The Five Rules of How to Be A Stand-Up Comedy Audience

Categories: Comedy

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​Yes, there are rules. There have always been rules. The problem is most of you don't know them and for the most part the clubs won't tell them to you, because they don't want to alienate you from taking full advantage of that two drink minimum. But believe me when I say that all the comics and the fine people who work at the comedy clubs know the rules, so I figured it was time to pass them officially on to YOU! Ain't I nice?

1. Get to the club at least 15 minutes before showtime. I know the ticket and the website say the show is at 8pm. And you have a hectic life of Facebooking and Twittering and Digging and Tumblring and hey, you may even be one of those humans lucky enough to have a job, but as Malcolm X said, "On time is already late."* You know how you are, you need to sit down and unwind for a second. You wanna adjust your coat on your seat just right. You need to pee. You wanna look at the menu and ask questions, like "Oooh! Punch Line Punch? That sounds interesting! What's in that?... Is the pasta made in house?... NACHOS?" Also, the human brain can't handle rushing into a comedy club, sitting down, and immediately laughing. And you know you hate being sat in the front of the comedy club. And you know who hates it more? Everybody else in the audience, which is why those are the only seats available. And you know who hates it more than that? The opening comic onstage right now who is just happy to get through all the announcements, wants to get to their jokes, and now has to negotiate whether or not the rest of the audience can hear you arguing with the door guy about if there are any other seats available.

2. If you don't want to pay the two drink minimum, then stay home. Yes, as a comic I hate them too. But they exist, like Justin Beiber, so just like with him, either deal with it or steer clear. Your cocktail server has many other better things to do than to argue with you over the why there is a two drink minimum. And no, it doesn't matter if you're not thirsty. Buy two drinks. It doesn't matter if you "don't drink." Have a coke and a smile or buy an overpriced bottle of water. You have left your house so the rules are not your own anymore. And no, nachos and a drink don't count as two beverages, unless they do.**

3. Do your research! I heard Janeane Garofalo said that comedy is the only kind of performance where people will go see it without knowing who is on the bill.*** I would add to this, AND THEN THEY COMPLAIN WHEN THEY DON'T LIKE IT! In this era, you have no reason to not know who you are seeing at a comedy club. If you are going to spend your hard earned money (or those "free tickets" that you won) on comedy then take a second and Google the names on the flippin' show. That way you won't be tempted to yell out 15 minutes into the headliners set, "Say something funny," when he's been saying funny things for 15 minutes.**** Comedy is subjective. Subject yourself to it before you go. P.S. Fuck you, Goldstar Events and Groupon, and any other website that devalues entertainment and then lets people rate the thing as if getting cheap or free tickets makes you Roger Ebert.

4. Don't heckle. Seriously don't. You're not good at it. You're just gonna ruin everyone's good time OR you're gonna make a bad time worse. Again, comedy is subjective. Vote with your feet. I LOOOOOVE seeing people politely walking out during my set. It is a mature response. It says that humans can agree to disagree. Imagine that!

5. Tip the waitstaff. Do it like people are encouraged to vote in Chicago, early and often. And tip the waitstaff well. Because if you can't afford to go outside, then you should stay home. There is plenty of free online comedy for you to peruse. I hear there's a new clip going 'round where somebody doesn't do something as well as we think they should do it even though most of us can't do what they are doing even half as good as they do it. Go Google it now!***** See, wasn't that funny? And it was free. Tipping well means at least fifteen percent ON EVERYTHING. Yes sometimes a dollar a drink makes sense when you are in a bar and the bartender only had to move six inches to get your drink, but in a comedy club, those people have to move and squeeze through people and get yelled at because the comic isn't funny even though that has nothing to do with serving drinks. You say you can't figure out 15%? Well, your fancy phone can. And oh yeah...

6. TURN OFF YOUR FANCY PHONE! That doesn't mean everybody else should but you don't have to. That means YOU! If you can't have your phone off for two hours, then get back to the White House, Mr. President. Your country needs you. Also this will prevent your insatiable need to text and Facebook and...*****

*I have no idea if he said that. But I do remember something about him setting his watch 5 minutes ahead of time.
** Some clubs have a two ITEM minimum.
*** I have heard this attributed to many people, but I first heard it from her.
****It happened. To me. At Rooster T. Feathers. Friday show. My wife and her relatives were there. No it wasn't my wife or her relatives who said it. Maybe they just thought it.
*****I think this week it is Rebecca Black. Or was that last week already?
******I guess there are six rules.... OOOH! No, there's seven: Nobody cares if it's your birthday... or anniversary... and especially nobody cares if you are getting married soon. All we really want to do is tell jokes. Isn't that enough? After all it is called a Comedy Club, not a Take Care of All Your Individual Needs As You See Fit Club. That is what your iPad 2 is for.*******
*******Apple, can I have a free iPad 2?

"Kamau's Komedy Korner" is a weekly blog column about San Francisco comedy. Check back next Wednesday for more.

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32 comments
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James DeBenedetto
James DeBenedetto

Kamau,

I'm a comedy fan first and a club owner/booker second. I know we're hated in the industry - but so far - I'm not and I have no plans to be...ask around :o) I think comics are treated fairly shitty by most clubs. I'm trying to not be that guy.

