Whipping The Audience Into A Frenzy Is Your Job, Not The Audience’s


There are two ways to get the response you desire of an audience: earn it or demand that they fake it. The latter is characterized by the badgering of the audience over their insufficient zeal.

I understand you need energy. But why not energize the audience by doing something energizing?

I recently performed in a show emceed by a very nice guy who constantly reminded the audience the urgency of being whipped into a frenzy at all times.  I’m not complaining about the rote “Please give a warm Jacksonville welcome to…” I’m talking about the show business equivalent to North Korea’s forcing its citizens to out-wail one another over the death of Kim Jong Il.

“How you doing, everybody?!?! C’mon, you can do better than that, people! Let me hear you say APCA!” The college students gamely supplied what the emcee was desperately seeking: empty cheering which vanished the moment they were directed their attention to the next bauble.

One of those baubles was me. My approach was not the emcee’s: I believe that if the if the audience has shown up, shut up and given you their full attention then you can’t ask more of them. My job, as an entertainer, is to evoke a certain response and then to shape it, be it laughter, applause or even nervous silence.

By the time I came to the stage the audience had been participating in this showcase/social experiment for several days and were now downright Pavlovian in their response. There might as well have been digital Applause signs flashing on each side of the stage. I had anticipated this (even the most obstinate can’t help learning a thing or two over time) so I knew long before taking the stage that my task was to get this Ticonderoga-class ship to stop on a dime and begin responding more naturally: that is, without prompting.

Audiences are you like you and me, though: if you do a thing worth watching then they will tend to watch it. The key then becomes maintaining their engagement.  My philosophy is that whether you’re a teacher, sword swallower, speaker or comedy juggler, you must strive to be be interesting every moment from beginning to end.  Some things naturally make doing so more difficult (a drunken heckler) while others make it easier (a 4-year old drunken heckler).

Am I nuts? Let me know what you think in the comment section below.

Return to www.daviddeeble.com.


There’s One In Every Crowd – So Why Fret?

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When it comes to distractions while performing, entertainers tend to feel the pea beneath the mattress. I wish I had a nickel for each time I directed my attention the one person in the audience who doesn’t seem to “get” it. One of the most-challenging aspects of live performance is learning not to focus on the disinterested man, the disengaged woman and distracting 3-year old heckler.

Every speaker and entertainer need to decide who in the audience they want to win over. One has a choice: to direct your attention to the gal in the front row who’s clearly not “rolling with it” or to the vast majority of the audience who is.

When you “have the floor”, it’s natural to be hypersensitive to the least little distraction. One example from memory: I was performing in a cavernous theater before a large audience when a woman in the front row began crinkling the plastic wrapper of the lozenge she had just placed in her mouth. It was barely audible to me, let alone the rest of the audience. I decided, however, that it was important to make her (and therefore the rest of the audience) aware of it and that would she kindly refrain from it?

The audience’s reaction: What the hell is this guy referring to? The fact is, no one in the audience was paying any attention to it because they were paying attention to me. I had earned their attention by being interesting – and I threw it away when I drew their attention to the busy fingers of the woman in the front row.

There will always be distractions from time to time – a glass will shatter on the floor, for example – which would be awkward to let pass without any comment. But unless you’re absolutely certain that something which occurs “outside the lines” requires commentary from you, nine times out of ten you won’t regret ignoring it.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch me juggle (now-banned) plastic grocery bags on The Tonight Show.

Seek Growth, Not Change

Screen Shot 2014-12-25 at 8.12.03 PMSpeakers too mediocre to talk about virtues talk about values; speakers too mediocre to talk about values talk about change.

Presentations about “obstacles to change” are nothing-burgers because “change” as such is neither good nor bad. Becoming a father constitutes change, so does infanticide. Being neither good nor bad, change as such is the seemingly-safe route for the speaker who lacks the courage or qualifications to talk about growth.

