Professional audience member

A couple of years ago I developed a strategy for seeing comedy. The strategy was slightly convoluted and it involved seating myself in painfully specific sections of the audience. I decided that the best seat was the one in the second row, in the aisle on the right-hand side.
There are a lot of flaws in this idea, not least of which that it relies on the seating being arranged into two blocks with a space down the middle. The logic behind it, however, is simple: that seat affords you a clear view of the stage while minimising the chance that you will have to engage with the show or the performer at all. You’re reasonably safe in the second row, for one, and I also had this dumb theory that performers usually heckled to their right (ie: the left half of the audience). Basically I was terrified of being heckled. That’s what this boils down to. I really, really did not want to engage in crowd work.
It has recently come to my attention that I was wrong. During our time at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year, the gang of five that I was travelling with took to sitting in the front row. At first we mostly did this because of our tendency to arrive at shows far too early. Plus during the first weekend of the festival we saw a surprising number of sold out shows. The combination of these factors meant that we found ourselves being ushered into the row closest to the stage and encouraged “not to leave any gaps.” It didn’t take long before we were doing this of our own accord, in shows with ample vacant seats.
I realised something: the front row isn’t all about you. For a lot of comedians, audience interaction is an integral part of their show. Often it’s a small part but when it goes horribly wrong it’s easy for the other material to topple in its wake. Having a friendly, willing and not intoxicated front row makes the show run more smoothly for everyone involved.
I’m not sure that I’ll ever set foot on a comedy stage but I do know that I’d like to do everything I can to help out those who choose to. Sitting in the front row is on par with tweeting about a show you loved; it’s a little thing that can make a little bit of positive difference. Think about it this way: for every enthusiastic comedy goer who sits at the front, that’s one seat that can’t be filled by a drunken backpacker. When the comic walks on stage there’s a bunch of people sitting there looking cheerful. That is a nice thing and it doesn’t take much to make it happen.
Plus, far from the hellish ordeal that I’d built it up to be, engaging with comedy is often really fun. I should probably mention at this point that I don’t tend buy into the “Look at this guy! Hahaha! What an idiot!” school of comedy. Most of the comics that I love approach crowd work with the slightly awkward enthusiasm of someone trying to make friends at a party.
I’ve been one-half of the couple in the front row twice now. I’ve always thought that being part of thatcouple would be pretty much the worst thing ever and, at a random open mic night, it probably would be. But you’re also providing a service. If there isn’t a couple in the front row, the comedian has to do that awkward “so…are you two a couple? No? Just friends?” bit. No one likes that bit.
I’m also lucky enough to be part of a couple that comes with an inbuilt joke: we both have the same name. Take it from me, there’s a goldmine of material in that. All you have to do is say “LOL these two people have the same name and they are dating!” and people will laugh because there’s something inherently funny about it. It would be selfish of me to withhold this gift from the comedy community.
If my life so far has taught me anything it’s that being brave usually turns out for the best. Stepping outside your comfort zone a little is far more likely to result in moderate good times than, say, death.
So next time you go to see comedy, consider the front row. You might be pleasantly surprised

Further reading

December – home

I spent the first minutes of 2018 on the beach. I’ve never actually spent New Year