By Dan Burkitt
Judge the Room
‘Don’t worry you didn’t die. But next time, judge the room.’
That’s what a kind-eyed audience member said to me after my first ever stand-up gig on Friday. It was in front of a 150-odd crowd in the Willesden Library. And anyone who came to the comedy school showcase last night will know the slightly fuller story behind it.
In brief for those who weren’t there – I spoke about a new hobby I have. I like to shove small objects up my arse and then go to church. So, whilst I’m speaking to the priest, I have a small Lego figurine stashed up my anus, and I’m in the house of God, covertly committing an act of sodomy.
At the Library I told this joke in front of an almost-entirely middle-aged, Caribbean crowd. It wasn’t particularly well-received it has to be said. Someone even shouted out ‘No!’, after the punchline. And I could feel the mood in the room shift as soon as I said it. But you know, I’m a professional so I carried on.
I started speculating about what objects audience members would choose to put up their arses. I could see a lot of stony faces when I was deciding who to pick on. In all honesty, the awkwardness of the situation was strangely thrilling, so I carried on despite the tense atmosphere.
Afterwards, Mr Cee from comedy school who’d invited me along, said to me, ‘Don’t worry, mate, black audiences are just a bit anal about anal stuff’. And, in fact, right before I went on, he’d spent a good five minutes urging the male audience members to go and get their prostates checked because not enough black men do. Apparently, these days they just need a cheek swab, and no fingers need to go up your arse. That’s a real shame, if you ask me.
But it was definitely a lesson in the importance of knowing your audience. It’s 2019 and of course it’s wrong to make crass assumptions about a group of people based on their age, race, nationality etc. However, you can make a rough guess what might offend or resonate with particular people.
And the truth is I could have found out. I just chose not to. All it would have taken was a ‘who here goes to church?’. The likely loud response would have let me know that it might be best to avoid anything sacrilegious. I said the joke because I wanted to and didn’t bother finding out how the audience might respond.
That’s the opposite of the kind of work I want to make – for advertising, comedy, any creative endeavour. As many of our mentors have pointed out, our audience, their hopes, their fears, their lives, should always be at the forefront of our minds. Otherwise, you’re just making self-indulgent wank. Wank that doesn’t sell.
And we’re here to make wank that does sell. And to do that you need to judge the room. You need to be in the centre of the room, compelling and entertaining the audience. You need to push boundaries, and break rules with intelligence. But you don’t need to shove your head up our own arse and offend people because you didn’t do your research.
The copy scores 77.6 in the Flesch Reading Ease test