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Flipping A Tough Crowd


– Rik Roberts |

Every performer will have to deal with a “tough” crowd from time to time. It’s part of the job, part of the learning curve, and part of the fun. Let's dig into how you can dig out of a tough audience.

I’m going to eliminate from this discussion the tough crowds that are a result of a poor set up. Bad audio and staging can turn audiences into a mass of scowling disengaged zombies. We will talk about that in a future post.

I’ll also skip talking about the crowds who have been laughing for everyone else on the show BUT you. That too, is a post for another day.

Instead, I want to focus on those shows where nothing seems to go right from the start. Shows where the emcee, who you have seen succeed every time before, struggles. Even seasoned comics are having to work extra hard just to survive.

It can be tempting to blame the crowd. Call them out. “You guys want an impression? How about you pretend to be an audience?!?!”

But dividing the audience like that is the last thing you want to do. Never create the “Me” against “You” dynamic. You are just digging a deeper trench between performer and audience.

Instead, look at it as a negotiation. You tackle the problem. One by one, member by member. Here are a few ideas on "flipping" a tough crowd.


One simple way to loosen up the crowd is to use a little psychology on them. For example, say you have a bit about hunting. Start by saying something as simple as saying, “where are my hunters out there?” When the hunters respond you say, “you all are going to like this next bit.”

You have done two things. First, you have established common ground with part of the crowd. Second, you have reset the expectation for your material. And by nature, we humans like to meet expectations.

Trying to flip three hundred individuals all at once is daunting. That is why this first tip focuses on winning over a few tables at a time. Find some common ground. Build a relationship. Gain some trust. Once accomplished, engage another group with a different topic.

With momentum in your favor, the other audience members should come along for the ride.


Don't get angry or fed up with the audience. Instead, try to approach this tough crowd as “the best crowd you’ve ever performed for.”

I have used this approach from time to time and it makes a huge difference. The key is looking at every laugh as a gift. Every laugh is an affirmation that I am doing my job. By focusing on what is working, I free up my mind to have more success.

It won't be easy. There will always be a little part of your brain analyzing the show and finding all the negatives. But you can silence that voice with a little practice. Maximize the moments that are working. Then build off of them.

Rik Roberts


At some point you will be part of a show where something unnatural or unexpected has happened. There may be threatening weather like a tornado in the area. Maybe someone just left showroom in an ambulance (happens more than you would think). Or maybe the collective mood in somber for another reason.

Your job as the comedian is to address the elephant in the room. By doing so, you can direct the focus back on having a good time.

For example, I used to live in Columbus, OH. Many other towns are consumed with their college football team. But not too many as much as Columbus. Their entire identity linked to the Buckeyes. The mood of the town reflects the wins or losses of the football team.

One Saturday THE Ohio State Buckeyes lost to their rival “Team From Up North.” I had three shows at the Funny Bone Comedy Club. Lucky me. The anger filled the room. There was a palpable disgust clouding the entire place.

Sure, I could pretend it never happened and just plow through the show. I could address it up front and get it out of the way. Or even better, I could have someone else do that for me.

I asked the house announcer (aka bald door guy who can scream loud) to take care of it. I suggested he kick off the show with, “Welcome to the Funny Bone. Forget about that horrific loss this afternoon. Let it go. If you don’t, then you lose TWICE today. Don’t let the terrorists win, sit back, relax and have a good time!”

The audience relaxed a little. I even heard a dew chuckles. The elephant (or Wolverine in this case) in the room was addressed, and we all had a good time.


These are just a handful of reasons crowds can become a challenge. There will be many difficult shows ahead for us all.

But these how we deal with these challenges help shape us as performers. These gritty experiences are like abrasive sand paper. Without them, we never have a chance to become smooth. If we never had a challenge, success would feel empty.

All the best to you in your pursuit of stand-up!


If you enjoyed this post you may also like:

Overcoming Stage Fright


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