Dying on stage hurts. There is a cultish and irrational claim by some comics that “it’s never the audience” “don’t blame the audience.” And as frustrating as it is, they’re right. There are audiences populated exclusively by confused tourists who don’t understand English, or jaded and self absorbed comedians who seem to only look up from their own notebook when it’s their turn on stage. But honestly…even in those situations you can’t blame the audience. You can’t blame the audience, because if you do, you won’t get any better.
I experienced a similar mindset with canvassing for political campaigns. I was told, and I drilled into my staff “turf doesn’t matter” “don’t blame the turf.” Never blame the geographic location to which you were assigned. There is a way to meet your goals, because where there is a will there is a way. We believed this not because it’s true, but because there is no alternative. If you can blame turf, or the audience, or what kind of socks you wore-you will. You will do anything to combat the scarier proposition that you need to be better, funnier, possibly more talented.
I played a room with only three comics in the “audience,” I died. I was shocked by the silence and I panicked. I had to ask another comic to bring me my notebook because I blanked after four minutes of a generous ten minute set. It was absolutely a shitty room and I could have blamed my performance on the audience, and for a few minutes I did. Except then another comic went on stage, and had most of us chuckling the whole time. He made his own energy and it was just too damned infectious to ignore. His name is Mark Buenning and he wouldn’t take no for an answer and he made magic happen. That was pretty inspiring.
Dying on stage is always hard, I almost always want to eat ice cream and then throw up. Blaming the audience can take a little bit of the sting out of it. But you have to believe you can do well under any circumstances and then work to make that belief true. You can’t control the MC, or whether the mic works, or the age/race/first language of the audience. You can only control what you bring on stage. So, what went wrong? Something fixable went wrong and I better figure out to fix it or I should get the hell out of the way.