I have been performing on stage for money and crowds of people since about 1963. Some of the shows have gone unbelieveably well. Sometimes I can plug into the magic interchange between performer and audience, where each feeds the other until an amazing synergy takes place; when every person in the audience is completely engaged and I as the performer am completely connected and aware of each one of them. I keep doing shows trying to get that to happen again. Most of the time, there is a rewarding interchange but once in a while there is that magic. And once in a while, nothing goes right. You can’t connect with them; they wouldn’t pee on you if you were on fire. Sometimes the show is going great and you say one thing and the entire audience recoils and you’ve lost them. Let’s talk about those days.
Usually I don’t lose an audience while I’m singing, it’s while I’m talking to them that I might say something that could inadvertently alienate someone. I remember doing a show with Peter Tork (www.petertork.com) in Ann Arbor, Michigan. We were doing a Martin Briley song called Milkshake, and there’s a line about “that great soda jerk in the sky”. Every line is a satirical look at a musician in a late night restaurant interacting with a saucy waitress. The whole song is funny and people laugh throughout. At the end of the riotous applause, a woman stood up and yelled, “YOU CAN’T CALL MY GOD A JERK!”, and stormed out. The entire audience was stunned until I relieved the pressure by saying, “Well, I guess that shows us!” Everyone laughed and on went the show. I am sure that you realize that no one was denigrating her mythology. She took the offense on herself. We were just singing a funny song. What can you do about that?
Well that’s the tricky thing about comedy. It has the power to offend and that’s the chance that you take when you do it. Sometimes you can tell when something is going to offend someone and you can make the choice then to do it or not, but sometimes it comes out of the blue. Suddenly they turn on you and if you’re not really quick that’s the end of the show for you. No applause, no “great show” s, no CD sales, no late dinner with bright funny people, no sex…nothing.
The most efficacious way to get out of that situation is to simply cop to it. I have been completely enthralling an audience and then say something about, say, cancer, and awaaaaaaaaay they go. What I do is to simply say, “did you see that?” The audience immediately wants to know what they missed, even tho they hate me for the moment. Then I say, “for a moment there, I had you all in the palm of my hand, and then poof. One bad joke and it all turned to caca.”
The audience immediately recognizes the complete truth of the matter and the boldness of my copping to it and they start laughing and then they all climb back in my hand. Copping to what’s going on is always a good choice.
If the audience is not in the mood for comedy, I sing and I try to pay attention to which songs they are responding to and do more of my songs that fill that bill. If they don’t like the songs, I may put more comedy in there than I normally do. I guess what I ‘m saying here is that you have to tailor each show to each audience and do it on the fly. I have never liked doing the same show twice. I guess that’s why I’m a solo performer. With a band or group, you must do what you rehearsed. My final arbiter is entertainment. When I’m on stage, it has to be entertaining. You can play music for yourself in your room. If you get on stage, you have a responsibility to be entertaining. And when you lose the audience, as you will from time to time, you have to be prepared for that. Usually the truth of the situation works for me. Admit it and move on. They’ll thank you for it.