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Guffawing At The Right Time

I’m not really sure what etiquette rule applied, but the woman near me at the performance definitely thought I breached it.
My husband and I went on a cruise a few weeks back. There was a generational gap amongst the guests, and I don’t know if that contributed to the situation I am sharing. As you may know, there is nightly entertainment on a cruise ship. My husband and I are partial to any tye of comedian. One night, the entertainment was a juggler comedian, so we attended. We had only attended a couple of other shows but we did notice a large portion of the audience was unresponsive to the given performers, especially comedians. It seemed odd but I didn’t give it much thought until this particular night.
I should preface the story by mentioning that I was trained in school as an actor and have done stage performances myself. I have learned the impact an audience has on a performer. A performer feeds off the energy of an audience and a lack of it can make a performer falter — and perhaps deservedly so. For this reason, if I enjoy a performer, I am vocal about it, especially if the performer is indicating he wants it.
So, we attend this juggling comedian and my husband and I love him. He was a bit risque, but we thought he was hilarious. He also was actively seeking feedback from the audience and sounded a little frustrated that he did not get much of it. So, I was being very responsive, and admittedly loud about it (we were in the back of the theater). So, I would laugh, yell out “yes!” when the performer asked if we wanted to see a trick, and occasionally do a “woo!hoo!,” mostly when he’d pull of a tremendous feat or was seeking agreement from the audience. This woman near me was clearly annoyed. It started out simple enough with her looking back at me, so I just disregarded it. Then she kept staring back at me giving me dirty looks. She was not responding at all to the performer throughout the performance and clearly thought I was being impolite for doing so. I will say that all of my responses were appropriate to the performer — I laughed at appropriate times, did not talk/laugh over the performance, heckle, scoff, or otherwise act inconsistent with the juggling and comedy. At one point, I got annoyed with her and when she was staring at me, I stared back and just pointed to the performer and said, “I’m laughing.” She stopped staring after that.
So, I guess I just don’t understand why it was so inappropriate for me to respond. Perhaps the woman did not enjoy the performer, but then why begrudge me the enjoyment? Perhaps she didn’t understand the value a performer places on audience response. Perhaps it was a generational thing where her generation believed an audience should not respond and should quietly and politely observe a performance.   0522-12
{ 70 comments… add one }
  • Ally L May 23, 2012, 5:38 pm

    pdolly – “You can show that you like it by smiling and clapping at the appropriate time. ”

    To me, that’s what the OP was doing. The performer asked a question to the audience, and she responded. I can also imagine the performed completing a trick and trying to solicit some reaction from the audience, such as taking a bow of flourish. If the OP shouted “Woo hoo!” at that time, I’d say it was appropriate.

    Sure, it may have annoyed the woman, and she had the right to enjoy the show in her way. But I just don’t see what the OP did as unnecessarily boistrous. It probably would have annoyed me, but that’s my pet peeve; it doesn’t mean the behavior is wrong.

  • Cat Whisperer May 23, 2012, 5:45 pm

    Oh, my. This is a toughie. My husband and I enjoy attending comedy shows, magic shows, live performances of all kinds. And in good shows, there is a lot of give-and-take between the performer and the audience, and that’s part of the enjoyment of being in the audience for a live performance.

    There can also be heckling, which is not fun; and you sometimes have a half-wit or two in the audience who are trying to put on their own show, which is usually pretty annoying, and of course you have people who are drinking to the point where they lose their inhibitions, their good manners, and their dignity. And that’s not fun at all, it’s just sad.

    I think that if you are in the audience and your reactions to a performer are drawing cold stares from other people in the audience, then you’d do well to tone your reactions down. OP in this particular case has only indicated that one member of the audience was giving her the stink-eye, so it’s hard to know if OP was out of line or not. Having gone on a couple of cruises, it’s my observation that there are a fair number of people who are going to attend the onboard entertainments out of boredom, out of curiousity, or out of a desire to get their money’s worth, and who don’t really enjoy the performance of a comedian.

    JMO, but I think that when you’re attending any kind of live performance, your response to the performer should be natural and unforced, and should also be with due consideration for the people seated nearby. It is possible to indicate that you’re enjoying a performance without at the same time having other people wishing you’d tone down your enthusiasm.

