How to deal with the silent moments

Saturday night I had a challenging gig to headline.  It was challenging because:  A. I usually don’t headline.  B.  It was the first time this venue had comedy.  C.  It was a small wine bar with no stage or show lighting.  D.  The crowd was mostly uppity white people except for one black guy in the front row (I explain why this is a tough combination in Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage… hint: it’s the white people who get touchy).  Knowing these things from experience, I took my own advice and adjusted my setlist somewhat.  Actually I just dropped three lines that would’ve made everyone uncomfortable.

I was reminded why it’s so tough to perform in a lit room.  You can see everyone’s faces and being a comic, you immediately notice only the people who aren’t laughing.  Like I said, they were a bit uppity and much different than the average Midwestern one-nighter crowd.  This crowd was sophisticated to the point that there was no white noise.  Absolute silence is not something I’m good at dealing with, meaning it shows that I’m uncomfortable when it happens.  What I’m taking from this experience is that in a setting such as Saturday night’s show, there’s going to be moments of silence between jokes and that’s okay.  Fifty people in a small room aren’t going to carry you through a forty-five minute set.  Show them you’re comfortable during the silence and they’ll become comfortable with it as well and it suddenly won’t seem to silent.  If I could’ve done anything differently I would’ve made sure I had a drink on stage before I went up.  Bad prep on my part gave me nothing to do to catch my breath.  Something else I’m trying to work on is having a go-to joke in my set in case I draw a blank.  I find that I only draw blanks when I know a crowd won’t be able to handle every joke well.  For example, in corporate gigs I do a bit of mental editing on stage so this can throw timing off.  It’s simply a lack of experience that I’ll improve on again this holiday season.

The point this week is, allow for a margin of silence in certain settings.  Act comfortable and patient and this will rub off on the crowd.  Have drink on stage for a longer set as a way to signal to the audience that you’re taking a breath.  And finally, don’t use it as an excuse to pick on someone in the crowd.

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About Rob Durham

With an English Degree, three years as a doorman at the Columbus Funnybone, over a decade of stand-up experience, and a recent certification in teaching high school English class, writing a book seemed like the next inevitable step for Rob Durham. The son of a coach, Rob has an excellent ability to teach and explain things in the easiest and most direct way possible. His (often labeled ridiculous) memory allows him to think of every possible situation that a new comic might face because at one point he was there too. Rob gives an inside look at comedy that doesn’t sugarcoat the challenges every performer faces. Without ego and the myth that “anyone can do it” Rob gives the reader a true feel of what living the so-called dream feels like, from preparing for that first open mic night to touring the country. View all posts by Rob Durham

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