Obstacles to growth (be it personal, professional or organizational) is a legitimate topic because growth, unlike change, is a virtue. Speakers tend to avoid talking about growth, however, because it is verifiable, measurable and has an aroma of free-market competitiveness which the corporate world is desperate to avoid.

Change, conversely, has a patina of virtue which affords organizations the opportunity to engage in moral exhibitionism while avoiding a naked exploration of new ways to increase marketshare.

Do you have thoughts about change? Leave them in the comment section below.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or learn more about my corporate presentation here.

The “Change” Nothing-Burger

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That change as such can be good or bad was once so well understood as to be axiomatic. Previous generations, naturally, were no strangers to change. But the notion that change is good in and of itself is an entirely new idea.

It’s also a very lucrative one. I once attended a workshop for speakers which confirmed this. The head of an lecture agency was asked by an aspiring speaker (itself an curious phenomenon) “What topic would you say is hottest among event planners?” The woman from the agency responded with one word, spoken with laconic certitude: “Change“.

President Obama famously centered his election campaign on change and today,  much to his consternation, it remains as popular with voters as ever.

Change, it turns out, is not the mixed-bag our forebears were so ambivalent about. Far from being a mere constant – the more things change the more they stay the same – change has been elevated into a modern virtue. This is taken for granted in the speaking community, where no bill of goods is meant to receive less scrutiny than the importance of overcoming obstacles to change.

Change, we are now made to understand, is a necessary good. Self-styled change agents “show up and shake things up”, enabling us to see “new possibilities”. If change often seems distasteful it is only because, like chastity,  you have not yet been taught to embrace it.

At the heart of this conceit is the belief that change should be embraced everywhere and at all times. Overcoming obstacles to change no longer means shaking free of bad habits but, rather, to slay the Great Enemy – the status quo (a term which has been vilified in service of change myth).

The morality tale spun around change serves as a very useful nothing-burger, allowing talks to be given, books to be written and self-styled experts to be ordained with little or no effort or thought.

When the usefulness of soberly assessing change becomes as widespread as ritually celebrating it, then we’ll really have something to talk about.

Do you have thoughts on change? Leave them in the comment section below.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com.

Worst Introduction Ever

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Entertainers often exchange stories about the worst introductions they’ve ever received. The one I received tonight has to be up there.

The show was an awards banquet for a small group of first responders in Bismarck, North Dakota (paramedics, pilots, etc.) When the last award was handed out, the emcee transitioned to the introduction provided by the agent who booked me.

“Tonight’s entertainer has appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Last Comic Standing. He’s also the only performer ever kicked off America’s Got Talent! by merely describing his act.” Laughter. Everything was as it should be.

Just then the banquet manager reminds the emcee from the back of the room that the much-anticipated dessert was now ready just outside the banquet hall.

“Oh, dessert…” the emcee said, obviously flummoxed. “Who wants dessert?” The audience cheered. “Well, if you want dessert, it’s ready.” He then picked up where he left off. “His unnatural act is a whirlwind display off erotic skills and … did I say erotic?” (titters from the audience as they exited). “… exotic skills and laugh-out-loud commentary. Please welcome David Deeble.”

Needless to say getting to the stage was like trying to get on a subway car that everybody else was trying to exit.

After that much was a blur. I vaguely remember pointing out to the few who remained seated that when it comes to cheesecake vs. a comedian, cheesecake always wins.

Do you have introduction horror stories? Share them in the comment section below.

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Feelings: The Offspring Of Your Thoughts

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You may be able to worry about more than one thing at a time but you cannot think about more than one thing at a time. Since your feelings are the offspring of your thoughts, what you think about is important.

Before each show I remind myself that all I have to do when I am introduced are three things: smile, acknowledge the audience and say “Thank you, I represent the lollipop guild”. So easy to carry out but more important is this: by telling this to myself I prevent my mind from wandering where it will which, for me, means the dark side.