    I also have to comment on why some people who attend the performance of a stand-up comedian try not to draw attention to themselves: a lot of comedians use interaction with members of the audience in their acts, and not everyone wants to find themselves the target of this kind of attention!

  • SJ May 23, 2012, 6:08 pm

    I’m a singer/actor, and I wholeheartedly agree that for live performances, especially comedic ones, the audience should respond.
    I did a formal, classical, voice recital, and clapping was only appropriate at certain times. I got annoyed with those who had the audacity to walk in late -in the middle of a song, not even waiting for applause.
    HOWEVER, I recently gave a curtain speech where I teased, cajoled, and outright begged the audience to laugh, applaud, and respond to anything they liked.
    I think you were very appropriate.

  • itwasadarkandstormynight May 23, 2012, 6:14 pm

    There’s a difference between laughing and yelling. Laughing is of course appropriate at a comedy routine, but to me yelling during a performance seems rude, especially since you were sitting in the back. The lady (and possibly other people who were too polite to call you out on it) was most likely distracted by your yelling.

  • Jenny May 24, 2012, 5:40 am

    Having worked in sound production, I’ve seen it go both ways.

    While laughing is good, trying to compensate for the rest of the audience and yelling really only rubs in the fact that he’s not engaging the audience and may interfere with the rest of the audience getting into it. So by trying to compensate for the rest of them, you only ensured he wasn’t going to get the rest of the audience.

  • MellowedOne May 24, 2012, 6:18 am

    I think it helps to stay focused on the performance the OP is describing–a performance that is tailored to design verbal reaction from the audience. A comedian judges his performance by audience reaction. If they were very vocal he “killed” them, if he received lukewarm response it was a “tough room”.

    It kind of reminds me of a late night comedy show on Saturday nights. When the jokes/skits are lame, it’s very obvious by the poor audience response. The ones that are really funny/on point receive applause, hoots and hollers.

    We are not talking about symphonies, hecklers, or vision blockers. The post is about a person acting appropriately for a performance filled with lukewarm responders. It happens sometimes.

  • Sophia May 24, 2012, 10:40 am

    MellowedOne’s comment about lukewarm responses was spot-on. I don’t think OP was being rude, especially since the performer was trying to elicit responses from the audience, but her actions were perceived as rude because of the context of the situation.

    I think context in general is imperative. For instance, I wouldn’t even think of responding with anything other than polite applause at a formal concert. But for something that’s oriented towards audience participation, it’s appropriate and even encouraged to yell back jokes. Think of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Audience response is definitely a requirement (although it’s perfectly alright to observe if you’re not familiar with the ritual of it).

  • kelly May 24, 2012, 11:45 am

    It depends on the culture. In the UK someone going woo-ho and yelling would be considered annoying, yawpish and vulgar. The OP sitting at the back and yawping woo-hoo so everyone at the front can hear her sounds a crass nightmare.

  • Addy May 24, 2012, 6:07 pm

    Ok, I’m going out on a limb here and ask the OP, was this Hilby, the skinny German juggler boy? If so, you were right to shout, clap and laugh, because he is hilarious. 😉
    If I am wrong in my assumption, I will say that I think that at a performance of any comedian juggler who is asking for feedback from the audience, the OP’s behaviour was not out of line. And in particular, if this was Hilby, he asks questions requiring answers and encourages laughter and loudness. I really don’t know why anyone not enjoying that type of show would stick around. But maybe it would have been better for the OP to sit a little closer. Although I always sit close to an exit in case the show is really bad and I need to escape easily.

  • C. Morland May 24, 2012, 11:23 pm

    Carrie said, “be respectful, and take cues from those around you.”

    I’m sorry, I respectfully disagree. Yes, don’t be so obnoxious in your enjoyment (or displeasure) that you interfere with other people’s enjoyment but just because other people don’t seem to be sharing yours is no reason to stifle your own response.
    I was in a similar audience once. I think it may even be the same entertainer since it was on a cruise and he was a juggler with a nice line of patter. He had a very dry sense of humour which I appreciated and found very funny but, unfortunately, most of the, fairly small, audience (mostly older it has to be said but I’m not impugning the ‘older generation’ since I’d class myself as a member) did not. I know this because I was sitting at the side of the stage (really just a raised dias) and could see most of them.
    Well, I allowed myself to be intimidated by them into thinking that it was just me who had a weird sense of humour (and some of his routine was quite dark) and so kept my amusement to myself, sometimes to the extent of holding my hand very tightly across my face to stifle my giggles, whilst feeling sorry for him.
    However, he then started on something which I found so hilarious that I could not contain myself and I let out a very audible laugh, drawing, to my deep embarrassment, lots of attention from many in the audience. The entertainer, however, turned and acknowledged me with a broad and grateful smile and delighted expression. The rest of the act, more of the same, got more laughs so it may have been the case that prior to then these people had, like me, been too cowed by the stony reception he was getting to give vent to their appreciation.

