If You Can't Say Anything Nice

While watching a DVD of a comedy magician, I was rather surprised by his indiscriminate use of insult jokes during his live performance segments. The put-downs were lobbed at anybody... men, women, and the most shocking to me, children! fist-pump-babyMaybe it's a cultural divide. The performer is British, and the U.K. seems to produce a large number of disgruntled comedians. Meanwhile, I'm Canadian, so it's my nature to apologize if my face got in the way of your fist. Still, I don't see any reason to be throwing insults or put-downs at any audience members, least of all kids. I can understand why performers might walk this path. Every insult generated some laughs, and let's face it, when we're developing a routine we'll grasp at anything to inject some entertainment. If nothing better comes along those jokes will stay in the act until they become entrenched. At that point the performer will rattle them off without much thought. The behaviour is learned and reinforced in adult-only club audiences, and the habit just kicks in during a kids show My question is... are the laughs worth it? Is it positive laughter, or a nervous response to an awkward moment? How does it affect the audience's view of the performer? To me, one of the most important parts of audience interaction is building a trusting relationship with your audience. I want to be a nice guy. I want people up on stage expecting fun, rather than embarrassment. I try to create a safe environment so people can feel comfortable to step out of their shell a bit and play. One little insult joke would cause all my hard work to crumble. It may get a laugh, but with dire consequences. I'm trying to be objective, and view insult comedy as an "artistic choice" even though it is not my personal taste. I just want to make sure that its practitioners have made that conscious artistic choice, boldly proclaiming "I want to insult my audience". In reality, I worry that most performers do it because they once heard somebody else get a laugh with it, so they thought they'd try it too. If you can't say anything nice... do a silent act. Plug time: In my book, "Finding The Funny", I cover the steps I take to make audience members feel comfortable, as well as some ideas to take a positive approach to some common put-down lines.

Published: October 8, 2012

Channel: Blog

Access: Public

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