Some comics rely on crowd work. Some comics thrive on crowd work. It’s never been a skill I was all that interested in honing. Heckling, on the other hand, is a different thing. I can and will deal with hecklers. If you start talking to me, I’ll make you feel like an idiot, but I’ll never go out of my way to try to make you feel like an idiot.
But comedians everywhere (although, I’m sure a fair share of the fear comes from hollywood and popular tv.) have scared audiences from sitting in the front row of a comedy club. “What if the guy makes fun of me.” Leaving comedy clubs empty in front. but all that does is make the second row of a comedy club, the first row. You’re not protected by a row of empty seats. Plus a comedian can conceivably see halfway through the audience of most comedy clubs. You’re not safe, if the comedian decides to look for a target.
When I first started, it wasn’t about a grand idea of being nice to people. It was be nice to audiences, they’ll be nice to you, even if it isn’t going well. It’s a matter of survival. Just do a good job. Never offend an audience, because then the club doesn’t want to rebook you. Just get a good reputation before you do anything risky. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m still not an automatic booking but there’s much less risk.
I recently had an experience that made me glad I don’t talk to the audiences. I was flying (yes, I’m flying to gigs once in a while. MOVIN ON UP!) and I handed the TSA guy my ticket & ID, and he goes “Hey, man. Big fan of your comedy.” I gave a genuine “Oh cool! Thanks!” and that was it. It wasn’t exactly a situation where either of us had time to chat to figure out more. As the day went on I thought about all the ways that could have gone differently. “Good thing I don’t have any TSA jokes.” I thought. “Hmm. This machine is acting kinda haywire. Guess we’ll have to do a pat down. You know we’re going to have to go to secondary inspection.”
That’s the thing. I’ve been recognized in all sorts of places and usually every experience is wonderful. Polite hellos. Sometimes discounts at Chipotle. Free food. or just a simple compliment can make my day that much better. Then I realized what I’d known all along. I’m not even that good at insulting people. If I was good at comebacks at all I wouldn’t have got bullied in high school. I’m not gonna intimidate anybody. I only win against hecklers because they’ve been drinking and the audience is automatically on my side. I just sound like a disappointed father and the heckler usually says some dumb shit and then I make a goofy face.
In a comedy club, that’s my home court. Don’t test me. At YOUR work? You win. TSA guy gets to find out how truthful those dick jokes are. Chipotle Guy charges you for Guacamole. I don’t know what he could do to ruin Chipotle for me actually. but people in the audience are real people with real jobs, where they will get their revenge.