About 10 years ago, we hired a comic named Nick Arnette to perform at our church. I don’t think I’d ever been to a real comedy show, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I did grow up watching all the wonderful old comics like George Burns, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Jackie Gleason, Bob Hope, Phyllis Diller, Carol Burnett, Betty White. I think I always wanted to be like them.
Nick suggested that when we set up the room, it was important to set up the chairs so that the front row attendees had their feet on the stage. I didn’t understand that then, but after doing comedy over 8 years, I get it. The closer the audience, the closer the connection, and the heartier the laughter. Up front and shoulder to shoulder is where I want my audiences.
Often, comics find themselves working a room that has a dance floor between them and the audience who are at round tables a mile away. My favorite room has a low ceiling, a tile floor, and the audience crammed in and close. When one laughs, everyone laughs. It’s like a chain reaction.
Nick was fantastic that night and afterward I was like a little kid, begging him for information about how to become a comic. He was kind, helpful and has continued to be a friend. He put me on the track of some good training through the Christian Comedy Association. And now that I am a comic, I marvel at Nick pulled off that night. He came with material planned for the Baby Boomers, but the feet on the front of his stage all belonged to 10 year-old boys who had no clue what his punch lines meant. Even then, he took time to play to them and make them laugh. That’s not easy to do.
I learned my first lesson. Get close to your audience and pray the kids sit with their parents.