Playing to A Tough Crowd

Zenobia Silas-Carson

Back in the day, you might hear a stand-up comedian ask the question, “Is this thing on?” while tapping the microphone to make sure. That was a way to make the audience laugh and called for a response from a crowd that might not be impressed by the comedian, the jokes, or both. You might also hear the comedian say, “Tough crowd.” This alluded to an audience of folded arms, private conversations, small trickles of laughter and an atmosphere that screamed, “Get off the stage, you turkey!”.

Comedians had practical tactics to “warm up the crowd,” such as asking, “Anybody from New York?” or a similar question that stirs their interest, making even the lamest jokes seem interesting because the crowd (sometimes) will heat up to the familiar. We know the trick to be perfunctory and lead into a series of jokes about a state and the evening ends reasonably well. Not so easy for seniors when we are relating a story that rambles or is repetitive. Therefore, if you’re playing to a tough crowd, consider the era in which they were born.

Forty somethings might have mercy on your long-winded stories. After all, they now have children old enough to deliver major eye rolls and thinly disguised yawns when they speak of the “good old days”. Fifty somethings are in the position to talk about stuff they never showed interest in just a decade before. (You know when they were going forty years old forever). Their AARP magazine has arrived in the mail, and they are noticing the vague beginnings of health challenges we have had for twenty or more years.  Their conversations are now seasoned with concerns about social security and retirement funds. We get to chuckle under our breath and roll OUR eyes. We snicker and think, “Told ya.”

Your toughest crowd to share with will be those below forty. They mean well. Everything you do is “cute,” from romantic connections to going on vacations. They have little interest in the mechanics of your life. They don’t dislike us, but the details and daily stuff we want to share might best be shared with the older ones, or better yet, among our peers. Even then, try to make your monologue short. If you add a warm-up intro,make sure make sure it is not a joke that is ancient and dying on the vine.

What was funny in 1952 is hard to connect in the mind of those desensitized by an abundance of lewd and crude. Not judging all by a few, but face it, humor has changed over time, and our innocent punchlines fall short in today’s more explicit humor. There are plenty of older people who know more than a few “blue” jokes or stories, but jokes from the past often fall on deaf ears in the new world. If we repeat it too often, it gets to be like over-chewed gum. Tight and tasteless. Again, choose your crowd carefully.

All of this is not to say that no one is listening. There are young people, like the one I used to be, who enjoy the old stories. They like hearing about the world the way it used to be. They are fascinated with how cheap food, gas, and clothing were, not thinking about the low pay in those days, making it harder to buy things that seem reasonable by today’s comparisons. We delight in telling it, and if we make it enjoyable enough, many will take the time to listen. They also like to know that we are not so immersed in the past that  that we have nothing fresh and new.

Talk about classes you’re taking or how you manage your smartphone or did a Zoom thing. Note: This will delay the sudden appearance of brochures on your coffee table about the lovely atmosphere at Shady Acres Retirement Home. Please pay attention, keep their attention at a healthy level, and stay in the moment. Wandering down memory lane is cool, but do not get lost there.

Look how long I captured your attention! Are you still there? I am closing with a terrific joke I heard the other day. “Did you hear the one about the guy who …HEY! Are you still there? “Is this thing on?” “Wow, what a tough crowd!”


  1. Joyce L. Shafer says


    I so very much enjoyed this article message. It’s true. Thank for this wisdom and wit. You did what every terrific comedian does: You left me laughing — and, no, I don’t think it’s an age thing, but a good writing thing :0)

    God’s grace and joy be upon you.

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