  • The Elf May 25, 2012, 11:29 am

    Hilby (I love his act!) is percisely the kind of act where the need for audience participation is obvious. In fact, he’ll berate the audience a little if he thinks you’re not loud enough. It’s a great show.

    But not every comedy act is the same way.

  • Elle May 25, 2012, 11:50 am

    You know how many times I had to go see the Avengers to find out what the Hulk said after he ragdolled Loki? Three times. The first two times were so full of excited whooping and hollering, laughing and clapping that whole portions of dialogue in the movie were missed out on. The last time I saw it the theater was deathly quiet, even after the funny lines. Well except for me. It was still a funny movie and I still cracked up (I didn’t holler or clap but I wasn’t exactly restrained with my laughter.)

    But y’all are right. Maybe I really should do something more socially acceptable in the theater so I’m not making a spectacle of myself. Maybe texting …….

  • ilex May 26, 2012, 11:30 pm

    I’m surprised so many commenters think the OP was in the wrong. Clapping and a “woo hoo” in response to a particularly impressive juggling trick is totally acceptable in my mind, unless there was some kind of “hold all applause” rule, which there apparently wasn’t.

    I think sitting quietly during a comedian’s act is rude. I mean, if he’s not funny, don’t laugh, but I don’t see how laughing and clapping is rude. It’s not the symphony.

    Now, if this was a cruise with a lot of people from other countries — and especially if it was a non-US ship, that might change things. In a different country, I would follow the lead of the audience. I know different cultures have different etiquette; I come from a section of American culture where audience response is often louder than other cultures appreciate. It’s acceptable to clap along with songs, respond vocally, and cheer loudly. Of course, I don’t clap along to songs at shows when it’s not appropriate, and don’t cheer during the symphony or call out in response during Shakespeare (and I attend all of these types of performances regularly as an arts reviewer). But a juggling comic? Assuming it was a US boat, I’d woo hoo, too. I find nothing respectful or polite about sitting or standing silently during a comedy act or comic play or rock show.

  • Ultra Venia May 27, 2012, 4:09 pm

    The problem with many of the comments: a solo performer ain’t a movie. He is desperate for feedback. If you just sit there, you are failing. Being in the audience of a live performance is generally supposed to be interactive. Attempting to entertain bumps on logs and stone faces drain a performer. Just stay home and watch tv if you want to be that way.

  • Ultra Venia May 27, 2012, 4:20 pm

    And why has the one staring woman turned into “everyone around the OP”, I see many comments making the assumption that the OP was bothering many people when there is no evidence of such. Etiquette does not mean assuming the worst.

  • Enna May 28, 2012, 10:27 am

    It does depend on the situation but if the OP’s responses sounded fake or over the top then that might have annoyed the other woman.

  • KT May 29, 2012, 3:55 am

    The yelling of “yes!” and woo-hooing along with loud laughter from the back of the theatre sound completely obnoxious to me. Especially if the rest of the audience wasn’t doing it. Whether or not you agree with the audience’s reaction, acting disproportionately louder is extremely annoying. A good performer will know how to deal with lukewarm reactions. You don’t need to be loud and obnoxious and ruin other people’s experience. Just because one woman was the only one actively giving you dirty looks doesn’t mean your over the top behavior wasn’t bugging other people. Or the performer.

  • WinkAndSmile June 9, 2012, 2:26 pm

    I’m a nervous nelly. Therefore, when watching a juggling/knife-throwing/fire-breathing/dangerous act, I am absolutely silent during each trick, usually wringing my handkerchief and praying that this NOT be the time something goes horribly, tragically wrong.

    After the trick is over, I tend to have a small explosion of sheer relief that I didn’t just witness some bloody fool impale himself on his own juggling knives. So, yeah, I’m loud.

