How to survive the midnight show

There aren’t as many clubs that do a three-show Saturday anymore, but in case you encounter one, there are a few adjustments to make.  Last night at the St. Louis Funnybone we had two packed shows leading up to midnight.  With around 65 people who were much younger and drunker than the first two crowds, I made the mistake of not changing my pace.  The midnight show has somewhat of a false reputation as being some wild and crazy drunk-fest, but actually the bigger challenge is keeping them lively and laughing.  The MC actually has an advantage but must know how to handle certain situations that occasionally pop up during these late shifts.  Read about those in Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  For this entry, I wanted to acknowledge what I did wrong with my pacing last night .  My good friend, the very funny Frankie Chubb and I both admitted we went about our sets the wrong way.  I adjusted only my setlist to some jokes I hadn’t done in the first two shows just to avoid boredom.  Honestly, the reason I hadn’t done those jokes all night is because they aren’t as good.  So the first mistake was putting my interests before the crowd’s.  I also got off on a bad start trying to shush some people stage left.  The woman looked like the lead singer of The Pretenders (A younger blonde version of Chrissie Hynde), but the youngn’s didn’t get my reference…maybe I was wrong, either way, I wasn’t funny.  From that I hurried into my material while feeling the void of the big crowds from the first two shows.  It’s hard to gauge how well a joke is doing in front of 65 people who are mostly out of it, but you have to lower the bar and be patient.  Silence isn’t good, but it’s inevitable while you take a breath between bits (keep it short).  Continue to give off the vibe of confidence and they’ll come around.  Understand that you’re not going to get them into that rolling rhythm you establish in most shows.  It can happen, but it’s tougher by quarter till one in the morning.

Never give up on the set just because it isn’t going well.  It’s like sports in that even when you’re losing by a lot you can still put in a good 4th quarter.  Years ago I bombed for four minutes at a guest set in Little Rock.  My closer worked and after the show I still had a lot of compliments about my set.  A crowd’s memory can be brief and sometimes it just takes one good joke to catch momentum.

So going into a midnight show, be sure to do the following:

1.  If you’re going to adjust your setlist, be sure you know exactly which jokes you’re adjusting.

2.  Be patient yet still energetic.  Silence will happen between jokes, just don’t let it happen during them.

3.  Be careful with crowdwork.  As a non-headliner you shouldn’t be doing much at all, but if there’s a show during the week that will have some, this will be it.  This is especially true for the MC as he or she establishes the tone of the show.

4.  Get to that first punchline before gambling on anything off the top of your head if you can.  Premeditate something that comes off like improv.

5.  Limit your commentary on a joke’s performance.  This is a very bad habit of mine in shows like last night.

It’s impossible to tell how a crowd will be just by looking at them.  I’ve been fooled both ways many times, so don’t assume anything just because it’s the late show.  The more people there the more normal it will be, but most of the time expect crowds well under 100.  And I’m not saying Frankie and I bombed last night.  People laughed, it just wasn’t to the same level as the first two shows.  Still, it’s important to learn from the set.

Well–I’m off to do the Sunday night show which is usually pleasant even with low numbers.  There’s more about Sunday crowds in my book as well.

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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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