Why The Opening Stand-up Comedy Act Has The Hardest Job


comedian opening actWhen it comes to learning how to be a comedian…

The opening act in the stand-up comedy environment is arguably the hardest spot in a line up of comedians — particularly from a laughter generation stand point.

It’s often referred to as the “bullet taking” spot.

Here’s why that is, no matter what “level” the comedian is at when performing in that critical opening spot…

In comedy venues that are set-up properly, most individuals are seated closely together with strangers — people they have never met and don’t know.

Instinctively, we are “on guard” around people we don’t know and there’s usually a measure of tension that exists until that tension is released and a feeling of “safety” for a lack of a better term exists (from group laughter).

There is also that unfortunate possibility of those who are closest to the stage “getting picked on” by any of the comedians in the show, which can add a measure of uneasiness to those in the audience.

Then there is the aspect that the opening comedian tends to known as the least skilled of the comedians in any line up.

Note: I have never been in agreement with sending a lesser skilled comedian on stage as an opening act to start a show. It’s more of a testament to what audiences are willing to put up with and what venue managers are willing to serve up less-than-adequate entertainers.

From the comedian’s perspective, the audience is “cold” at this point.

Enter the opening act.

Their job is to break this tension with laughter — and it can be much more difficult to get going when starting with a “cold” audience.

This is something to recognize when using Comedy Evaluator Pro for performance evaluation because…

A comedian usually won’t get the same response as an opener as they will performing the exact same material as a middle (feature) act or as a headliner.

The important thing to note here is to be aware of this “cold audience” situation and put into perspective that it’s more difficult to get a “cold” crowd going than to get a “warmed up” crowd going.

When I was working as a comedian for the Coach House chain in the mid 90’s, their stand-up comedy line-up was ALL headliners. Rarely did a middle act get on the show.

I have performed in every spot — opener, middle and headliner. Same material, but almost always slightly different results as an opening act — more so than any other spot in a line up of comedians. Why?

It simply takes more time to get an audience from “cold” to “warm”.

So if you are learning how to be a comedian…

Don’t get discouraged if your stand-up material doesn’t quite get the response you would like in the opening act spot, even if it has generated big laughs in other positions in the line-up.

You have a tough job there “warming up” the crowd that most comedians that follow you will appreciate.

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10 Replies to “Why The Opening Stand-up Comedy Act Has The Hardest Job”

  1. Great article and so true! Starting out with a “cold” audience is challenging no matter how long a comedian has been performing. In my opinion the real key to success in the opening spot is to get the audience relaxed and laughing as soon as possible.

  2. I am brand new to the comedy scene. I am trying to learn the ropes before making a fool out of myself. I can see how being an opening act can be quite hard with a cold crowd. I would compare it to starting a fire… It is alot harder to start a fire from scratch.. than it is to keep the fire burning once started. So too, it is easier to continue making an audience laugh, than it would be to “Get the party started” per say. Having said… Good Luck to all opening act comedians.

  3. Sometimes it is harder than others. Last Saturday, I performed for a city Christmas party. The lighting stunk; strands of Christmas lights overhead and small tea candles on the tables. This lady was supposed to sing two Christmas songs and then I was up. Before each song she told several boring stories….boring is an understatement! When I got up, I was wishing for a “cold audience” as that would have been a warmer audience than I started with. I got them to laugh, but not as much as I have in previous attempts. It was a learning experience. Atmosphere isn’t everything, but it sure is important!

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