Me: What do you do sir?
Him: I'm a civil engineer.
Me: Is that like a normal engineer, but just more polite?
Audience [gentle chuckle]
Me: [to his wife] And what do you do?
Her: I'm a teacher.
Me: And what do you teach? [to audience] Little, bastards!
Her: Actually, it's a special needs school.
Me: [totally unfazed] So, you're looking after kids with learning disabilities?
Her: [looking worried about the next line] Er. Yes.
Now, some comedians might have made a joke at this point... but there was no tension in the air, because I'd already explained that I was just saying hello to people and getting to know them. I'd said that nobody would get picked on, and I wasn't about to start making sick jokes about special needs children. I said something about how that was a worthwhile thing for someone to do and welcomed her to the audience. See. I'm not a bastard. A joke will happen when it wants to. You don't have to take the piss out of special kids to look like the big man.
I even did the majority of the material which got me into trouble on Feb 14th at that ill-fated gig. I did the majority of it, but I did it in a form which explained where the joke was, and wasn't gratuitous. I let the intelligent and pleasant audience do the hard work and I rewarded them. In fact, I think I was a bit too much of a sympathetic character for them. There is a section I do, which is laced with pathos and self-ridicule and it created more "aaahs" than laughs... but that still counts, because it's made up. Ha!
So, be nice to an audience as well as trying to make them laugh. That's a good tip. I think that to be nice to an audience you HAVE to be in the moment, so maybe that's why it's a good tip.
I'm looking at one of my main comedy heroes - Bill Bailey - and I'm asking myself why he doesn't need to resort to cheap jokes about sex or other offensive subjects. Why is he able to appeal to a family audience? Because he's good and because there's more to talk about than the base/offensive/dark stuff.
It's an important lesson to learn. One can expose the ridiculous in anything.
Like that bit I did about the feeling of piercing a jar of coffee.
I'm feeling good about stand-up today.