One of the hard-and-fast rules I learned doing standup was this: “Never tell an audience to stop laughing.”
You’d be shocked how often this happens, with inexperienced comedians, amateurs telling jokes, or just random people trying to relate a funny story. The intended audience will laugh at part of the setup, or at a part of the story the teller doesn’t think is the funny part, and the person talking will say, “No! No. Wait! Here’s the best part,” or something similar.
This stops the audience from laughing, scolds them for enjoying the story, and sets up impossible expectation that “the funny part” can’t possibly meet.
One night, long ago, another comedian and I performed at a fairly disastrous private party for high schoolers, which took place in the living room of a suburban home. I was in my mid-twenties, and looked a little young for my age. The other comedian was closer to the age I am now, late forty-something, and she had difficulty connecting with the high schoolers. She went first, did a shortened act, then sat to the side and watched me close the show out.
Halfway through my act, a little girl (the homeowner’s youngest daughter), about five years old and wearing pajamas, stumbled into the room and went to her mother. I stopped, smiled at the adorable little girl, and said, “Hello.” She screamed bloody murder as her mother carried her from the room.
As her screams receded into the distance, I said, “Sadly, I have that effect on females of all ages.”
I got a nice little laugh off of that. As the laugh died off, the little girl stopped screaming and very clearly shouted, “Scary!”
The audience blew up. It was the biggest laugh of the night by far . . .until the other comedian stood up, ran out in front of me pressing her hands down in a sort of reverse-raise-the-roof maneuver, and said, “No! No! No no no! She didn’t say ‘scary.’ She said ‘Therapy!’ She’s gonna need therapy!”
The room went dead silent, and stayed that way until the other comic hung her head and sat back down.
NEVER tell an audience to stop laughing.
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