"Thank you for what I assume is a standing ovation"
May 20, 2014 4:28 PM   Subscribe

"Live comedy thrives off an audience, but what if the comics have no idea how the crowd is responding? At 7 Minutes in Purgatory, half a dozen local [Chicago] comics were tasked with doing a set alone in a soundproof room while the crowd watched via live stream elsewhere in the venue." posted by Iridic (24 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
In a soundproof room, no one can hear you die.
posted by wensink at 4:53 PM on May 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

i just flew in here, and boy are my arms tired! two psychiatrists met in a hallway, and when one said "hello", the other thought to himself "i wonder what he meant by that?" don't forget to tip the waitress, she's having my baby! no need to favorite this, i can feel the love just running through the tubes. just after mass at st. paul's, an 80 year old man entered the confessional...
posted by bruce at 5:01 PM on May 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

That gives me cold sweats to think about. I used to do web-based training sessions in which all the participants were muted until the Q&A at the end and even that, with no feedback or sense of speaking to another person, was awful. I invariably talked too fast, and ended up recruiting coworkers to come be my audience just so I could look at someone while I talked.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:17 PM on May 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

This is the same as movie acting. There's no audience there, either. (See "My favorite Year" for the difference between an actor and a movie star.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:24 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is kind of the same as trying to run a website. It's hard to get feedback online about some things.
posted by Michele in California at 5:27 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is at least twice as terrifying to me as the 17-story waterslide posted earlier today. At least with movie acting, there are other people in the scene, and that's who you're supposed to be working off. This is... no, just no.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 5:30 PM on May 20, 2014

No instant feedback for writers of funny novels either. So basically stage performers have it easy.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:32 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

This sounds like it ruins the entire fun of performing in the first place. (Also why I've never found film acting to sound enticing.)
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:35 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I will suggest this is not like movie acting. In movie acting, I would imagine, your director is your audience.
posted by applesurf at 5:36 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

Comedy, IMO, is an inherently communal activity. I guess this is an intriguing experiment, but it misses the whole point, I think.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:51 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Chocolate Pickle: "This is the same as movie acting. There's no audience there, either. (See "My favorite Year" for the difference between an actor and a movie star.)"

You're not really seeing the problem with your choice of citation, are you.
posted by desuetude at 6:30 PM on May 20, 2014

I used to work for a startup that did online 'concert' streaming, mostly from an artist's home/studio. The crowded interacted with the artist by a chat box, and by tipping.

While musicians did very well with the "right from their house" setup (Jake Owen would absolutely kill it), the comedian types would totally bomb. Without the physical audience response (because the fans could send text based chat messages), the comedians just didn't know to do it.
posted by sideshow at 6:36 PM on May 20, 2014

For completeness' sake, here's the final set by Katie McVay.
posted by whir at 6:41 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

So unfair. Turning their art into the banal. I mean, who does anything in a soundproof room?

Other than sex, I mean.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:05 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

What a dumb idea. Comedy thrives on audience feedback, who knew?!
posted by basicchannel at 8:25 PM on May 20, 2014

As a musician, I can say that even if you're playing to an empty room you've still got the other band members to bounce off of and get validation from. By the same token I'd guess that an actor usually has other actors that they'd be acting "against" and getting their reactions. But a solo artist deprived of their audience doesn't have any of that sort of feedback, so I'd imagine it's that much harder to pull off.

I also get the impression that standup comics are rather a particular breed, in the sense that they crave audience affirmation even more so than other creative types. After all, you have to really want such approval pretty damn bad to put up with all the crap that standup comics deal with for the privilege of being heckled and abused.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:52 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is the same as movie acting. There's no audience there, either

a) there is an audience, the crew
b) there is a director whose express job it is to tell you how you're doing and help you improve
c) you get more-or-less as many tries as you need to get it right, and only your very best work will be used in the end.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:23 PM on May 20, 2014 [7 favorites]

Not being able to hear your audience was the same problem vaudeville acts had when transitioning to radio eighty years ago. Live studio audiences for comedy programs weren't the norm until comics like Ed Wynn, who couldn't work to silence--and not just so he could gauge for timing, he simply loved getting laughs--insisted on them.
posted by Spatch at 11:02 PM on May 20, 2014

My favorite recent comedy set is Maria Bamford's special! special! special! Which was filmed in her house, while she performed in front of her parents. At one point she served cookies, slightly burnt. It felt surreal at first, but after a few minutes it was as natural as any other set, except the audience was two people on a couch. And of course it was excellent, because Bamfoo... BTW, it originally appeared on the now-defunct chill.com but will be coming to Netflix soon.

Even so, an audience of two parents is still an audience. Stand-up with zero crowd feedback is missing an integral part of the equation. How a comedian adapts to the room is part of the craft and art of performing stand-up. Remove the room and it's just a cold set, like an audition tape.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:27 PM on May 20, 2014

For an alternate read, doing standup in front of an audience heavily primed to give you negative feedback.

If you like comedy and you're not reading Cameron Esposito's column... here's you're chance to correct that oversight.
posted by psoas at 4:01 AM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

That was good psoas, thanks.
posted by forgetful snow at 4:31 AM on May 21, 2014

I mean, who does anything in a soundproof room?

Other than sex, I mean.

Um, not even sex.

Or maybe you have never lived in an apartment.
posted by Michele in California at 9:58 AM on May 21, 2014

As someone who teaches university courses, it's interesting to think about this in the context of class lectures or conference presentations. Sometimes you can give lectures that visibly engage students in an obvious way. But that's usually a sign that you're intentionally showboating. A nod from the students isn't a sign that they're following you; it's usually a sign that you're killing it. I've often lectured to a sea of mostly placid smiles and later on had students tell me they were moved by the lecture. A smile or nod is a communicative act, and most audiences have been trained to not respond to informative lectures. Different norms.

And conference talks are even less likely to get reactions. I know that even when I really admire a talk, I don't wear my admiration on my face. In fact, if you see someone nodding at a talk, it's often a sign that they're not an academic; they're a visiting member of the public who doesn't know the norms. So although this lack of audience response might be terrifying for a comedian, it's kinda standard for an academic. This might be why so many academics are terrible at talks and why so many don't react to their audiences.
posted by painquale at 11:30 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I mentioned this post to my boss today, since I thought it would be something up his quirky humor alley. It turns out he's actually friends with Ian Abramson, and Ian got the idea after performing to no feedback on a show my boss created. Video here.
posted by borkencode at 9:34 AM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

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