That being said, BRAVO! A friend sent this to me and I'm glad he did. I will be posting it on my website, which I won't go for the cheap plug here and list it (if you want to know it, find me on facebook James DeBenedetto) and I'll tell ya.

Again, GREAT job.

James

W. Kamau Bell
W. Kamau Bell

PLUG AWAY! It's always great to have someone out there who owns clubs and likes comedians. As you know that is not unheard of but it is more rare than people think.

Is this you www.jjcomedy.com ?

I'm plugging for you.

W. Kamau Bell
W. Kamau Bell

James, I appreciate the fact that you enjoyed my post. I just Googled you and so I'll plug away: http://www.jjcomedy.com/

If I'm in North Jersey maybe I can come check out a show. Thanks for spreading the word!

And yup, there are lots of good and great club owners! It's always great to have another one out there, especially one who is ONE OF US!

Let's plug each other.... Whoops!... You know what I mean.

Eric
Eric

Kamau! Beautiful! I've been part of so many audiences that didn't recognize their own job is to (gasp!) be a good audience! I've never been a performer, but I can tell you that there are a lot of us sitting in the dark just as frustrated with Miss I-Can-Help-Your-Act-With-My-Own-Joke or Mr Bright-and-Distracting-Cell-Phone-Screen-While-I'm-Trying-To-Watch-My-Favorite-Comedian! Here's hoping your well-presented rules will make their way to some of the appropriate offenders.

By the way, you blew me away last year at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival on a dreary night in a tiny room when the mic lost power and you went totally bold an unplugged and stole the show! I don't know if you remember that, but I've been telling folks about it for a whole year. Can't wait to see you back in Portland this time around!

W. Kamau Bell
W. Kamau Bell

Oh yeah! I remember! I just got chills of fear of electrocution thinking about it. Say hi if you see me this year. I'm coming with Laughter Against The Machine. Portland isn't ready. Hope to meet you.

Erincjolley
Erincjolley

Totally on point! Although you might need to work on your counting! (Title reads "5 rules," not 6).

Erincjolley
Erincjolley

whoops, missed that last part! I feel lame.

W. Kamau Bell
W. Kamau Bell

Don't feel lame. I intended to do ten. Decided to got o five and ended up somewhere around 6 and a half-ish?

CMC
CMC

As someone that has been a server at a small comedy club for the last 5 years, you are my new hero! Thank you!!!!!

W. Kamau Bell
W. Kamau Bell

As a comic who has more years in the clubs than I am willing to admit the servers are my heroes. A mutual love society.

Big Dan Miller
Big Dan Miller

Here's my sixth part to this already "spot on" bit of advice by our resident comic audience rules genius, Mr. Bell. Being the host and producer of an every 21 days comedy show in a big market of Phoenix, my audience (I love saying that) is used to seeing me up there. I've mingled, drank heavily after shows with quite a few of them even on my non entertaining nights. I've schmoozed with at least a third of them for the past several months. I work hard at bringing new faces to the stage for them and keeping my material fresh in case there are people out there that have seen me over and over again. A teammate once asked Joe DiMaggio why he played so hard every minute of every game he ever played. The answer is so simple yet should never be forgotten. "Because someone may not have ever seen me play" was "The Yankee Clipper's" automatic response. With that being said, there are many of the club's regulars at every show, so I must be doing something right. BUT there are new audience members out there, as always, quite often and I want their experience to be a memorable one if not maybe a fun semi-adventure that keeps them comin' back. It seems between acts is a time for people to discuss the last comic, order more drinks or food and make a bit more noise than for the billed acts. Now, I can do a stand-up act in a hurricane and not even bat an eyelash or do one for the crickets out there chirping when I'm having an off night. I just keep forging on hoping one joke will stick like velcro to their funnybone. I like to think there are faces out there waiting to guffaw at any second. But it doesn't always happen. One, it seems, might be entertaining monks at times. Not often, mind you, but it happens. So I asked an experienced local comic on my bill and close enough friend why my usual comedy club people tend to make more noise and pay attention a bit less when I do my "in between acts mini stand up routine." He said, "Dan, they're just so used to seeing you up there or sitting next to 'em at the bar at least a couple of times a month regardless if it's a show or not." I thought about it and I DO recall new faces yukkin' it up at my jokes and my usual crowd giving their attention just a bit less to my act. But as soon as I announce, "And now ladies and gentlemen, our next comedian..." they bolt to right attention with wonder at who did Miller book this time. I guess I give them a little breather or a chance to catch their breath, I like to think in a sense, as I prepare to introduce another pal of mine that just happens to be one of the funniest people in the city. So even though I may give them MY undivided attention, I may at least be akin to the "comfy zone" of a spouse that may not send a chill up their spine as often as before but still makes them secure knowing that he or she will always be there, doing what's best for them and one they can rely on to put a consistant smile on their face. I make sure I grab them occaisionally by calling a few out by name, walking into the crowd and messing with some regulars. Everyone likes a little fame and notoriety. Sometimes that familiar face will even surprise them with a new twist to keep the marriage hummin' like a well tuned engine! But give it up with a little more love or attention for that special guy or gal and don't EVER forget who loves YOU, baby!

