I was not any good when I started, no one is. When you start performing your act is a mixed bag of bits that may or may not work. That's the way it is. It's funny how generous an audience can be. If you are really trying they seem to know it and are patient with you.
One of the things you have to get accustomed to is audience feed back. You very quickly learn that not everyone will appreciate what you do. I've said it many times but it bears repeating comedy is a numbers game, especially in the beginning. You write all kinds of jokes. You end up keeping the ones that do the best. The one that the highest percentage of people in the audience like.
Along the way you run onto people who don't like what you do. As a rule they let you know by not laughing at anything you say. Sometimes they'll cross their arms and stare disapprovingly at you while you do your act. It's like they are trying to intimidate you into leaving the stage.
On rare occasions someone will make a comment on the way out of the show. Generally those people will leave you with a "that was out of line", "you should not talk about that [insert topic here] in that way" or any number of judgmental type comments. As a rule these are never made in an aggressive manner but it does happen on occasion.
The harshest criticism comes via the comment card. Something set out on tables at all comedy clubs. The comment card allows people to say whatever they want without having to actually say it to your face. This breeds some particularly vicious comments since they don't have to actually say them to your face.
You'll notice I've not mentioned hecklers. I'm excluding them from this because these people may not necessarily interrupt your show because they don't like what you do. They could be anything from drunk idiots to self-absorbed narcissists. They are not a part of this discussion.
Over the years I've received my share of negative feedback and always have put in perspective. I don't expect everyone to like what I do. Whatever they have to say about my act falls on deaf ears. I know what I'm trying to accomplish and the only feedback I'll give any weight to comes from the audience response I get and others in the business whose opinion I value. I could care less what some person I don't know (and will probably never see again) thinks.
In all the years I've been performing comedy which has now reached 21 I have never had an encounter like the one after the 2nd show this past Saturday night at Liquid Laughs in Boise, Idaho.
Here is the abridged version:
After I had finished for the evening I sat down at the bar to have a drink before I went back to the hotel. I sat next to three 50 something women that had been someone disruptive in the showroom. They came in with about 5 minutes left in the features set and were disruptive. They left about 5 minutes into my set. No one had any confrontation with them in the showroom. They left of their own accord.
They are all clearly beyond their prime years. They are dressed in such a way as to be "noticeable" but not in a sexy way because for them that is not possible any more. They are extremely drunk and honestly you can tell they just are unhappy women. I would be willing to bet they are all divorced. I would also be willing to bet that they all hate men and I'm sure the feeling is mutual.
I'm looking forward minding my own business and the one closest to me starts it all:
Angry woman #1: You really are the worst comedian we've ever seen.
Me: I'm sorry you didn't enjoy my show.
Angry woman #1: No you don't understand. You're awful, you have no business going on stage.
Me: I don't expect everyone to like what I do.
Note: It was very apparent to me from the beginning that we were well beyond feedback and it was her intention to try to emotionally hurt me. It was in her body language and her voice.
Even though I was trying to be polite about it the conversation continued on a dark path. Angry women #2 and #3 both chimed in to let me know how absolutely unqualified I was to perform comedy. As if they were some sort of barometer of good comedy, but Angry woman #1 was clearly in charge.
It got to this point:
Me: If I'm so horrible how is it I was hired here? How is it I have been performing for almost 21 years? How is it I make a living doing this?
Angry women #1: I don't know, you're just horrible.
This continued and the strange thing about this was club staff watched this take place and did nothing to stop it. I'm not sure what their thoughts were but most clubs would have escorted these women out for their behavior. I'm not calling them out but I'd be curious to find out why they didn't intervene. They must have assumed I could defend myself.
That's what I did, for nearly 10 minutes and ended with this:
Angry woman #1: Why don't you just fucking leave Boise, fucking leave Idaho and never fucking come back to Idaho!
Me: There is no way that will ever happen.
At this point Angry Woman #1 turned to continue speaking with the other 2 and thankfully they finally ignored me. The bad thing was I couldn't get up and leave. Had I done so they wold have won. They would have thought their attempt at emotional intimidation harmed me.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Afterward one the staff did tell me that they kept asking for my name. I sure hope they remembered what it was and they find this.
Here is my message to those women:
You are all obviously unhappy. Your attempt to force your unhappiness on me was a miserable failure. There is nothing someone like you could ever say to me that would have value and I certainly would never give your opinion any power. You don't deserve nor have your earned that.
I would wish you well but I already know that would be a waste of my time. You are way too happy wallowing in your own anger. I can assure you that you will be the agent of your own destruction. You will continue to make the people around you so miserable that one by one they will leave you. Eventually you will be all alone, left with nothing to comfort you but the resentment of those smart enough to get away from you.
The beauty of all this is that I don't need to worry about what happens to you, karma will take care of that. I'm pretty sure yours is going to run over you like a freight train.
Vilmos has been a standup comedian since 1992.
He created GreenRoomRadio.net a web site with Podcasts by comedians.
He is the host of The Green Room which is the longest running Podcast on standup comedy.
He also hosts The Mentorist v2 and The Spew.
His web site is Vilmos.com.
Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/vilmosthecomic or Twitter @vilmosthecomic.