Warm It Up

Warm It Up

 

As the show intro music is playing, I’m standing in the back of the room scanning the crowd.  I’m looking for trouble spots, usually groups of 5 or more.  Crowds at the Comedy Cellar are like snowflakes, no two audiences are exactly alike and heavy on the white side.  The racial makeup of the crowd doesn’t concern me in the least.  I’ll be talking to humans so if they can grasp the English language, we should be good.

When I arrive on stage to start the show, I’m usually disappointed in the lackluster applause and address it right away.

“Is that the sound every hand clapping? Brother don’t say shit funny until every hand has banged up against the other hand repeatedly.”

In a typical comedy club setting you will see on the average of 4 acts.  Emcee, opening, middle and closer. In my nearly 30+ years in standup, I have performed at all positions.  I specialize in the emcee spot.  I love going first and getting the crowd energized.  I spend about 10 to 15 minutes preparing the audience for the show. I talk to them about the need for focus, and how texting during this performance is a double no.   With the popularity of the hand held devices, it’s imperative I get them to shut them down for the duration of the show.

“If you have a hand held device, shoot yourself in the face.  But before you do that, turn them off.”

My goal is to inject my enthusiasm for stand up into the crowd so they will be enthused when all of the various acts hit the stage.

I want to relax everybody, especially those sitting directly in the front.

“I know some of you in the front may be worried the comedians will single you out.  As I look up and down the front row I don’t think we’re going to have a problem,….ok maybe you might be in trouble, but everybody else is cool.”

The seating host ask patrons as they check in if they want a front row seat.  Half the folks are cool with it and the other hand decline, saying they don’t want to get picked on.  “Getting picked on” is a loosely defined term.  I’ve talked to people after the show and they say “ I knew you were going to pick on me!” In reality all I did was ask their name and where they were from.

Over the years I’ve developed several techniques for warming up a crowd.  The favorite of late has been the bacon routine.  After the first few minutes of my opening statement, welcome to visitors and birthday check, I ask the crowd if they are ready for the show.  Usually there is one person who doesn’t respond. The rest of the audience can be clapping and hooting and one person just isn’t into it.  I instruct the crowd to stop responding and turn my attention to that one person.

“Are you not ready for the show?  Did you understand the question?”

They usually say they were ordering or drinking or some other excuse.

“Well, so and so screwed it up for everybody else and now we have to start over”.

I tell the crowd I want them to start clapping again in a minute and when they start it should be a soft, quiet golf clap. Soon I’ll be rotating and want them to get louder gradually.

“Yeah, not too loud, you don’t wanna fuck up the man trying to hit the ball in the hole”.

I then ask them to clap a little bit louder.

“Right there! Don’t you move it from right there!  That’s my spot. Sounds like bacon frying don’t it?  I love bacon…..Now, slowly…I turn.”

As I do a little turning around dance the volume increases and by the time I turn all the way around, they are going nuts.  Now they’re ready for the show.

William Stephenson

 

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