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When the military plan an invasion, they check out where they're going. This makes sense and as a general rule I recommend it. If you're an SAS Commander, sales rep or comedian, always do recon.
If I'm booked at a venue I've not been to before, I always check it out in person if I can. Often I'll go incognito as an audience member. This approach helps in so many ways. For a start, you learn where it is, how long it takes to get there and where to park. These things freak me out at the best of times. I don't need to arrive before a show stressed from motorway traffic with no time to prepare and my mind on the parking meter.
It goes without saying to arrive early. I check the crowd as they arrive and check their behaviour in the bar. Are they loud or just chatty amongst themselves? Some of the audience seat themselves and others are seated by the venue staff. Seeing this gives you an idea of who are the groups and who are the complete strangers sharing a table. More importantly it gives you an idea of the individuals and where they are sitting. I have at this stage a fairly limited range of topics. I have written before of how crucial it is to connect with the audience (not just any audience but them because they're special and different) and to connect with the 'now.' I do that by either questioning or making reference to people I've noticed before the show or during the acts before me. I have material on TV, kids, relationships, driving etc. If someone else has previously identified that persons A and B are on a date, there's my connection. I think it looks unprofessional to ask this if an earlier performer has already done so. To me it would say to the audience that I'm not interested in the show you've paid to see. I'd also need to either know beforehand or assess very quickly the extent to which A and B appreciate interacting with the performer. I've written before about the gradient (start with low-risk interaction and increase level of risk gradually, always with an escape plan.)
I mention all this because of a true story. It was a small crowd and half came from the same workplace. They were sonographers at Greenlane Hospital. (No prizes but you will impress me if you know what sonographers do. Our MC didn't. They do ultrasounds.)
I was to be first in the second half so I watched the first half from the crowd. Irene Pink had a chat with a sonographer and it turned out she was pregnant. OK, I thought to myself. That's a nice link to my family gags and I made a mental bookmark of where she was sitting. You may not know that stagelights are incredibly bright and from stage, all you can really see are shapes and the veins of your eyeballs.
I got halfway through my set and I was rockin'. I must really appeal to people who work with high frequencies in dark rooms for a living. I made about three quick comments to my pregnant sonographer when she drew my attention to the fact that she wasn't pregnant.
At halftime, the sonographers had gone for a drink, come back and sat in different chairs. I've had time to think about this and I still can't think of worse insult for a woman than to have explicitly stated in a public place in front of your workmates that you are or look pregnant. You're possibly questioning her morals and definitely saying she's fat. Fortunately I adlibbed my way out it brilliantly. I wish I could remember how.
My point is that whilst I do stress the importance of recon, it isn't foolproof. As I'm sure the CIA would agree with regard to the location of Chinese embassies in the Balkan states. I should have anticipated that at some point my target would shift. I don't think I could have realistically anticipated the specific nature of the pregnancy topic but generally a target could shift. It will happen again.
I'm still wedded to recon as a principle but I will prepare some quips for when target-shift next occurs. I'll also prep for those other things that will happen. Three times I've had a microphone cord unplug from the microphone during my set. I know how to fix it but it takes ten seconds.
The referee isn't adding this onto injury-time and it's worse if there's ten seconds of silence. I need to prepare a quip. Lights will blow, glasses will break, people will fall off chairs and so on. These prepared quips fill a space and I reckon they boost the audience's opinion of the performer. They don't have to be that funny. They just have to seem spontaneous.
My original point was to do recon and be prepared. I discovered that recon wasn't foolproof so make sure your recon includes preparing for if your recon goes astray.
Terry Williams' Gags
I have a small confession to make.
Jennifer Lopez is pregnant.
And it was me...
Who started the rumour.
Why do some Christians highlight passages in their bibles? They're basically sending a message to God that the unhighlighted bits are not his best work. God is omniscient. Its all good. God is not a stand up comedian. Can you imagine God saying "Thou shalt not commit adultery (pause for audience reaction) OK that was new..."?
True story. I was driving from Surfers Paradise to Brisbane in Australia. Two billboards right next to each other. One from a church. One from the Government. The church's one said "For God so loved the world, he gave his only son." The Government's one said "Stop child abuse now!"
Check out more about Williams and read some GREAT free tutorials. http://www.seriouscomedy.co.nz
Read more about New Zealand comedians: http://www.nzcomedyguild.org.nz