The Audience Plays Their Part

In his book, Born Standing Up, Steve Martin talks about his learned ability to listen to an audience and adjust his timing. He could hear the intake of air just before a sneeze or a cough. He’d see someone shift in their chair just before noisily pushing it out from their table. He’d hear and see these things, and he’d wait to say the punch line, or he’d get the punch line in just before the audience interruption. He learned to ride the wave of laughter and applause, listening to it, responding to it, waiting for it, and just after its peak, continuing on to maintain flow and energy.

The audience is playing their part in our performance. And just like an unnecessary character has no place on the stage, the audience can tell if we don’t need them to do our show. They can tell pretty quickly if we are just covering the material or getting through the show. And they, rightly so, will check out and stop playing their part altogether.

The same way we give fellow actors the time and space they need to play their part, and the same way we would never steamroll a fellow actor onstage, we should never steamroll an audience’s laugher and applause, and we must allow them the time and space to be who they are — a live audience.

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