How To Be A Comic – Surveying The Crowd

Last night, I participated in a comedy competition produced by Neil Griffin at the Pickled Onion in Brampton. There were five people, and I came in fourth. Fourth? That sucks donkey balls.

Did I get laughs? Absolutely. So what went wrong?

I failed to accurately survey the nature of the crowd, which hurt my likeability in the end. Luckily, the lessons learned were well worth the loss.

Part 1 – Apparent Spontaneity Hits

Neil Griffin made a TTC joke right before I went on stage. I had other things planned to start my set, but have been working at being more aware of my surroundings and focusing on showing the crowd that I’m vulnerable, able to extract hilarity from the immediate surroundings to build a connection with them. So, I started the set with this:

Neil talked about taking the bus. I’ve been taking the bus recently, too. Question for you guys: Do Chinese people know about shampoo? This one guy sat in front of me on the bus, and his head smelled like sweat and XO sauce, and I’ve never had XO sauce

That started things off with a laugh. Most importantly, they thought I made it up on the spot…I didn’t. I wrote that joke in November but never fleshed out the rest of the bit. It’s a device called Apparent Spontaneity.

Part 2 – Buying Shoes at Honest Ed’s hits

My second joke was about growing up poor and buying shoes at Honest Ed’s. There were parts of the joke that don’t hit, but the last part, ‘And how are these white shoes are turning yellow! How do shoes go bad?!?!‘ killed. If you haven’t seen it before, here’s how it goes (I rearranged the bit from the following video so I end the bit on a big laugh):

Part 3 – Racism In A Room Full Of Caucasians

Here’s where things went downhill. It was a room full of caucasians except for one black guy. The Kim Kardashian bit I have gets racial near the end, but it’s true for the people that live where I live. They didn’t laugh at the following part which serves as the climax to the joke:

I’m pretty sure they didn’t laugh because they felt uncomfortable laughing around the one black guy there. I think that lead them to vote for someone else. Now, I could be wrong; I’ll never know for sure. I heard today that the black guy liked the joke, which I already knew because he was laughing.

Lesson Learned: Survey the Crowd

Quinn C. Martin taught me the importance of surveying the crowd before deciding which jokes to use. Are they open to racial material? Do they like dirty material? Where are the laughs coming from in the crowd? Etc.

What I failed to do on this night was predict the comfort level of the crowd to racial material. Now that I have been introduced to a different way of looking at the crowd (what races make up the crowd), I can now include that variable in my process of deciding what jokes to use when I get on stage.

Ron Josol Is Surprised (I think)

Ron Josol, a comic that’s opened up for Russell Peters, was there last night. He asked how long I’d been doing stand-up, and I said eight months. With a tone of surprise in his voice, he replied, ‘Really? That’s good man.’ I took that to mean he was impressed given with my act given my time on the scene, which was nice.

Blowing off Steam

downward dog

Even though I did P90x Chest and Back earlier that day, I was so pissed about not winning that I did 30 minutes of P90X Yoga, which is as far as I get into that routine right now, at midnight. It helped me clear my mind and look at the evening’s events with a fresh pair of eyes.

There’s something beautifully disarming about being in downward dog and having your arms tremble, screaming at you to stop…and then clearing your mind, breathing, and continuing into runner’s pose and onto the rest of the routine. It’s a great way to destroy your ego.

A Note About Critics

how to handle criticism

In the end, it was worth losing in exchange for the lesson about surveying the crowd. With another tool in my belt, I’m off to Groove Bar tonight for another set.

Failure is part of success. Getting criticized is part of success. And when people fail and quit, I find their ego becomes really defensive. They try to explain away the success of others as luck, selling out, etc. There are only two ways to have the tallest building: create the highest structure, or tear everyone else’s down.

In the end, anyone that criticizes me is looking at what I’ve done in the past, not what I’m going to do. Now I don’t mind constructive criticism, but sometimes people are simply trolling or being negative. I’ve gotten a ton of critics recently, and for the most part I do my best to kill them with kindness, going as far as sharing my connections in the comedy world with them. But sometimes even genuine kindness doesn’t work, which is when I have to put them in their place. Oh, and you’ll be surprised how nice they get when the veil of anonymity is taken away. :)

But what really perplexes me is when people continue to follow that which they hate. If I don’t like a band, I don’t go around saying they suck and negatively commenting on their videos; that would be a waste of time. Instead, I find a band that I do like and listen to them. What a concept! However, it would appear that not everyone shares my passion for surrounding myself with things I like. It’s unfortunate.