Usually it’s something over which I have no control: the sound guy doesn’t like me; my tie is too long; I am a scatterbrained loser…

If you struggle with nervousness or negativity before public speaking, simply game plan the first ten seconds of your talk. It can be as simple: “Walk to the podium, take a sip of water and say “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen”. If you succeed in carrying out your own intention, the rest of your speech may be a train wreck but at the very least you’ll be able to say “I nailed the walk to the podium”.

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Three Tips For Emcees

Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 9.07.28 AMBeing an emcee isn’t easy. You’re the first one to show up and the last one to leave. You’ve got introductions to familiarize yourself with and must manage the on-again, off-again energy requirements associated with the job.

There are a lot of details that go into doing the job well. Here are three simple things to keep in mind to avoid audience’s lumping you into the “mediocre emcee” category.

Stop telling the audience to “Give it up for _____” after each performer.

Give it up? Really? Why not instruct the audience to “Put out” while you’re at it? The same goes for “Make some noise”. Your audience consists of 21-century adults, not Neanderthals with a metal trash can a mallet. It’s grating enough to hear such instructions at a Toledo comedy club, much less for an audience of professionals.  Simply repeat the performers name and allow her to take her applause.

Don’t divulge a performer’s name until the end of the introduction.

This one is a common mistake among people with little or no experience public speaking:

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re very proud to have a very funny entertainer with us this evening. David Deeble has performed on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and we are happy to have him with us tonight. Please welcome David Deeble”.

Sometimes the emcee, realizing he has prematurely divulged the entertainer’s name, will make matters worse by failing to repeat the performer’s name at the end of the introduction: “Tonight’s entertainer is a wonderful comedian named David Deeble. He has appeared on Last Comic Standing and is a regular at The Magic Castle in Hollywood. So please welcome him.”

How’s that for a fine how do you do? Next time I’d prefer you simply grunt while pointing at me in the back of the room.

Stop cramming all your enthusiasm and energy into the last line of the introduction.

This is an annoying one: the emcee employes a well-modulated speaking voice throughout the program except when it comes to the very last line of each speaker’s introduction, at which point, in an effort to whip the audience into a last-minute frenzy, he gradually raises the volume and intensity of his delivery.

What do you think you’re emceeing, the World Wrestling Federation? We’re grown-ups, for crying out loud. Do you fear we won’t applaud if you introduce each performer in a well-modulated speaking voice?

This fear that you’ll introduce a performer to little or no applause is a widespread and understandable one: some audiences just aren’t engaged for whatever reason. But the answer is not to suddenly shift to the hard-sell. If you’re concerned that the performers won’t get enough energy coming to the stage, simply state from the outset that in order to make the program a success, the audience should kindly give each performer a round of applause and their full attention.

Charm and sincerity go a long way. If it is important to you (and it should be) that the audience pay each performer the respect of their full attention, find a way to convey it at the beginning of the program.

It may help to think of emceeing as being a commercial airline airline pilot. A pilot bolsters passengers’ confidence with his soothing demeanor, not manic faux-energy which normal people find unsettling and off-putting.

Being an exception emcee means covering more details and putting in more hours than anyone else on the bill. Avoiding these three mistakes is a good start.

Do you have a pet peeve about emcees? Share it in the comment section below.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch me perform the flaming marshmallow balance of mystery.

How I Started Standing Up: Part II

Over time, my stand-up comedy became a natural prelude to my “Unnatural Act”. Here I am performing face juggling with a billiard and a ping pong ball.

I didn’t start doing stand-up until my mid-thirties. I had a lot of experience speaking to audiences by that time, however: I had been performing for nearly two-decades as a comedy juggler. When I started hitting open-mics in Denver and elsewhere working on my first five minutes of stand-up material, I would walk on stage with a highlighter pen, a slap bracelet, two half dollars and a billiard ball neatly concealed in my pockets and a host of other time-tested accouterment. The moment I lost trust in (or, just as likely, simply blanked on) my stand-up material, I’d hit the eject button and break-out the props from my pocket and then could coast from there.

