What You Do if They Don’t Laugh

Kill them.  Just kidding.  Every now and then, as all comics know, they’ll come across an audience that just doesn’t laugh.  At all.  Maybe they’re enjoying the show, or maybe they’re not.  Who knows but the minds of the audience?  There are ways that comedians can condition the audience not to laugh.  Here are a few things I’ve done and a few things I’ve read about that can force an audience to feel like laughing would be an inconvenience both to you and to them.

Stepping on your Laughs:  Stepping on your laughs is something a lot of new comedians do.  They’ll tell a joke, the audience will laugh, and while the audience is still laughing, they’ll start another joke or try and continue the same joke, which will in turn stop the audience from laughing because they want to hear what you’re saying.  It’s all about what they call comic timing.  Many people don’t master it for years, while to others, it comes natural.  But, as a start, my advice is to never talk while the audience is still laughing.  Leave a pause.  And even if they don’t laugh at first, maybe they’re still processing the joke.  I tell a few jokes that are a bit cerebral to some extent, and it takes like six to eight seconds to start getting a laugh.  I know jus standing there is hard, but if you add some sort of body language that reinforces the punchline or the overall attitude of the joke, then you’re definitely adding fuel to the laugh fire.  You could shake your head or slump your shoulders, mumble to yourself, but don’t start a new joke too soon.

Speaking Clearly and Loudly:  Now, I know that many comedians I’ve seen speak clearly and in a loud enough tone so that anyone can hear them.  The only notable exception is Steven Wright.  But he at least made himself audiable.  What some people don’t realize is that no matter how funny the joke is, the if the audience can’t properly grasp the concept, then they’re not going to even let out a ha.  You have to paint a “verbal cartoon” in their minds.  You can use physical comedy as well.  Most audience members, if they see you make a joke both physical and verbal, will often laugh at the idea of you doing that.  I did a joke once about getting off a treadmill and how surprised I was that walking actually gets you somewhere.  I just walked really fast across the stage.  This brings me to my next topic.

Body Language:  Body language is the key to success.  You have to exude confidence and convey your jokes in a way that the audience can both see you and hear you.  You have to have some kind of stage prsence.  Don’t go up there all shaky.  Go up there calm, or pissed off if that’s your persona.  It’s all about your feelings.  But let your body do some of the talking.  Your body might not be able to do a joke by itself, but you can use it to enhance the joke experience.  Like if you say you were watching Larry King Live, you could do an impression of him.  You know, the shoulders hunched over and everything.  It adds more to the proverbial pot of laughs. 

Crickets:  If you tell a joke and you hear nothing, or the famous, “You suck!” then your only option is to go on with your next joke.  Maybe the joke took some time to sink in, or maybe they just didn’t get it.  So, move on.  It’s the worst feeling in the world to tell something you think is funny, and the whole audience telling you, “It’s not.”  I remember telling a joke about homeless children getting homeschooled or something and I got gasps from the audicne, then one of the audience members said, “That’s awful!”  And I said, “Yeah, I know it’s awful, but it’s the truth.”  That got a big laugh.  I turned a bad situation into a good one.

Hecklers:  Like Newton’s Third Law of Motion, comedy has the Law of Hecklers.  Wherever you go, whenever you perform, there will be a potential heckler.  This heckler may not have the ability, but a bad joke will give him momentum to start lashing out at you.  You should have a few lines prepared to deal with hecklers.  But nothing too mean.  Just something that will shut him up.  One of my favorite lines was, “Shh, I’ll kill you.”  But you want to make it seem natural.  Don’t rehearse it like robocomic.  But don’t be too loose either.  Find a happy medium when considering dealing with hecklers.

Have Confidence:  Don’t get flustered if they don’t laugh.  Maybe it’s something about your delievery, or maybe it’s the audience that night.  Who knows?  All I know is that even when they don’t laugh, you can still go on with your act.  Make a comment about how it didn’t work, if you want, but don’t dwell on the fact that it wasn’t right for that audience.  But always exude confidence onstage. 

Leaving you now because I have to take a shower before work, I just want to say that comedy is not for the timid, unless that’s who you really are.  It’s so hard to make an audience laugh, so when you are finally able to do it, you should keep doing whatever you did to make that happen.  Edit, rearrange, and cut certain jokes from time to time.  Try out new material, knock off old clunkers.  It’s all about editing and putting things in a line so that it will knock the audience on their backside.  Peace everyone.

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2 Responses to What You Do if They Don’t Laugh

  1. Asiphe Zide says:

    This has helped me alot.
    Thanks!

  2. Asiphe Zide says:

    Anyone who knows a comedy club around klerksdorp, where I can test my material…Please inbox on facebook…search
    Asiphe Chase Zide

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