Giving feedback to a comic can be a delicate operation at the best of times and definitely not to be attempted even if you have been on a “2 week intensive comedy course”!
Tonight I had a new comic come up to me after I’d just done a set. He was very new indeed. He’d just done a 2 week intensive comedy course. You can imagine how my eyes glazed over on hearing that. His tutor had told him to go and watch some comics in action. Fair enough but I’m guessing what his tutor didn’t tell him to do was to sit in the front, make notes during the performance and then to take the act to one side as soon as they got off stage and give them unsolicited feedback. He informed me that I was very confident on stage (thanks for enlightening me) and then proceeded to compare me with the previous act whose name he didn’t know and who I hadn’t seen. He was a bloke – so that narrows it down then. Whereupon he then demanded to know how much I was getting paid for the gig and seemed to get rather arsey with me when I refused to give him an answer on the justifiable grounds that it was none of his business.
I remember a similar occasion about a year ago or so. I was at Rich Mix biding my time between gigs. I’d got into conversation with another diner there. She told me she’d done a comedy course (who hasn’t?) and as I was off to do a gig around the corner, I asked her if she wanted to come along. She did. I was closing the night – a lovely urban gig in Shoreditch which is always packed out. Having done a comedy course, I soon found out she was a self-appointed “comedy expert” (who isn’t?). Once there she asked me if I knew what I was going to say when I got on stage. I assured her that as I had done this kind of thing before, I did have some idea. She then asked me what type of material I was going to do. As she was black and I was white, I think she was concerned I wouldn’t connect with the predominantly black crowd. Despite the fact that I was closing the night, it didn’t seem to register with her that at the very least the promoters felt I might know what I was doing. When she heard one of the subjects in my set, she was clearly worried and informed me I needed to have a set up for that joke for it to work properly. Blithely unaware that I might have realised that myself and have a tried and tested one to hand, she then proceeded to provide me with her own version. Unfortunately I don’t know what her version was as I’d stopped listening to her by this point. After closing the night and having a stormer of a gig, she then informed me I had quite a defined personality on stage! I was as underwhelmed by this statement as you may well imagine.
So all in all, if you’re a new act, it’s probably best not to give advice/feedback/helpful hints on comedy to those who make a living from it. Giving feedback to any act can be a sensitive procedure at the best of times, particularly when it’s unsolicited. (As a rule, even when you’re a more experienced act, it’s probably best not to do it unless you’re very good friends with the comic in question.) Comics are bombarded with people who know nothing about comedy giving them their two pennies’ worth about their act. This ranges from punters such as the guy who happily informed me just before I was about to go on stage that “What you got to know is, love, I don’t think women are funny.” My response was to inform him that “What you got to know is, love, I don’t give a shit what you think”; to certain promoters’ evaluation of their performance. On one occasion I had a promoter tell me in all seriousness that – “Thing is Maureen, you lack confidence on stage.” My response this time was to try and suppress a laugh; and last but not least ‘helpful’ pieces of advice from various friends and family members. Moreover, mentioning you’ve gone on a comedy course and/or done 150 gigs won’t give your remarks any more credence.
The long and short of the matter is: don’t sit in the front, don’t openly make notes on another comedian’s act and don’t proffer unsolicited feedback. Even if your critique is on point, in all likelihood it still won’t be appreciated by the more experienced comedian. In fact, that might even make it all the more annoying. And in all probability if your feedback is on point, they will have had the same thoughts regarding the gig in the first place. The main difference in the thought process will come if you choose to enlighten them with your own particular pearls of wisdom. Then, believe me, you won’t want to know what they are thinking ….