Stand-up comedian Clayton Fletcher (@claytoncomic) has had his share of bad moments on stage. It’s how you turn those moments around that defines a good comic. As chief comedy officer at Peppercom, Fletcher shares his insights with clients on comedy’s many business applications. Here, he offers three ways to diffuse a hostile audience:
Use irony to garner sympathy. An audience can only relate a real human being with actual emotions. Reverse psychology statements such as “I am going to put such a positive spin on this when I get home” can greatly enhance a speaker’s vulnerability, and, by extension, charisma.
Never hit them harder than they’re hitting you. A crowd that is groaning or otherwise expressing disapproval is not necessarily turned off completely; often it’s just a reaction to your opinion. Beating them up in return, e.g. “Maybe you people are just too stupid to understand me,” is a surefire way to lose them.
If things are really flying off the rails, you may as well joke about it. If an audience seems to have turned against you, there is nothing left to lose. Be yourself and let your genuine sense of humor shine through. You just might turn things around after all. I might say, “Lately the crowds have all been laughing and clapping a lot—you guys are a nice change of pace.” Whatever you say should be lighthearted and in the spirit of levity.