David Bruce: The Coolest People in Comedy — Animals, April fools Day, Audiences

Animals

• When Margaret Cho was in Tibet, she visited a dog monastery, which she describes as a temple for reincarnated monks — that is, monks who went astray during their human lives and who have come back as dogs. Ms. Cho remembers that the temple is quiet: The dogs do not bark, howl, or fight, and at the temple the major activity of both monks and dogs is quiet meditation. Visitors can feed the dogs pieces of dough, and the dogs wait in line for their turn to eat! Ms. Cho says, “When I think of Tibet, I remember the politeness of the dogs, pulling back their dog lips and ever so gently taking the food from my hand with their open teeth, not wanting to bite my hand accidentally, and then looking warmly into my eyes with a silent thanks.”

April Fools Day

• Someone at Google Maps has a sense of humor. Close to April Fools Day, an editor of the website Nevada Thunder asked it for directions from Chicago, Illinois to Amsterdam, Netherlands. Step 20 said, “Swim across the Atlantic Ocean: 3,462 mi.”

Audiences

• British comedian David O’Doherty once performed in front of 40 people, 20 of whom were members of the Active Elderly Association, which meant that much of his audience were in their eighties. Unfortunately, his act was not meant for people in their eighties, so he was performing routines about iPhones and about spying on a naked lady doing aerobics when he was 12 years old. During intermission, he figured that all the old people would leave, but they were still present when he walked out for the second half of his act. He asked them, “Why are you still here?” One of the old people replied, “The bus doesn’t come to get us until 11.” He also used to do readings of children’s books in libraries. Ten minutes after he began reading one book, a small boy raised his hand and asked, “Does this get good soon?” Mr. O’Doherty says, “It was so profound. How many times — not just at a gig, but in a relationship or at a family get-together — have you wanted to raise your hand and ask that?”

• Stand-up comedian Kristen Schaal used to practice her act in front of an unusual audience: the cows on the Colorado farm where she grew up. She says, “I had time on my hands. I would perform in front of the cows. They never mooed. They never heckled. They were very polite. That’s how I learned to not expect anything from an audience.” Despite its being unusual, this kind of audience is good practice for real audiences, as Ms. Schaal points out, “I went back home recently, and I looked at the cows again and thought, ‘God, they have the same expression as audiences.’ Just expectant — they want something but they’re just, like, waiting. And they have no idea what they’re waiting for. After that training, I was set.”

• Comedian Larry Storch was doing stand-up comedy in Detroit at a time when Soupy Sales was doing a Detroit children’s show that was widely watched by adults. Mr. Storch heard that a local TV celebrity was in the audience, and he thought that the audience would like to know that, so he announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, there’s a guy named Soupy Sales in the audience who you might know and he’s sitting right over there. Let’s say hello.” Big mistake. The audience mobbed Soupy Sales, leaving nobody to listen to Mr. Storch’s act. Mr. Storch says, “It was embarrassing. They left the joint empty.”

• Early in his career, British comedian Danny La Rue appeared in a nightclub where the audience sat quietly throughout his performance. He thought that he had bombed completely and that his career was over, until he was informed that previously the audience had always ignored whatever comedian was performing so that they could talk amongst themselves. Getting the audience to listen to his performance was a tremendous achievement, and Mr. La Rue was on his way to a very highly paid career as a comedian.

• Fred Weintraub owned the Bitter End, a club where many comedians plied their art and became famous. He listened to the audience and let its reaction decide whether he should keep an act. If the audience hated an act, he kept it. If the audience loved an act, he kept it. If the audience members said after a performance, “That’s a nice act,” he dropped that act. According to Mr. Weintraub, the one thing he did not want was for an audience to be indifferent.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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