    However, I’m loud BETWEEN tricks. If the OP, as she said, was laughing at the appropriate times (between tricks), shouting “Yes,” only in response to questions, and the woohoo’s were also, only at appropriate times, such as when the acrobat has climbed to the top of the pile of ridiculously wobbly items, and then throws his arms wide and says “Tadaaa!”, then I think she did exactly what the performer wanted her to do.

    The audience member, however, didn’t want what the performer wanted. They were operating at cross-purposes. The audience member wanted the show, but also peace and quiet. The performer wanted an appropriate response at appropriate times, and to feed off some energy from the audience. I get that.

    It seems to me that the OP had to make a choice – does she support the audience or the performer? She can’t do both, here. She could only serve one or the other. (OK, side note, here, because I just HAVE to tell someone that my “spell checker” actually insisted that “other” was incorrect and it should be corrected to “otehr.” Go figure. I hate spell checker, and thank my English teachers for forcing me to learn to spell for myself. I was only able to fix it by actually looking up other on Google and re-training my spell checker to learn the word.)

    It’s always nice when the audience and performer are in perfect alignment on what they want. When that is not the case, you have to choose.

    Practically speaking, if you are near the performer, and you won’t be shouting over the heads of 20 rows of people, you should, be all means, support the performer. However, if you are in the rear of the theater, and there are many more people, getting progressively angrier, and you fear they might lynch you if you laugh out loud ONE. MORE. TIME, then shut up, in your own defense. I’m being just a tad facetious here, but we do live in the age of road rage.

    For all those in the audience who are being complaining about someone laughing and responding during the APPROPRIATE times, please don’t automatically assume that the person is a twit who is trying to draw attention to themselves. For all you know, that person is the performer’s dear sibling, who is trying hard to give the performer exactly what he needs. Because performers really *do* draw energy from the crowd. They require it. It’s not being needy. It’s a physical requirement to maintain their own energy under the hot lights and physical strain of performing. That’s why a performer leaves a rehearsal drained, but leaves a successful performance high. If it were the performer’s family member cheering, and you knew it, you wouldn’t think they were selfishly trying to draw attention to themselves – “Look at me! I’m laughing and get the jokes! See how smart I am!” You would think they were encouraging the performer.

    Please give other people the benefit of the doubt.

    And OP, I’m not saying to stop laughing, but if you get several death glares, please adjust your volume. Cover your mouth, if you are not capable of physically controlling the volume of the laughter (that is very hard to do, for true, spontaneous laughter). A quick, “I’m sorry, am I too loud?” and then visually covering your mouth to show that you are trying may be all the audience member needs to be more forgiving to you. For most people, it’s enough just to know that they have been recognized and that you are trying to help them, even if you fail.

    If it is not enough, and she continues to glare, please give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe you are a doppelgänger for the woman who is cheating with her husband. Maybe it has nothing at all to do with your laughter.

    Being polite means trying to make the people around you comfortable, WITHOUT giving up who you are. So, yes, tone down the volume, but don’t squelch your genuine enjoyment. You have the right to respond, appropriately. Don’t give up your right to laugh, just because someone else wants peace and quiet. If they want peace and quiet that much, they should read a book.

    To those who say the other audience member should move – moving during the middle of a performance is rude. Please don’t encourage it. This is not a movie theater where the actor’s won’t be distracted by your motion. Motion is much more distracting than laughing during the right spots.

    Finally, if you are distracted by someone responding when no response is warranted, I agree with you. Maybe you just didn’t get the joke, but probably, they were laughing at something else, and hence they brought you out of your concentration on the performance. I agree. However, if their laughter at *appropriate times* distracts you, annoys you, and draws you out of the performance, then you should not watch live theater. Or TV. Stick to movies that have no laugh track or audience response.

  • Cj June 12, 2012, 7:54 pm

    I would like to know where most of these commenters are from….English people would of course think her behavior is borish! come on guys your comedians get maybe a little giggle : ) As an American it is perfectly okay in my book. Go for it! On a cruise shit with booze flowing…it is to be expected. Be loud at a show! Who cares! For goodness sakes it is not a recital!

  • erica September 10, 2012, 12:08 am

    I agree with the OP.
    If a comedian is asking the audience a question…a yell back is appropriate.

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