Don't read the reviews!

They won’t always give your spirits a lift, says Al Cowie

I believe it was Andy Warhol who said ‘don't read the reviews, count the column inches’ The debate about whether or not to read my own reviews hadn't been one I'd particularly had to think about before, but I've now had my first proper taste of what that meant, by way of Twitter.

I have spent the past week as an entertainment spectacle, travelling in a lift while dressed in various outfits, from a bumblebee to Steve Jobs. Oh how glamorous is my life, the careers advisor never even came close.

The task was to publicise various aspects of the company that employed me and to chat to the hapless visitors of that miniscule, moving museum of me.

There are three lifts (the other two are not employing comedians - hckk phffh, get the union on it) competing for best promotion, and the aim of the bizarre endeavour is to encourage people to tweet about their favourite effort. My role has been to amuse my audience and encourage them to send tweets with the hashtag #jamlift, with the competition to be won by the lift with the most tweets.

After a couple of days I started to read the tweets myself, expecting nice comments and fun messages - after all, I'd had a pretty personal interaction with everyone who might tweet.

However, of the hundreds of tweets sent, there have been one or two that were negative. One or two! How dare they! People who didn't enjoy travelling in my lift, didn't enjoy chatting on their travels, probably the same strange breed of individual who doesn't talk to other people on the Tube, ha...

And yet many people have been waiting specifically for my lift and have told me so, many people enjoy my presence, 99 per cent of tweets are positive, and the company are certainly pleased; having employed four people in the first week they only want me next week. So why do I get so bothered?

I thought about that for a while, and I came to the realisation that I really shouldn't.

Maybe a reason I got into comedy was for validation, so these tweets were my feedback. However, feedback that is negative gives me nothing of value. Spoken plainly, I can't please all the people all the time.

While positive feedback is useful as it tells you what people enjoy so you can continue and build on it, negative feedback, most of the time, does absolutely nothing of the sort; those who don't enjoy you don't tell you what you might have done differently. Negative feedback of that sort is not constructive. It is an attempt at claiming high status, and status over you, from an individual who feels insecure. It is a reflection on them not you.

There are simple positive messages here. The very act of being reviewed or commented on tells the story both that they are thinking of you and that they think you are important enough to write about (why are there more jokes about France than Finland? It's a matter of what's more important to us). And secondly, in any case, all publicity is good publicity.

I have no doubt I will continue to read my reviews, I will continue to follow the comments on Twitter, and I will continue to be hurt by anyone who damns my work. But I hope that I will remember my own council and discard and ignore all feedback that doesn't show me a way to improve my act. And I learnt all that as a gooseberry in a #jamlift.

Published: 22 Feb 2012

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