A Tough Crowd

While I am still trying to catch up with my blogging, I haven’t done much in the way of comedy for the last few weeks, other than my first ‘real’ gig…. And boy did shit get REAL!

A few weeks ago, a new comedian friend asked me to come down to do a spot at his comedy night in Frankston. If you don’t know Frankston, have a look at this meme page on facebook and you’ll get the idea. In short, it’s pretty rough.

I got to the venue which happened to be across the road from the train station, it was pretty quiet when I got there so I was a bit nervous about potentially performing to 3 or 4 people. Some locals started gathering inside as it got closer to showtime, and by ‘locals’ I mean….. Well, think about the type of person that would hang out at Frankston station on a Tuesday night, then give them a bar across the street. That sounds like a good idea right? To put it short, I counted more people than teeth in the audience…

The show starts and immediately so do the heckles. I liked the MC as a comedian but he had a strange and downbeat style that you had to ‘get’. The audience of about 15 were not getting it, and they were starting to get rowdy. So he started doing some crowd work because, well, there was nothing much else to do in that situation.

The friend who had invited me was on first, then I would go on second. I was starting to get really nervous at this point because I had no idea how to handle a heckler but was about to learn the hard way. My friend gave me some advice before he went on: “Just don’t worry about them, don’t engage, just get on with your set and they will settle down”. He then went up on stage and got destroyed.

To be fair, he did get some laughs, but the heckles were just unrelenting. As I watched, I was thinking “How the hell do I get out of this? Do I say something? Do I just leave? Or do I just wait my turn to stand in front of the firing squad?”. Just then, my mate finished his set half way through a joke by cracking it and telling the audience “Fuck it, you guys don’t deserve to hear the punchline to that one.” as he put the mic in the stand and walked off. I almost pooed my pants.

After the MC it was my turn. I got up and was heckled before I could get to my first punchline but somehow managed to use it and still get to the joke. I then went into a whole section of abortion material… Some of it went alright, but some of it seemed to hit a little too close to home i think. I know, it’s hacky but what should I expect? To come up with solid and unique material off the bat? I do put my own spin on it though.

The heckles continued and I tried to deal with it. I got almost to the end and found myself engaging in a blur of small conversations with the hecklers. Eventually I just said “fuck it, I’m just going to keep shitting on Frankston for the rest of my set”. I said a couple of things after that (which I can’t remember), then got off stage.

I sat down next to another comic and said “that was brutal!” he looked at me and quickly and nervously shook his head. I then noticed he was super focused and realised he was about to go on next! Oops! That’s not what you want to hear just before you get on stage! The MC called him up.

He was actually awesome! He didn’t get through a single joke from his planned 5 or 6 minute set. He started with one though. “Has anyone seen the movie Whiplash?”. The heckles began and he just kept doing crowd work after that. At one point an audience member had gone right up to the stage threatening to take his dick out and I really though a fight was going to start, but the (pretty scrawny) young comic had the balls to stand his ground and continued to deliver some of the best comebacks I have heard. 10 minutes later he referred back to the joke that he had started with and that he still hadn’t got to the punchline (which was hilarious) and did a few more minutes before finishing up.

Chatting with him afterwards, I asked how the hell he did it. He gave some good advice: “Just repeat what they say back to them, usually what they say is stupid and if you can come up with something to make them sound more ridiculous, go for it – They can dig their own hole”. I guess it is like verbal Judo.

The thing I liked about the night, is that all of the comics stuck around after their set to show support and solidarity. I was talking to one guy who had been doing it for 4 years who said “I’ve never seen an audience like this”. Which was reassuring. Another positive note is that from what I have heard, in Australia we don’t usually have rooms like this. I have heard interviews and podcasts with top British and American comedians saying “if you go to this or that room you will be destroyed, but it is a good way to get better at what you do.”

I have a theory that the best comics in the world seem to come out of these places while in Australia, because we have audiences on our side hoping we do well. We do not often get the chance to become great comedians. Yes we have good ones, but I have noticed that our great ones move overseas to England or the US. Probably for the challenges as much as learning from the greats.

I have since learned that this room is no longer running due to the audience. This really was a ‘Trial by fire’ for my first real set but I would be keen to work my way up to going back there again one day for the challenge!

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This article has 2 comments

  1. Tom Reply

    Nice read. Your journaling sounds extremely similar to what all comics deal with at any given point in their careers. Unless you’ve got a sold out auditorium,the chances of hecklers is high. This sounds more like a case of know your self vs audience.
    Personally, I don’t joke about things I haven’t done, so abortion would’ve been out for me(because I have a penis). Counterpoint;You may have figured you knew your audience using that material in Frankston. Regardless, beginning standup should be less about making others laugh and more about developing who you are behind the mic. While talking to others afterwards may reassure you that you did OK, it can also skew your perceptions of what happened in previous shows AND how to grow out of your nerves for future shows.
    If you engage hecklers, you are giving up your pace to accommodate an individual that is not of consequence. Nobody came out to support them. If you can’t ignore them, then at least have fun. Nobody wants to see you fold onstage for a schmuck in the shadows. If you enjoy whatever you say then others will enjoy it as well. Comedy revolves around a sympathetic reaction. If you lose your composure, youll lose your connection with the crowd.
    Keep it up

    • casher Reply

      Thanks for reading Tom! That’s good advice. My material was from my perspective based on something Dean (from our podcast) was going through. It’s about not having an abortion and weighing up options. Of course I consulted him with my material first and he helped me work on it.

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