A bit of clarification for Bill Mullins: I said a large portion, but not, of course, everyone, all the time. For a variety of reasons, a high quality performance should be the goal every time a performer walks on stage regardless of the possibly erroneously perceived quality of the audience. The experienced and intelligent performer does not drop the quality of his performance if he thinks the audience is beneath him. To do so means ultimate career failure. Besides, wheres the satisfaction of performing on a mediocre level?
In discussion with my mentor Frakson, Jack Benny said that a quality performer always delivers his best, regardless of the size and quality of the audience because thats what the audience paid to see. There is an implicit contract between the audience and the performer. Those who dont understand that dont belong on the stage. Beyond the ethics of giving an audience what they paid for (regardless of what the performer is being paid), you never know who is watching. It only takes one person to hire you for more work, or give you a break and change a career.
As an example of not prejudging an audience: Last Saturday I worked a dinner for a steel company. They hired me for an hour of walk around and then the stand-up act. They were raucous, rowdy, and more than a little crude. A less-experienced performer would assume that these people would not know quality if it bit them on the ass. A less-experienced performer might slack off, slide through his performance, or worse, go into combat with the audience.
I sensed that these people had a different way of having fun and that what they were saying was not said in a mean-spirited way. They werent hecklers, just highly vocal, making comments about co-workers, not me. They were not an easy audience, especially after two hours of drinking. To give you a sense, when I asked a pretty young woman the name of her card she replied, 69. I waited for the laugh to die and then said, No, not your hobby sweetie, the name of your card. Another very large laugh.
The company president helped set the tone. As I was cutting open the lemon to find his vanished hundred dollar bill, he stood to my right loudly yelling,S**t, I dont believe it, several times.
I gave as good as I got, but not in a combative way. I let them have their laughs and then topped them, but I didnt put them down. I worked with them, not against them and we all had fun, but it did require that I was on my toes for the entire performance. This is not a performance style for the faint of heart. When I was loading out a woman walked up to me and put her hand on my shoulder, saying, My husband has been an executive with this company for seventeen years and Ive never seen anyone hold their own with these guys like you have.
Was it a great show? By my regular standards, no, but in terms of what the audience wanted, yes. Everyone had a good time and that is what they will remember long after theyve forgotten specific tricks and I was paid a fee just under four figures. I was told today that the company president thinks I am worth what they paid, so everyone went home a winner.
A final example: Years ago I was helping Marvyn Roy with his Crown Jewel act. Marv and Carol were working Bimbos 365 in San Francisco and I was across the bay at the Hotel Claremont. For several nights I came over, sitting in various places in the theatre, taking notes about what loads flashed, etc. On one night there were two couples in the audiencefour people in a theater that sat well over 500. Marvyn and Carol worked at full intensity regardless, giving those four people what they had paid for: a professional caliber show.
There are no excuses for giving an audience less than your best.