Sometimes I’d bail on the stand-up if I if I had the least little memory lapse. Not wishing to be seen looking at my crib sheet, if I had one,  I’d simply bail and boom! my variety act would inflate in seconds and I was gold again.

When I stopped working with a crib sheet on the stage stool – it all seems so shabby now – is when I really progressed in terms of memorization (a facet of the job which was much less onerous than I feared when I realized I only have to memorize as I write, not commit to memory a 45-minute set.

Crib sheets are a crutch, not to mention an unwelcome distraction to the audience to see you pouring or – sometimes worse – glancing over your notes. Stand-up comedy is a conversation between the audience and the comedian. Why give them even a brief invitation to end the conversation?

Anyway, if I bailed on the stand-up (or just had more time to fill) I’d produce a highlighter pen from my pocket and and noticed an unmistakable increase in focus from the audience: the comedian is doing something unexpected and suddenly everyone’s curious about what’s going to happen next. That was a powerful thing to harness for me and has been ever since.

I learned the importance of being interesting at all times. I wish lecturers and teachers would learn this from the best comedians! It’s pretty simple: engage the audience and start telling jokes.

I learned to resist any urge to be explicit with the audience about demanding their attention: I pretended to just assume it. “Never let them see you sweat” became my mantra, if not my motto.

In terms of developing material I would have been better off without all those props, as all it did in the end was postpone my emergence from hypersensitive in terms of audience reaction to sort of a “Trust, but verify” approach: I don’t sweat any given moment but keep my eyes on the big picture.

And for the love of God, don’t be loud. What’s that? You have to “sell” the material? Please. Have you stood in the back of the room beneath the speakers and shouted into the microphone as you do? It’s horrible.

My friend and one of my favorite comedians in Jeff Wayne. He taught me a lot of valuable things. Among them was “Of course if a joke gets absolutely no response, you have to comment on it. But as long as you’re getting something – anything – from the audience, you’re best bet is to smile and get on with it.

A lot of it is the overall impression you leave with the audience during the show. Little things can undermine your credibility or like ability. Sometimes jokes stop being funny for no apparent reason. Easy come, easy go!

Many of my fellow open-mic comedians were the exact opposite. They seemed to be utterly oblivious to the audience’s non-reaction. I’d see the same guys week after week sharing onstage the same stories, telling the same anecdotes (rarely did they tell “jokes”, i.e., “As a comedian married to a German I sometimes have to go outside the marriage for laughs…” ). The hacks plow through their material like bloodthirsty wolverines, utterly indifferent to the audience’s reaction

I was the other way: I had to learn to resist my tendency to be hypersensitive and made even more so because I had in my pockets the comedy equivalent to the military’s meals Ready To Eat.

Another good rule of thumb I learned from Jeff: if you hear or see something from the stage that the audience can’t hear or see, forget about it. They don’t know what you’re talking about. Get back to the jokes.

It takes discipline to sit down and write daily, whether it’s a stand-up comedy bit, a blog or prose or fiction of any length. Writing what comes to mind throughout the day is easy:  jokes, like trouble in New York, find me. I write throughout the day (except on those not-infrequent days when theres no signal) so that I can get on with my day. Staring at a blank screen while standing over the joke hole just doesn’t work for me. If I am going to transition to longer-form writing – maybe take baby steps with some two liners? – then I will have to learn to sit down and organize my thoughts. Just learning to be not-necessarily funny when writing is a challenge.

In the meantime, I have succeeded making my bed most days. The good Admiral McRaven is right: one of the satisfactions of making your bed each morning is repairing to it each night. Here’s my made bed.

Anyway, this signal I’ve been receiving makes my job mostly clerical: sorting the jokes by category (I keep every joke in a single document and hashtag it with one of the above routines that would likely provide cover for it. For example, a joke about my wife would be tagged with #family). I then gauge the jokes onstage with my patented “Tell joke, listen to audience reaction” stand-up comedy system.

