Some seasoned performers even harp on the old principle in magical performances: there are no bad audiences, only bad magicians.
With which I beg to disagree…
Let me quote from a previous post of mine titled Sometimes Audiences Do Turn Bad:
Of course, there are bad audiences. Drunks are bad. So are talking parents. Or teenagers taking group pictures during your Fraidy Cat Rabbit routine.
Most audiences do not start out bad. In most instances, guests don’t arrive at birthday parties already drunk. None of them intends to trip you up with heckler’s lines they have researched in advance.
But some of them do evolve into human beings impervious to your attempts to mystify them, or apathetic to your best jokes, or indifferent to even your strongest trick, say, the levitation of the entire audience. That’s a possibility that occurs more often than we’d care to tolerate.
To refuse to acknowledge the prospect of audiences evolving during a performance into species of human beings with attitude and blaming solely the performer for the bombing of a show is to oversimplify a complication.
Now the reason I’m mentioning this again is that I have a curious experience with a certain group of people. Its members come from a different ethnicity and cultural background.
Please refer to my post Laughter in Different Cultures: Filipinos Laugh Loudest for some background.
This group is composed of wealthy people, exactly the type that can afford magic entertainment in their events. You quote them an outrageous talent fee, and they won’t even bat an eyelash.
However, this group has been known in the Philippine magic community as a difficult audience, because its members are reluctant to show their appreciation to the performance, either by way of applause, laughter or audience participation.
The apologists of this group assure us that the seeming unresponsiveness is a cultural thing. Still many Pinoy magicians find performing for this group daunting.
Over the years, I have performed for this group at different functions. In most part, I don’t get the loud, enthusiastic response I usually get from Filipino audiences, but since I got to be invited back again and again, I thought I was doing fine notwithstanding the lukewarm response.
Then at one birthday party, I had a total sepulchral response from the audience. Many in the group didn’t speak or understand English or Tagalog. My best laugh lines brought round-eyed glances but totally zero laughter. Some members of the audience were talking noisily among themselves. The children wouldn’t shout out the magic words.
I normally get an applause within ten seconds of my entrance, but at that time I was well into three minutes of my performance and I had not yet gotten a single round of applause.
Five minutes into the performance all I got are silent stares. I consoled myself with the thought that they were at least watching the performance. Nevertheless, I was getting flustered already.
Another 10 minutes passed by without reactions, and I was perspiring profusely. Not only that, joke after joke bombed. There were so many jokes that bombed that I felt like a suicide bomber.
I tried to compensate for my lack of success. I talked fast. I rushed the tricks. All I wanted to do was to get out from there. The experience was a classic “dying a million deaths” that’s often described by stand-up performers who flop on stage.
It was the most disconcerting performance I ever had. I was shocked. I was dumbfounded that my best material didn’t even raise a smile. I contemplated suicide by putting my head into a guillotine, only to remind myself it wouldn’t do me any good as the guillotine was gimmicked.
Well, this story didn’t end with me going home with a bruised ego. It has a satisfying ending a few weeks later.
I was surfing the Net, when I saw a video of my performance on one site. It happened that somebody in the audience at that particular birthday party recorded snippets of my show and uploaded them on a video hosting site. What made me celebrate in front of my laptop was the caption of the video. It says, “A very entertaining Filipino magician.”
Wow! And all along I thought I flopped!