Comedy Show Etiquette

One of the things I love about my country is the value we place on freedom of speech. It makes being a stand-up comedian not just easy but possible. In recent years, however there has been a movement toward a kinder, gentler, more politically correct culture and this is by no means a bad thing. However at times it seems as if our love of free speech and our desire to not offend people are at odds with each other. One need only to attend a comedy show to witness this first hand.

Margaret Cho bravely tried new material about the subject of rape at the Stress Factory in New Brunswick and most of the crowd either walked out, demanded a refund, or loudly booed and heckled her. The same happened to Amy Schumer when she made jokes about Donald Trump in the south before the recent presidential election. As if that wasn’t enough, people continued the heckling by taking to Twitter after both shows and bashing both comedians. I’ve had people walk out of a show after making jokes about church and I’ve been approached after a show for making fun of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. To ease the conflict between our love of free speech and the move we’ve made toward political correctness I’ve come up with a few guidelines for people who’d like to attend a comedy show.

  1. Bring your sense of humor with you.

Some don’t understand that the nature of humor is critical. What are you doing when you make a joke? You’re poking fun at something and when you poke fun at something in a way you’re criticizing it. The intent behind a joke isn’t malicious. The intent is to give you, the audience what you came for, a laugh. Try to remember to assume best intent.

2. Don’t take it personally.

We don’t expect you to like every single joke we make, but if we make one that you find offensive or one that makes you uncomfortable, please don’t take it as a personal attack because it isn’t. It’s only a joke and we only want to make you laugh, but at the same time if you don’t laugh we don’t get offended. We know going in that not every single joke we make is going to get a laugh and we’re okay with that. Honestly there’s no reason to get upset. It’s all in good fun.

3. If you can’t hang, leave.

If you want to leave the show, that’s fine and you’re well within your rights to do so, but please don’t disrupt the show or be rude to the other audience members who are only there to enjoy themselves. Just discretely exit and leave everyone else including the comic in peace.

4. No matter how it may look to you, understand that it’s not easy.

Stand up comedy is one of the hardest performance arts to do. It may look like all we do is walk on stage, pick up the mic, and spout whatever’s on our minds, but there’s a lot more to it than that. We’re told to perform a certain number of minutes. This isn’t a polite suggestion. Going over your time is the quickest way to never be invited to perform in that room ever again. It’s disruptive to the show and it’s disrespectful to the other comics who are going up after you. Make no mistake, the clock is ticking and the pressure is on. For every minute I perform I conservatively estimate that an hour’s worth of work has gone into it. There’s the time it took to write the joke, then the time it took to memorize and rehearse it, then any re-writing I’ve done, and then the time that goes into perfecting the delivery. It doesn’t look like work, but it is. I don’t come to your job and disrespect it, so please don’t disrespect mine.

5. Don’t insult us

If you don’t like our jokes, you don’t and that’s fine. If you want to leave, you’re certainly free to do that but you don’t get to insult my character just because I said something you disagree with. However if you really must insult me please understand that when I tell you to have a nice night, what I really mean is go f*ck yourself.

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