So, if you’re someone doing something that you love but are getting criticized for it, don’t worry. Lions don’t pay attention to the idle chatter of sheep.

I’m having a ton of fun right now, and now that I’ve been able to put bombing/losing into perspective, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m more willing to take risks on stage. So, while things might get a little less traditional in the months to come, they will be getting more like me, whatever/whoever that is.

Michael Jagdeo

About Michael Jagdeo

My name's Michael Jagdeo, and I refuse to write about myself in the third person. I'm a Comedian from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. In addition to honing my stand-up comedy act, I maintain this blog and write the weekly comedy article for blogTO.com.
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3 Responses to How To Be A Comic – Surveying The Crowd

  1. Well, I for one am enjoying your journey, and since you are, too – let’s party! No, not that way. I’m married.

    As a writer who has often thought of having a go at stand up, I really am happy to hear your take on what goes right, or wrong, and why. I’m pleased you and I met up via blogging – was it me tagging a post ‘humour?’ I think it was :) In any case, I was dead impressed when you were nice, nice, nice, helpful, informative, nice, and then, finally… smacked someone with ‘but you don’t care anyway, right?’ in comments recently.

    Which is actually a potential bit: when on stage, it’s heckling. When on a blog, it’s trolling. I’m sure there are places to go with that when on stage if the audience looks geeky and young enough to know what a troll is!

    And, one of these days, I would like to hear your thoughts on hecklers. The best comedian for putting down hecklers I ever saw live was an Irish lady, Maeve Higgins – she just slaughtered any opposition. What bothered me is that she didn’t hang about and have a pint after, like 99% of the male acts…

    • Hey HTBS!

      Lol, we can platonically party. And thank you for the kind words.

      In the scenario where I finally broke down and got in the guy’s face for negatively commenting…I was actually doing it to stop him from being negative.

      I’ve always believed that if you can genuinely show people that your kind and sincere, they’ll eventually stop being negative. However, I’ve realized that this approach doesn’t work on everyone. Some people are in a bad place in their lives, or are simply blind. I’m not saying that they’re terrible people, because I was probably where they were at one point in my life. I was a sarcastic, negative kid in high school…in high school, though.

      When the guy kept negatively commenting, I was talking to Quinn C. Martin, the host of the show the commenter was deriding. I said to him, ‘Man, this guy just won’t stop!’ And then I thought, ‘Wait, maybe my kindness is acting like a reverse troll, whereby the positive vibes I’m trying to put out to him is actually fueling his negativity.’ So, I decided to try a different approach.

      He said something along the lines of, ‘Why do a show with only 7 viewers.’ When I mentioned that the show had 40,000+ viewers every week (showed across Canada, no less), he stopped commenting. My aim was to try and remove the legs that he was standing on, i.e.

      • Don’t go on TV until you’re ready? Well, it helped me do two shows at the Hard Rock Cafe, and I have two more shows there coming up, so I think I was prepared enough if that was the end result.
      • Don’t go on TV if nobody watches? Well, 40,000+ people watch.
      • I (the commenter) wouldn’t go on TV until I’m ready? Well, if you’re not ready, perhaps you should start the process of getting prepared, rather than hating on my attempts to make it. Unless you plan to do a bit on Diary of a Stand-up Comedian/Michael Jagdeo, you’re wasting your time.

      I should note that I didn’t want to take this approach. I gave him the contacts of 2-3 comedy producers that I hooked up with. I gave him phone numbers, email addresses, everything. Quinn said something to me that really struck a chord, ‘They’re going to criticize whether you do poorly or you do great.’

      I don’t mind hecklers, mostly because I don’t believe all comments from the audience are in fact, ‘heckles.’ First of all, it shows that they are engaged in what you’re saying. I’d rather have audience participation rather than a room full of disinterested people. Some of my best jokes on stage have come as a result of audience interaction/crowd work. And to be honest, where I grew up, we all made fun of each other, so I’m not really afraid of anyone commenting during my set.

      In fact, one of the things that I learned from Mike Bent’s, ‘Everything Guide to Comedy’ was to dissect your material beforehand, recognizing where audience’s might jump in, and predetermine your responses. It’s something that I do to this day.

      Thanks for following along, HTBS. It means a lot. :)

      JagdeoComedy on Twitter

      PS – And get your ass on stage! A lot of my writing happens when I’m on stage, and my mind wanders and stumbles on a good joke.

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