Key to Comedy: Connecting with Your Audience

July 1, 2017

by Al Getler

The comedian had good material. She kept a decent pace. The mike worked and the lighting was fine at The Comedy Zone in Charlotte, NC. Yet the audience was not with the comic. They weren’t laughing, some were listening, others were chatting, but the switch had not been turned on.

The switch the comedian failed to turn on was the audience connection.

The next comic up, the middle and more experienced comic, immediately connected with the audience. She acknowledged them. She made them feel as if they were a part of what she was about to say. The crowd immediately related to her humanness. Bam! The audience was hooked.

Next came the headliner; the reason the audience was there. Saturday Night Live alum, Darrell Hammond, took the stage. He pulled his stool up close to the edge.  He warmly addressed a few people close to him that drew the rest of the room in and then he told stories to friends.

What it takes to connect with the audience is often called stage presence. We see something in the person on stage that draws us in and we can hardly take our eyes of that person. They both command attention and give attention back to the audience. Actors do it, singers do it, comedians do it, magicians do it; so too can ventriloquists connect with their audiences?

Years ago, I heard my friend Alan Semok speak at the Annual Vent Haven Ventriloquists Convention (Happens each July. See on acting and ventriloquism. What I heard him say was the first confirmation of something I had been doing since my first shows as a birthday party performer at age 12.

Alan said to establish your own personality first to the audience and then bring out your dummy or puppet. Bingo! He captured it. He nailed what I went on to do at many different venues for many different audiences over the years.  Something it took a long while to develop.

Ventriloquism is theater

So often ventriloquists forget that their act is theater. It is two (or three or maybe four) personalities having a conversation. The ventriloquist is the central character; the one the other characters play off during the show. So, you cannot begin the performance without the connecting with the audience, letting them see who you are and then pulling the rip cord and letting the fun begin.

Jeff Dunham is a genius at this. Before the show even begins in the arena (A ventriloquist in an ARENA! Wow!) the audience is watching trivia on Jeff. Much of the humor is self-effacing. It sets Jeff up as the central character.

When Jeff hits the stage, he spends up to 30 minutes just talking to the audience about his life. The opening is ever changing just like life. Now Jeff is internationally known, so when he lets folks into his world, they love it and he can spend time doing it. You can do the same, but instead spend 2-5 minutes doing it.

Work on your opening a little bit at a time. Say hello to the audience. Have a little banter with the people sitting up front. Tell the audience a humorous tale based on your own reality; it can even be about the time you dropped your iPhone in the toilet at a rest stop (This happened to my wife, but I could easily make it mine). Give the audience a chance to connect with you and see that you are one of them.

Darrell Hammond of SNL talked about his flight to Charlotte and how he just threw the first pitch out at the minor league game an hour before, but how he practiced so he didn’t throw a hopper (one bounce) to the catcher. We can all relate to flying and not wanting to look foolish. Once he had us, he went into his prepared material and he had a lot considering his Bill Clinton and Donald Trump impressions. We were connected.

Five ways to connect with your audience

There are many ways to connect with your audience. Here are five ways I use:

  1. Smile directly at the crowd when you hit the stage and make eye contact with the people up front. The rest of the audience somehow magically reads what the people in front feel and project.
  2. Mention the location the you are performing and/or the group for which you are performing. This is not the time to do insulting jokes about the city or the type of work the professional group does. That can be left to your characters.
  3. Talk to a member of the audience up front. Banter about how they got a front row seat. Ask them if the ringer on their phone is off, etc.
  4. Tell a personal story (doesn’t mean it really happened or at least really happened to you). For instance, this is where I can relate to the mention of the phone to the audience member and tell the phone-in-the-toilet story.
  5. Introduce the next portion of the show. You might say, “So I was introduced as a ventriloquist. By now you might be ready to meet a few friends.” Then bring out your first character. Jeff Dunham asks the audience something like, “Are you ready for the little guys in the box?” and the crowd roars.  (Warning: Do not anticipate the same reaction.)

What has changed a bit in modern ventriloquism is that we are not appearing on stage to “trick” the audience. Instead, we are creating a theatrical illusion. The illusion begins with you. The characters add to the illusion and provide conflict.

One last thing. This connection stuff is hard; real hard. Become a student of connection and stage presence. Analyze the performers that succeed at it and those that do not. Plainly put, if you try to come out on stage and “be” Jeff Dunham, you will fail. But if you do come out on stage and be ________________ (insert your name), you will connect with your audience.

Break a leg and have a good show!

(Al Getler’s career in ventriloquism began in front of his mom’s mirror in 1969 with a Danny O’Day dummy. Over 40  years later, Al has performed for many Fortune 500 companies, in theaters, casinos and on TV. See



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