Their mantra is this: “Treat audience volunteers with respect and kindness, and they will love the performer in return.”
I don’t know about the “love” thing. What I know is that audiences hate performers who put them to sleep. For that is what this “treat them with respect and kindness” does to people. It bores them and puts them to dream land.
Listen to me. If you want to entertain your audience, don’t treat your volunteers as if you’re in a Nobel Peace prize awarding ceremony. You are in a magic show. Banter, tease, joke, have fun with audience members, especially if your are performing at a birthday party.
In my style of performing, I strive to find a balance between “respect” and “onstage mischievousness”. I think there’s a middle ground—an inoffensive way of interacting with volunteers that does not kill the playfulness of the moment.
I agree with the conventional wisdom that it’s a no-no to insult audience volunteers brought on-stage. On the other hand, I believe it’s equally a no-no to handle them gingerly as if they had HIV, or with utter reverence as if they were visiting monarchs. Doing so is a sure-fire formula to spoil the humor of the moment.
I create an atmosphere of good-humored irreverence on the stage. There’s a good dose of teasing, good-natured ribbing, and repartees. Sometimes the jokes are on me, and sometimes the jokes are on the assistant(s).
I have not yet perfected this difficult skill. You should see how the jokes bomb some of the time, and how pale I become when the attempts at humor are met with deafening silence by the audience.
Still, it’s much better than the sepulchral silence that results from “treating your audience with kindness and respect.”