Know Your Audience

It’s not new advice, but here’s a gentle reminder to marketers, advertisers, sales teams and yes, even stand-up comedians…know your audience.

Tonight my dad was one of several comedians performing at a venue in the San Francisco Bay Area. As an observer, I scanned the crowd and took in the scenery. We were in a slightly upscale Bistro which hosts comedy nights. It was early on a weeknight, and the dinner crowd was mostly Baby Boomers and folks who seemed to like PBS instead of TBS, and Newsweek instead of Rolling Stone.

The lineup for the evening included 6 comedians. Most were in their 60’s, but the first two performers were some thirty or forty years younger which turned out to be a disadvantage for them. Instead of playing to their audience (or pointing out the obvious age difference), the twenty-somethings stuck to jokes made for a younger crowd – drug use, pop culture references, sex. It was an example of a one-size-fits-all approach to comedy, or “selling material”. What could work for one crowd, certainly didn’t work for this one.

Now, the next few comedians fared much better. They told stories, they identified with their audience and had a “hey, I’m just like you!” tone. Guess which group got the bigger laughs and head nods?

As a comedian, facilitator, or salesman – check in with your audience. If you’re not receiving the head nod from the beginning, adjust your approach. Improvise. Say the obvious. And most of all, remember to tailor your message to your audience. It could be the difference between a yawn and a laugh, or a sale and a lost lead.

Here’s a great article on the subject (geared towards Presentations)

2 thoughts on “Know Your Audience

  1. Really hard to adjust to the audience in standup. As you know, usually a routine has to be rehearsed and fine tuned a LOT. I suppose if you anticipate this you could either try to develop material for various demographics, or only book gigs where it’s predominantly the demographic of your material… Go Patriots!

    • absolutely difficult to adjust on the fly (Hello, Improv class!), but I’d argue it’s possible to increase your success by doing some research/homework before-hand. Personally, I think even acknowledging a bit of a mis-match could have worked in their favor and developed some empathy. Which one is riskier?

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