Big Dan "The Vanilla Godzilla" Miller

Ohiocomedy
Ohiocomedy

As a 32 year vet of the comedy stage I say well said Mr. Bell!

Beth Schumann
Beth Schumann

Very nice Kamau! On behalf of Rooster T Feathers we'd like to apologize for the bonehead who 1) didn't google you and 2) has no idea about funny. We'd also like to point out to potential audience members that talking is not the same as laughing, so if the management asks you to keep it down, it certainly wasn't because you were "just laughing."

JustinMorgs
JustinMorgs

This is going to be reblogged on the Atlanta Stands Up website as well as hopefully Creative Loafing Atlanta.

Well done sir. Well done.

W. Kamau Bell
W. Kamau Bell

Excellent! I really appreciate it. Now see if those clubs in Atlanta there will book me. :-)

Joanne4
Joanne4

Good for you!! This is wonderful... nothing I hate more at a comedy show than having someone in the audience think they are funnier than the comics... THEY ARE NOT! We paid to see the comics and don't really want some idiot - drunk or sober - making a fool of themselves by interrupting and talking over the comics. If they think they are so funny then they need to get themselves booked into a show and get up there and see "how easy it is... or isn't"... Common courtesy would go a long way here.... thanks for this article!

John DeKoven
John DeKoven

Great article and we will definitely post a link to this on our website. I thought I was the only one with the Goldstar/Groupon issues. Thankfully we don't get too many negative reviews, but when we do most of the time it's from someone who got a discounted or free ticket.

The only thing I might slightly disagree with is the birthday, anniversary thing. Yes we don't like when they use this as an excuse to get out of hand, but sometimes a host will ask "who's celebrating a birthday, married" etc... while they are warming up the crowd.

Anyways great info and I look forward to seeing more of it.

W. Kamau Bell
W. Kamau Bell

John, I totally understand what you are saying about the celebration thing. I certainly have worked clubs where as an MC I was asked to ask if people were celebrating things. (Although I never knew exact;y what you do when they said they were.) And I certainly know comics who ask as a part of their set, but more often than not, it is a bachelorette party in full penis tiara regalia cheering throughout the show as if they rented the venue for their party and a comedy club bumrushed its way in.

John DeKoven
John DeKoven

Kamau, Ah yes the bachelorette party. Although we don't get too many calls on that if we do we won't even book it. I got this idea from a club in Edinburgh called The Stand who say right on their website that they do not accept bachelor or bachelorette parties (out there called Stag and Hen Nights). They actually refer them to another club.

On a side note as far as the MC asking about celebrations. I personally do this as I feel it is a way to get the audience warmed up. It is good riffing and can create good material. In the beginning I feel to go right into material is a little cold, but that's just my style. Obviously this is easier at a smaller club where at a bigger club it's harder to talk to the audience.

Phil Johnson
Phil Johnson

Great article Kamau... It's what we're all thinking during the show. Thanks for saying it. :) And since I'm not in a club right now (tough to find a set at 8am), I'm going to go post this on my Facebook. :)

Alan
Alan

You should have put a ***** tag after "4. Don't Heckle." ***** Although heckling is never encouraged, please heckle Joe Klocek so he can rip you a new a-hole in front of 200 people! I work at the Punch Line occasionally, and his last show there was amazing! We didn't even have to kick out the way-too-drunk heckler that was sitting front-row center, because Joe was having too much fun with him!

W. Kamau Bell
W. Kamau Bell

That should be the name of Joe's CD, "Please Heckle!" or maybe "Heckling Required!"

Wes
Wes

I will be sharing this on my page... well written, Mr. Bell!

Sarsparilla
Sarsparilla

I think if your rules are that anal, you should investigate alternate career choices. Lighten up.

Jackson Jones
Jackson Jones

Hey if you don't like it then don't come to the comedy club, it's not easy being on stage, it's different than being in a band or an acting troup, younger on an island, and can only rely on yourself, so it's not helpful remembering ones jokes if some unsufferable asshole is chatting the whole damn time.

Dean
Dean

Not necessarily anal. Most of these are common courtesy and help make the experience positive for the comics AND the audience.

W. Kamau Bell
W. Kamau Bell

Anal? I seriously have no idea what you mean. Lighten up? Is that a racial comment? :-)

Tim
Tim

I guess he didn't read rule no. 4. Don't heckle! Even in this column coz you're not good at it.

Tim
Tim

Oh, and do you mind if I share this article?

Norm
Norm

A great article and welcome as the intelligent and funny voice for the SF Comedy Community. Comedy is such a wonderful live performance art form. All of my friends whom I've encouraged to go say the same thing. It's SO completely different and wonderful live. Laughing with strangers is a wonderful, warm and Let's-Put-This-Broken-Earth-Back-Together experience. Can't wait for your next Blog.

W. Kamau Bell
W. Kamau Bell

Thank you! Please spread the word. We need more people out there who think like you on the power of stand-up comedy. Please let people know about this blog so we can educate the young and naive stand-up comedy audience.

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