Come into the light....

John Fleming has some illuminating advice for new comedians

The stage. The spotlights. And the fear.

Three major things performers get off on.

And, when comedians are inexperienced, the third is so strong, they often forget the first two.

You can spot inexperienced comedians because they step forward, out of the stage lights, so they can see the audience’s faces and the audience becomes more human, less of a faceless beast in the dark.

But the result is that the performer’s face becomes dimmer and less distinct.

So you have a dimly-lit performer standing in front of a well-lit background and the human eye is overwhelmed by the bright background, which makes the performer’s face even dimmer.

The audience can’t see the performer’s eyes and facial expressions clearly. The effect and impact of what the performer says is lessened.

What the performer has done through fear, in an attempt to have more impact, has had the opposite effect.

Even worse – and I saw it happen twice recently – some performers without careful pre-planning and with their head filled with professionally suicidal fog actually come down off the stage to directly interact with the audience. They think it’s ‘bonding’. In fact, it’s wanking.

You can get away with it after a lot of careful thought, detailed pre-planning and a lot of live performance experience. But not 'cos I feel like it'.

It makes the performer feel better – real live interaction with real live people – but it means, off the stage and in semi-darkness, most of the audience can see fuck all of what the performer is doing. The audience might as well be listening to a radio programme in the dark. If the performer has actual genuine eye contact with one punter, it means all other members of the audience are being excluded.

Eyes, Facial expressions. Brightly lit. Details seen clearly. That’s why audiences go to live shows. To see the performer clearly. That’s what communication is about.

Rule One of stand-up comedy – even in a small room…

If you can see the audience’s eyes in the middle of the room, you are standing in the wrong place. Get back into the light.

Rule Two of stand-up comedy – even in a small room…

If you cannot feel the warmth of the light(s) on the front and sides of your face, you are standing in the wrong place. Get back into the light.

Rule Three of stand-up comedy – even in a small room…

If there is a stage and you have come off it to ‘bond’ with the audience, get your mind off your insecurities and think about the audience’s viewpoint not your own. Get back on the fucking stage. Get back into the light.

Don’t think of the audience as a faceless beast in the dark, about to rip your soul asunder at any moment.

Think of your light as a warm womb protecting you. The faceless beast out there in the dark is just a bad dream and you will be backstage drinking lukewarm tea in less than an hour – perhaps less than ten minutes…

Stay in the light.

It’s why you wanted to perform in the first place. To communicate with people. Clearly.

Published: 6 Jul 2011

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