July 22, 2009

Preparing for the wrong audience

On this week's episode of Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List, Kathy is preparing for a set at the Apollo Theater. Aware that she doesn't have a huge African-American following, she sets out to test her material and get advice from black friends and celebrities, including the Reverend Al Sharpton, comedian Katt Williams and performer T.I.

She receives valuable advice about what not to say to the audience, but for the most part is told "Be yourself."

Nervous and uncertain about how her act will go over with the crowd, she arrives at the Apollo to discover that she's headlining Amateur Night and there are kids in the theater.

If you've ever seen Kathy Griffin's standup, you will know that she's not a PG comedian. She is known for using crude language and imagery in her shows; she is not a "family-friendly" performer.

She speaks to the producer of the show, who assures her that the kids will not be in the theater when Kathy takes the stage. This does not reassure her.

She starts her set and is winning over the crowd when one of her jokes crosses the line. The audience falls silent and the band starts playing music, indicating that her set is done. She awkwardly realizes she's being played off, thanks the audiences and bolts offstage.

Someone offstage criticizes her for using foul language with kids in the house. Kathy attempts to apologize and she and her assistants basically run for the limousine. Later in the episode, Kathy reveals a letter she has received from the Apollo, stating their disappointment with her material and advising her she is no longer welcome there.

I can see both sides of this situation.

The people who book the show didn't know that Kathy's humor is not appropriate for children? Why would they book a comedian, on Amateur Night, who is known for saying things like "Suck it, Jesus?"

Secondly, why did they not tell her that she was being booked for Amateur Night in the first place, a fact she didn't know until she arrived at the theater?

On the flip side, Kathy's preparation perhaps didn't go far enough in not finding out more about the show in advance.

At the point where she is already in the theater and discovers that there are children on the premises, I can't imagine how difficult it would be for her to change her act to accommodate them.

Kathy thrives on shocking her audiences, but she is also a professional who always researches the audience to make sure her humor will be appropriate and relevant to them. In this case, I suppose both sides were partly to blame for the failure of the performance.

This episode was a perfect example to me of the fact that, no matter how carefully we prepare, there will be times when we blow it, bomb or otherwise disappoint an audience. What can you do in this situation besides learn from the experience and move on?

Note: In researching more on this episode, I read several reviews of her performance by people who say they were at her show that night, and knowing that reality shows are edited for dramatic effect, it's not entirely clear what really happened. However, even as a hypothetical exercise, this is still a valid question: What would you do if you discovered you had prepared for the wrong audience?

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4 comments. Please add yours! :

Flowersbyfarha said...

Oh, wow!

Not familiar with the show but can sure relate to the situation in various permutations.

If one can get past the moment of stunned "Now what?", I would hope to have the presence of mind to get more information about the audience and adapt as best I can in the moment. Also, without making anyone look bad, explain to the audience there had been a miscommunication about what was expected and to bear with me while we all work our way through this.

How that would be accomplished would of course depend on one's subject matter... going straight to Q&A, using it as an opportunity/object lesson, get the audience engage with "have you ever (had similar frustrating/embarrassing moment)?", etc.

But then, I've literally fallen on my butt on stage (during a dance performance) and got up and carried on with the performance. This has given me the opportunity to realize that most people not only can be forgiving about mistakes when you can pick yourself up and move on but appreciate it because it lets them forgive and encourage themselves, too.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks so much for your insightful comments. If you're lucky enough not to be played off the stage by the band (and most speakers will not face that!), it could be of great value to try to work it at at that moment and show that you understand their position.

Roberta said...

It sound strange to hire an entertainer for a show or a comedy night in front of people who are not his/her normal target. Comedian and entertainer are specialised in subject and use to have a personal target. So you can easy find the right person for your public and organise memorable show. Can you imagine to book a show for 30-40 years old people with a children's clown? You wouldn't expect a great result.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

You make such a great point, Roberta! It makes no sense at all to hire someone who doesn't fit your audience.

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