You can't enjoy stand-up if you refuse to shut up
I'm really sorry that I need to write this story.
Because in a city that's famous for live performances, I figured that appropriate audience behavior would be second nature to all of us. But after Tuesday's Dave Chappelle show debacle, some people apparently need a primer on how to act right. The surprise show at the Paramount Theatre was plagued by hecklers. As my colleague Matthew Odam wrote, "Only a small percentage of the audience acted like idiots. But the night was proof that 50 people can almost ruin the night for 1,250."
I'm specifically writing this for standup comedy, based on my four years of performing in Austin, but feel free to use these tips for music shows, theater or any place where an artist is performing for your benefit.
Here are four rules for being a good audience member:
1. You are not the center of attention. This might be tough to hear, especially in the age of social media and ESPECIALLY in Austin, where everyone blogs, Instagrams their lunches and generally pretends to be a celebrity. But when you're at a comedy show, the performer is the star. Not you.
Still, there's nothing wrong with wanting attention — everyone does. But channel that desire into positive action. Write. Act. Attend an open mike. The performer you're watching spent years honing his craft so that he could be on stage to entertain you. It's OK that you feel a little jealous. But don't wreck the night for everyone. And don't passive-aggressively try to draw attention to yourself — don't shout encouragement or laugh obnoxiously at setup lines or transitions.
Remember: Nobody cares about you.
2. Never talk. Ever. Shutting up is always the right decision. Pretend you're watching a movie at an Alamo Drafthouse: A performance should always be a no-talking zone. Turn off your cell phone. Don't talk to your friends.
And most of all, resist the urge to yell things or initiate banter with the comic. You might think that you're helping, but THIS IS NEVER THE CASE. Even if you're not insulting the performer, you are being a distraction. The other audience members paid good money to listen to that performer — if you were funny, you'd be the one performing. Again, channel that desire for attention into something positive.
If you talk, don't be surprised if you are thrown out. The two major comedy clubs in town, Cap City and the Velveeta Room, will not hesitate to eject you. This is not because anyone is out to get you. This is because you were being a jerk and spoiling a performance. Also, don't be offended if the comic turns on you — viciously. If you heckle, you are officially fair game. Expect your appearance, your partner, your family, everything about you to be attacked.
Again, don't get upset. You deserve this. But what about when the comic decides to do crowd work, you ask? That brings us to Rule No. 3.
3. The only time it's acceptable to talk is if the comic directly addresses you. Fine, it's OK to talk this once. If a comic asks where you're from or what you do for a living, you have permission to respond. And if there are followup questions, it's cool to keep talking. Such exchanges can add a fun, organic wrinkle to the show. That's great. But always let the comic be in the driver's seat. When she's done conversing with you, you should return to being mute. And finally ...
4. Have a good attitude.
This is most important. You're there to enjoy yourself, right? The best way to make that happen is to go in with a good mood. And understand your role in the evening — the comic is there to perform, your job is to be a good audience member. That means you should be quiet, attentive and ready to laugh. Don't put your feet up; don't check your watch. Don't quietly resent the comic for daring to be funny — encourage him! He will feed off that energy and it will reflect in his performance.
In return, the evening will be awesome. The comic will thank you for being a great audience and everyone will feel good about themselves.
And when you leave, you can immediately text/tweet/Facebook everyone about what an amazing show you were just a part of.
And you know what? All of your friends will be jealous!