappy city on a Wednesday to perform for us.”
It’s common that standing ovations only happen after a really strong and unique closing bit. Many headliners end with props, a poem, a song, a toast, (a song about Toast), dancing, or something really gimmicky that manages to take a typical performance (by headliner standards) and somehow make it standing ovation worthy. Getting a crowd to stand up because they’re laughing so hard is really difficult. To make them stand, it has to be funny AND… In other words, your material has to make a solid point that they can rally around whether it be political, patriotic, or able to dig into some other emotion.
It also depends on the individuals in the crowd. A lot of people stand up just because others around them are, while some refuse to get sucked into what they believe would be overreacting. I did a one-nighter with a comic who did five (FIVE!) street jokes during his set. He ended on one, the organizer who booked him stood up and clapped, and the rest of the lemmings followed. The thing is, sometimes you don’t really have to make the whole crowd think your set deserves a standing ovation, just one table up front. The real advice for this week is don’t attach something at the end of your act that will lose respect from the club manager and the other comics just to get a standing ovation. It doesn’t always result in a rebooking. There’s a comic out there who has learned this the hard way at a few clubs. (You either know who I mean or you don’t, I’m not sharing names.)
Upon (bitter) reflection, I’d have to say that 75% of the standing ovations I’ve seen (mostly during my years as an opening emcee) were unwarranted in my opinion. So I’m going to say it, just like most of the times I’ve seen them given, standing ovations are overrated. Just stay in your seats you lazy drunken slobs… Wait, are you standing for me? Oh, you’re just getting up to use the restroom before the headliner comes on. Go ahead and tell me, “You was funny as shit!” out in the hallway while you’re checking your voicemail. That’ll d0.
So even if I never get standing ovations I can still be proud of my act and the places I get to perform. Should it ever happen though…oh, you’ll know.
Thank you to those purchasing my book on Amazon.com. Unfortunately, I don’t get to see where all of the orders come from or sign the book, but as I said before, I’m glad word is spreading whether Amazon gets 40% of my royalties or not.