Dave Attell Had A ‘Three Strikes’ Rule With Audiences Before He’d Attack

Negative audiences just make Attell attack even harder
Dave Attell Had A ‘Three Strikes’ Rule With Audiences Before He’d Attack

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Well, you can’t say Dave Attell didn’t give audiences a chance. In the book Satiristas, he revealed his “three strikes” audience rule for the first time. It went down like this: Every time Attell performed a stand-up set, he’d bring out new material to try. “The audience doesn’t get it, I’ll try the next audience. That audience doesn’t get it, I’ll try the next one. After that one I’ll just get angry,” he confessed. “And that’s usually when the funny stuff comes out.”

“Blame the audience” generally isn’t a good comic strategy, and Attell gets that. “I guess that’s not very professional,” he said, “but you just gotta keep working it until you find the funny angle on it. Some people just aren’t going to get it.”

Attell is of the “you can say anything if you make it funny” school, even if it makes an audience uncomfortable. That goes for drinking, smoking, sex, religion or what have you. “A friend told me he did a joke about abortion, and some people in the crowd were, of course, offended, but the club owner took the side of the crowd instead of the comic. I think that’s wrong, you know?” Attell complained. “Manny, who used to run the Comedy Cellar and passed away (in 2004), always took the side of the comics. You come to the show, you’re going to hear the word ‘c***.’ You’re going to hear all these things. It’s a comic show. Let it go! It’s nothing. It’s not real.”

Manny even would have sided with Michael Richards after his 2005 racist rant at the Laugh Factory, Attell argued, “even though what Michael Richards did was wrong and incredibly unfunny. That was the problem: He didn’t make it funny. If you say those kinds of things, you’d better back it up with the funny.”

Attell often found that funny through crowd work, which Richards failed at miserably that night. To that end, don’t even try crowd work if you can’t handle it, Attell explained: “You’re supposed to size up the scene, see what’s going on. There’s craft and skill involved.”

But that doesn’t mean Attell can’t also “get angry” at an audience when it can’t keep up. When a tragic tsunami made headlines in 2004, Attell made a joke with the word “tsunami” in the bit, “and it took people a long time to get that I was just using it as a reference,” he said. “I wasn’t even talking about the tsunami itself, but just the word got them all, ‘Whoa, ease up!’ The word is just a word. It means ‘an overwhelming thing.’ What if it was a ‘tsunami of blow jobs’? They ruined it for themselves.”

With Attell, a negative audience reaction likely means he just going to push the outrageousness even further. “You always attack it more,” he vowed, “because you’re really fighting for the most precious thing in your life: your ego.”


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