Dealing with a dead audience: How to salvage your set when it all goes wrong

Dealing with a dead audience: How to salvage your set when it all goes wrong

For whatever reason, there are nights when the crowd just won’t bite.  They may be distracted by their own scintillating company (which does beg the question why are they at a comedy club in the first place) or a little worse for wear on the booze. Or you may be performing to an almost empty room where everybody is so self-conscious that they are too afraid to laugh.

Whatever scenario, a rowdy bear pit or the frozen north, seize the opportunity to perform. Here are a few handy hints to have in your armoury as the proverbial tumbleweed rolls steadily through the audience:

  • Don’t blame yourself

Every comedian has bad experiences. Treat the gig as a rehearsal for all the great ones to come. It is all good character-building experience and one bad gig has never killed a comedy career (er, we don’t think, anyway).

  • Don’t quit

Unless you’re getting physically pelted with tomatoes, try to finish your set. Even if that means reciting all of your remaining material to dead silence, get it over with. It’s okay to talk a little quicker than usual, but try to keep your confidence up and finish.

  • If you corpse on stage, take a deep breath and try a smooth (ish) recovery…

The audience don’t know your material, so just move on and pick up where you can. Maybe you got off to a shaky start and the middle of your act is more their cup of tea. That’s okay. Some crowds need a little time to warm up.

  • Walk, don’t run

As tempting as it is to chuck yourself off the stage and hot foot it to the nearest exit when you’ve finished your set, try to get off calmly. Be polite, pop the mic back on the stand and walk off with your dignity (hopefully) intact.

  • Talk it out

Ask a group of comedians about their worst gig and you’ll likely hear a list of horror stories as long as your arm. Chat it out with your fellow performers- it’s always therapeutic.

You can also read a whole host of books about dealing nightmare performances. We highly recommend ‘I Laughed, I Cried: How One Woman Took on Stand-Up and (Almost) Ruined Her Life’ by Viv Groskop (Funny Women Awards Finalist 2013).

  • It’s all about perspective

As with so many things in life, it’s often the difficult experiences that teach us more than the good ones. So try to look at the bright side, and embrace the learning. You’ll look back at this and laugh…and hopefully the next audience will too.