A lot of us imagine getting up in front of packed houses of people, and all of them are there to see us and only us. This is sometimes not the case and I think it is a very important skill to learn. That of appreciating the audience.
A lot of us forget that people have a myriad of options when it comes to being entertained. They could go to the movies or a concert or stay home and do meth in their basement. When you have a paying person sitting there willing to listen to you say things into a mic that should be appreciated and valued. We focus so much on art that we sometimes forget that we are also entertaining people. People that could very well be out doing something better with their time.
I see it a lot at like a poorly attended show where no one on the stage seems to give a damn. It is not the audiences’ fault that there are not more people there. They still paid the same (either in money or time) to come see you perform. There wasn’t a stipulation that if there were less then a certain number of people that the show was going to be shit. This also speaks to the professional level of the people involved as well. A professional comedian should be willing to swallow their pride for the time they are performing in order to give the customer what they want.
Maybe I feel so strongly about this because when I started in Spokane, no one was coming to shows. Open mics were sparse and if you had a show somewhere you had to basically hold people hostage for them to listen. So when you did get people that came in voluntarily, it was freaking awesome and you wanted to do all you could to entertain. It may also stem from me having such low self-esteem. No matter how many people show up I am always still surprised they came to my show.
Respecting the audiences goes further than just the number of people. It also goes to how you perceive them. As comics we all look out into the audience and we assume things about them. If you are in Idaho you may think they are more conservative then if you were standing in front of an audience in Portland. Even though they may seem like different crowds, they all share one thing in common: They want to laugh! Do what you need to do to make them laugh. I don’t know how many times I have actually heard a comic tell a room of people that they may not get a joke, or they ridicule them for where they live. That does not endear you to the audience. Unless that is your persona on stage, you come off as an asshole.
I have done a show for a total of two people. Yup. Two. And you know what? It was a great show! They sat there and listened to my silliness and I thanked them both and gave them a CD to thank them for not turning away. See, without an audience we would just be a bunch of people screaming really messed up stuff. We need people to come and want to be entertained. That is how comedy works.