by Ryan Meehan and Emily Allyn
I’ve been Googling a lot of comedy related stuff late in the evening, and one of the things that I put into the search bar was “How to act at a comedy club” because I really wanted to know if anybody had written about that before. It seems like by now with all of the crazy stuff that’s happened at live shows, somebody would have put together a list. But if somebody has, I wasn’t able to locate it so I’ve decided to put one together.
To clarify, this is not a self-promoting piece because I am in no way a standup comedian. (That’s why I’m bringing in Emily for help on this one) I am however a huge fan of standup comedy because I believe that it’s the purest art form. It’s incredibly difficult and the people who do it sacrifice a great deal of their personal time to make others laugh. They travel ridiculous distances to do short sets, and often operate off of very little sleep. So when you go to see them, the least you can do is show some respect and be appreciative of what they do.
So here are some universal ground rules that you may want to abide by when you attend your local comedy establishment.
First things first…
Allyn: For one, relax. Everyone is there to have fun. If you relax & laugh when you think something’s funny, it helps everyone to do the same. Don’t be sitting there all nerved up & ready to be either called out or offended. Have fun, laugh!
Meehan: And if you are easily offended, let’s be honest a comedy club is not the place for you to be dragging your sandy little butthole in so that you can bark about how you were raised to “not say things like that”. It’s a comedy club, not a Baptist church.
You don’t always have to drink
Meehan: The two drink minimum that some places require does not necessarily mean that you have to order an alcoholic beverage. And if you think “I’m going to go to a comedy club and get super smashed”, you’re about to be shocked at how quick they are going to throw your ass out. Comedy clubs are not big fans of overly intoxicated patrons, because they are usually the source of all the things that can go wrong at a comedy club to begin with. You are no exception.
What I like to do is instead of drinking, order something hot to eat. It’s a perfect time to let your food digest because you know that you’re going to be seated and watching performers, so grab something off of the menu. This isn’t necessarily an obligation, however it does pump money back into the club so they can get future performers that you can go watch. If everybody ordered something, everybody would always win.
Allyn: Drink if you like to, but if you plan to get sloppy drunk the comedy club is no place for you. No matter what you eat or drink, be sure to tip your wait staff, as you would in any establishment where you are served food & drinks by servers.
Thank the feature acts
Meehan: The feature acts are the performers who open the show, and are being paid much less than the headliner (if they are being paid at all). Regardless of how you thought they did, it can’t hurt to go over and tell them how much you appreciated their set and here’s why: Nobody involved with comedy hates the whole “Anybody can do it” myth more than feature acts. They are still (hopefully) working their way up to being headliners, and they know better than ANYBODY that not just “Anybody” can do this.
Allyn: A good point, but I would add that if you stop to say hello to the comics on your way out, respect their physical boundaries as people and don’t come up and grab them or stuff like that, getting your face up in their face. You feel like they are your friend because they just cracked you up and that’s a warm good feeling, but they may not be comfortable with your familiarity.
Shut your mouth if you aren’t laughing
Meehan: This includes but is not limited to: Talking, heckling, answering your cell phone (which should probably be off altogether) and many other activities involving the audience not realizing that they are not the ones on stage. Be quiet. You wouldn’t talk out loud at a play or a recital, so why would you do it here?
Allyn: No matter what, NO ONE PAID TO COME SEE YOU AT THIS CLUB. You are part of the audience, not the show. Unless a comic is directly engaging you and ASKING OUT LOUD for you to answer aloud, then there’s no reason –ever– to shout out. Does that mean in the moment, if something really tickles you – you can’t murmur it to yourself as an echo, under your breath? No of course not. It means you are truly in the moment. But be in your own moment, not everyone else’s.
If you are seeing friends you never see and you all have a lot to catch up on, conversationally, then do us all a favor and do not choose to meet up at a comedy show. Same if you see these people all the time but can never stop talking when you’re together. Comedy requires people to pay attention to the comic, so its not a good night out if you can’t hold off on talking till after or have dinner together ahead of time to chat before the show. Whatever, the point is cease conversing amongst yourselves so you can get the most out of what you’re there — and everyone is there — to see.
If the comic onstage does crowd work and talks to you, keep your answers short and know that it does not give you permission to control the show from there
Meehan: It’s called crowd work for a reason. Let THEM work the crowd, not you. A question isn’t always an invitation to start a serious dialogue, and a comedy club is not the place for such extended back and forth banter anyways.
Allyn: This goes back to the above comments about keeping from being loud. If the comic looks at you and asks you a direct question for which they are looking for an answer, give them one. Usually they aren’t looking for you to think of a “funny” answer, if anything they just want your honest response. So, answer the question directly and succinctly and let the comic continue from there. They aren’t turning the show into “a conversation with you” they just have that interaction built into their set. OR, worse, they have stopped to ask you something as a way of controlling you because you were already talking a lot and this is how they are handling it. In that case, stop being oblivious and shut up from there on out.
Don’t tape anything unless you are asked specifically to do so and have all of the comedians’ approval
Meehan: Most comedy clubs are going to have a video camera rolling just for their own personal liabilities, and there are a lot of headliners who will stop the show if they see a blinking red light. As well they should, because there’s usually a sign outside of the establishment explaining that you are not supposed to tape anything. Leave the professional stuff to the professionals – Just because you have an iPhone doesn’t mean you’re a filmmaker.
Allyn: Performers are generally protective of their images and what is released to the internet public. Among comics there is a strict code of etiquette regarding taping: that is ASK FIRST. You should never tape anyone without their knowledge or consent, in any setting, let alone one in which you are recording someone’s artistic and intellectual property.
Allyn: Don’t be a dick – this should be obvious, but apparently not. When I was in 5th grade band we went to the symphony and our band directors spent several minutes letting us know how to be a polite audience. So the question is: Are you smarter than a 5th grader? (Spoiler alert: Many are not.)