Had a conversation recently with a comic who felt like he
had to say on stage what the audience expected him to say. ”They see me, they hear my accent, they have
a good idea of who I am and where I’m from and I feel like that’s all I should
talk about.” He feels like he’s forced
to give the crowd what they want.

I get that. One of
the many rules of standup is that, if there’s something about you that’s
obvious, you have to address it from the start.
Otherwise, the crowd gets distracted, thinking, ”Why isn’t the comic
addressing that?” instead of listening to the material. I learned early on to always open with, ”Hi,
I’m Ryan, I’m from the US but I live here now.”
There were times I didn’t do that and heard people in the crowd asking
each other, ”Is he English? Is he Irish?”

Yes, I’m Irish! …in America.
Here in Sweden, I’m American.

I know a comic that used to have a huge afro. He’d start with 30 seconds on his hair – ”Yes,
I know, I have crazy hair…” – and then move on, not addressing it again.

That was the advice I gave to the guy I was talking to-
address the obvious but don’t feel that the entire set has to revolve around
it. You don’t have to give the crowd what
you think they want. I even used my
classic line, ”You’re not there for them, they’re there for you.”

I have to wonder, though, if this is good advice. My niche is American Comic in Sweden and of
course I talk about that; I talk about my life and my life is here. But I avoid it as much as I can and I openly
shit on the standard jokes to the point of absurdity. But it doesn’t matter, Swedes won’t stop
laughing at those jokes. Just me saying
a word in Swedish is enough to get a laugh and since I don’t want to become a
cliché – the comic who hates the audience – I avoid doing that, too.

So while I’m actively avoiding that material, my peers are
not, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that several of my peers get a lot
more heat than me. (I mean, there’s a
chance they’re actually funnier than me, but how likely is that?) They’re giving the audience what they want to

I just… can’t. Or won’t. Despite the fact that I rarely perform
outside Sweden, I am still trying to write material that will work no matter
where I am. I talked about this with an
established comic who told me he used to feel the same way, but it didn’t take
long before everything was about Sweden, and now every new idea is about
Sweden. You can’t get more successful
than him, so there might be a point to giving the crowd what they want.

Maybe, deep down, I do hate the audience, or at least think
I’m better than them. I always liked
this advice from Bill Hicks: ”Don’t ever ask the audience, ’How are you all
feeling tonight?’ It’s your job to tell them how to feel.”

I’ve said before that I have no ambition and that’s true,
but despite my best intentions I’m still human and enjoy success. I just want success on my terms. I’m not there for them, they’re there for me.