SpokenWord 101: The Unlikely Teacher
I'll be honest here. The best thing I've ever learned about performing poetry on stage was from a comedian. I know. I can hear you now.
"Why are you learning how to perform SpokenWord from a comedian?"
I get it. I also understand that, for the most part, poetry and comedy are like oil and water. Most times, you can't fully accept one without causing damage to the other. What do I mean?
It's hard to go to an open mic and go through the shifts that poetry and comedy take you through. Going from LOL to a poem about molestation, or vice-versa, might be too much for an audience to handle. If they give in to the jokes, they might not be able to accept the realness. Whatever way you want to split it, it happens.
But it brings me back to the original question: Why are you learning how to perform SpokenWord from a comedian?
To put it simply, they know how to control the crowd. They know how to read a room and cater to the audience. Spokenword is 15% talent and 85% entertainment. People don't just want to hear you spit some hot bars or tell a dope story; they want to be entertained as well. Comedians know that. They'll pick and pull at the audience until they find what works—and once they hone in on it, it's game over.
If one side of the room seems to be more engaged than the other, the comedian will address it.
"Ok, yall ain't laughin' on this side, so I'm a go to the other side and talk to them. After that, it becomes a sort of competition. One side doesn't want to seem less engaged than the other side, so now, they're paying attention. Now, you got them," said Damone Jones, comedian and actor out of Dallas, TX.
Sometimes, you have to address the elephant in the room. Sometimes, in the middle of your set, or your poem, you have to stop and ask a question— especially if you feel like the audience is not paying attention.
"Hold on, yall hear me? Yall feel me? If yall feel me, say, 'word.'” As a poet, you have to set the atmosphere. That’s all on you. It doesn’t matter what poet went up before you or what they said. You have to shift the room. You have to get them on your side. Make them understand that, yes, you know they’re in the room, and you know the energy is off. Bring them into the poem.
“When I say feelin’ good, yall say feelin’ great, feelin’ good? (audience: feelin’ great).” – Rage Almighty (RIP).
A comedian knows how to engage a crowd. They crack jokes. They talk directly to some of the people in the room. They break away from the act and make it personal for the audience.
And, if you want a crowd to remember you. If you're going to win a crowd over, that’s how you do it. You put them in the show as much as you can. As a poet, that is valuable information—and I didn’t have to talk to one hundred comedians to see that. I watch them. Youtube is one of my best friends.
I watch Chappelle. Chris Rock. Kevin Hart. Damone Jones. I watch them all and not because I want to laugh all the time. It’s because I like the crowd to rock with me from the moment I step on the stage. I want them to know that this is personal. I want them to remember how I made them feel. After that, they’ll keep coming back for more. Be the drug.