I learned I wouldn’t write anything funny until I found I was performing it regularly. Looking back at my first notebooks I literally wonder: “What was I aiming at here?” The notebook was quiet and comfortable and never tested me. So the problem was I wasn’t going out there to perform stand-up enough. You have to be a writer and a performer – a rare combination.

At real gigs I’d throw in a line here or there during my show, but the audience wasn’t expecting stand-up and if they had, they would have been disappointed. A couple of reliable lines here and there, yes, but nothing qualifying as an actual bit.

I had to begin performing as a stand-up regularly to figure out who I was really writing for. My only clue to answer the question “What’s my persona gonna be?”  was the from observing the patter and speaking-style I employed in my comedy juggling act. There was surely a lot of overlap in in my stand-up persona and my variety act persona – but whatever rough transition remained I hope I have polished into something deemed seamless.

I knew it important to meld the two modes together stylistically, especially since it became apparent that my juggling days were numbered. I have the advantage, too, that audiences tend to get giddy when my kind-of nerdy, boastful comedian personae suddenly gives way  to this nerdy, boastful juggler persona who’s kicking a billiard balls into his eye socket and stuff.

Stand-up comedy also made me at once more self-aware and less self-conscious. I learned that I was kind of clever, not to mention preoccupied with TSA guidelines. Stylistically, I  strive to be a pretty cool customer who manipulates the audience onto his wavelength without appearing to be striving do so. My motto is “Never let ’em see you sweat”.

When I finally started performing stand-up regularly – in-and-around Denver – I had an interesting perspective. Backstage, I’d be surrounded more-or-less relaxed open-mic guys who had more experience than me in stand-up but whose overall performing experience was dwarfed by my own (having performed some iteration of my comedy juggling act my whole adult life). I remember at one venue in a relatively small but beautiful old stone theater in Arvada we were told shortly before the show that the microphone wasn’t functioning and we’d simply do without.

Well, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather. For the other guys it seemed a minor detail. Holding a microphone in my hand was for me a welcome thumb to suck and served as a small equalizer between a novice like me, who had long grown accustomed to speaking with both hands free – and guys who had been hitting the open mic for months or years. In other words, holding a microphone was comforting luxury for me and deprived it I felt distracted. For them, it simply meant they’d have to do their act the way they’ve done it many times before: at other open mics, at home in the shower, driving, or whatever.

Memorization and desensitization were other big factors: memorizing my material and desensitizing myself from constantly checking the pulse of the audience and learning to simply charge on.

The microphone looms larger in the mind of comedians than most audiences will believe. What’s the big deal? Remove it from the stand and put it back when you’re done! But my friend and arguably world’s funniest man Phil Tag likes to rehearse his stand-up when possible on the stage with the lights under show conditions and the microphone on. For a guy who’s been doing it for decades and with appearances on The Tonight Show, you’d think he’d enjoy the comedian’s unique privilege of not requiring much, if any, tech rehearsal.

Over time, I would learn the lesson which I still apply to so many aspects of life: that most things that happen during a show are as big a deal to the audience as they appear to be to you.  If doing your set without a hand-held microphone is no big deal to you, it will be a non-issue to the audience. The same goes for your bald head, paunch, cleft lip, whatever.

Mentally, I divide my stand-up into a handful of routines, or, to save time, I call “bits”. They are, in the generic order I do them, whatever that means:

family; drinking; work/little man; S.F. vs. L.V.;/gambling; dad; headlines; nude cruise; reading; credit/ID theft; stimulus/ hair gel/flying;

I did not write out any of these routines in anything close to a linear fashion. As outlined above, I just wrote stuff down throughout the day and over the above themes emerged and coalesced as I cherry-picked jokes like these.

By not straying from my comfort zone I’ve been able, over time, to generate a stand-up comedy act which aesthetically and temperamentally suits me nicely enough. If I am going to write anything of any length, though, I’ll l have to leave my comfort zone.

When I’m ready, I’ll let you know about it.

Thanks for reading,


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