Perspectives of a Writer and Musician

Issues related to writing, publishing and playing jazz music: One man's muse.
by Al Stevens

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Location: Florida, United States

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Material vs the Audience

I've been discussing audience reaction with another ventriloquist who performed at General Open Mic last week. He said:

“I didn't try to be funny, I tried to be poignant and it was not the right audience for it...It works great when everyone is in the right mood.”

This conversation got me thinking about audiences and material and how to match the two. Or how to get the audience into the proper mood for what you plan to do.

Maybe the audience was indeed right, but their mood wasn't. What were their expectations? Can you modify an audience's mood so their expectations match your material? It's got to be something more than, “And now, folks, my duck will sing the heart-wrenching ballad, 'Quack, Quack, My Mama Kacked' in memory of the recent passing of his mother.”

Once you've set the stage, what kind of reception should a successful poignant act get? You can't measure it by laughter, and I don't recall anyone booing during this fellow's performance, so, other than attentiveness during the bit and strong applause at the end, what can an act like that expect from the audience?

Bill DeMar does a bit with Chuck Norwood in which Chuck talks about what they'd do without each other and splitting up the act. It's a lengthy, nonhumorous, touching monologue by the figure that most ventriloquists could not do effectively, but Bill always gets a positive reaction from this bit.

Perhaps the ventriloquist has to gain the audience's acceptance before getting tear-jerky, warm-and-fuzzy, and touchy-feely. Maybe people don't let you get that close until they already know you, which might be why Bill doesn't do the bit without preceding it with traditional ventriloquism and comedy.

The closest I've gotten to poignancy is when a figure briefly gets sad or maudlin in a situation with which the audience sympathizes. This lasts only for two or three lines, perhaps while I scold the figure. Then, once the audience is drawn in to feeling sorry for the figure, which they really don't want to have to do, I have the figure say something outrageous and unexpected to break the mood and release the tension. That usually works, but I doubt that I could pull off an extended feel-good bit.

I have found that some bits of mine that work in a dark club don't work well in a well-lighted venue, such as a dining room. And vice versa. Whether the audience is drinking is a factor. The average age. The gathering style—families vs couples, etc.

If the audience can see each other well, and if they know one another, and if their inhibitions are still in full force, they are less likely to laugh at some kinds of material.

As usual, I invite reader comments on this subject.


Blogger Lawrence E. Harris said...


A very interesting topic. I find it so true. I have Bill's routine on tape as well as the tape over the mouth routine. He is amazingly good.

Cheers, ComicVent

8:21 AM  

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