When I show up at a one-nighter in the middle of the sticks (which was the bulk of my schedule some years), the people at the door could always tell I was the comic. It’s a cool feeling because they can make you feel like a star in their little town where the bar you’re at is the only thing open past 8:00. Sometimes they can even get a little star-struck because they don’t know any better. “It’s the dude from the poster that’s been hanging above the urinal for the last month!” In other words, it’s a big deal the first time they see you. However, you should try to minimize any contact with the crowd ahead of time, because as Jimmy Pardo says, “It needs to be a magic trick.” If you can help it, let them see you for the first time on stage. It’s often impossible, but you need to at least stay away from attention before you go on. Here’s why…
A lot of our jokes are simply embellished stories, or quite simply, lies. Even though we’re not all cut-and-dry “characters” on stage, in a way we are and we usually have a different cadence. So first, you don’t want to ruin the illusion of your jokes or your comic voice by breaking character. As an extreme example, imagine Dan Whitney coming into a bar and talking without an accent about intelligent topics…and then going on stage as Larry the Cable Guy and performing his usual set. It doesn’t work as well.
I had this problem a few years ago in front of a crowd filled with people who knew me. Even though it was the first time they had heard a lot of my jokes, they didn’t seem to be buying into them because they knew too well that they were just lies. (Granted, there are a few people whose voices are so true to their everyday voice that they can get away with this but a lot of us can’t. If you’re one of these comics, congratulations.)
A lot of venues don’t have a green room so it’s tough to stay aloof sometimes. Try to remain unnoticed at the corner of the bar, or else just hang out in the back while the lighting is still up. This also avoids people judging you before you even get a chance to talk. If they know you’re the comic, they might follow your every move until the show starts, or even worse…want to talk. Post-show chats are often annoying enough, pre-show can be even worse. Talking to them before, might make them think it’s okay for them to talk to you during the show. Avoid this!
I remember when I was a doorman at the Columbus Funnybone from 2000-02. It always amazed me how a good headliner was able to transform themselves from the smalltalk we had in the back hallway to their stage personality. They became actors up there. Until you’re that good, save yourself the trouble and stay invisible before you take the stage.
For more advice on the often-forgotten subtle rules of comedy, check out my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage. (Available on Nook, Kindle, iTunes, and Amazon)