If you have ever done stand up comedy like comedians such as Andy Williams, no doubt you have experienced that moment when absolutely no one laughs and you could hear the sound of a pin falling if a pin were dropped. Even when you do comedy with just your friends and family, there is always going to be a moment or two when no one laughs because they didn’t get your joke – or it just wasn’t that funny. But what do you do when this happens?
This really is the worst nightmare of a stand up comedy artist, as it could be an indication that the jokes aren’t directed to the right audience or –worse still – they just aren’t funny. This isn’t like writing a comedy film, this is a real time reaction from a live audience. So what is the right way to handle this situation?
A great tactic is just to stop and stare at the audience, giving them a “deer in the headlights” look. This is best right after the punch line if no one laughs, and it gives the audience time for the joke to sink in. If they joke is funny, some of the audience will laugh at your silly look, and if not, you can continue your repertoire without feeling pressured or hurried (your jokes always lose their efficacy if you deliver them hurriedly).
If you know that your joke didn’t really go over well and that the audience didn’t laugh, you can use it to create some more comedy for you while on stage. Say something like “Boy, that sounded a lot funnier in my head when I was high on acid”, or “Please tell the next comedian to avoid that joke.” You can actually use the failed joke to help get the audience on your side again, and it can actually be more funny if you use it right.
Pause for a really long time if you still aren’t getting laughs. Some people may force out a laugh, and this will help to get some more people laughing. Obviously this won’t work with every audience, but some audiences will just feel so awkward that they will force out a laugh, which you can use to your advantage by cracking another joke like “Thanks for that. It’s really encouraging to know the audience will still laugh even when I fail to be funny.” Self-deprecation is a great way to get people laughing – if not with you, then at you.
If you really want to go all out, you can use the failed laughter to check if the microphone is on. If it is, ask the crowd, “Are you sure your hearing aids are turned all the way up?” This could be quite hilarious with the right crowd.
The most important thing to know about dealing with a lack of laughter is that each crowd reacts differently to different jokes. Try and read the crowd to see how best to react to their lack of laughter, as that will help you to know how to deal with them as effectively as possible. It may feel like the end of the world when you are doing stand up comedy and no one laughs, but it doesn’t have to be.