Why are some audiences willing to follow a comedian to the ends of the Earth while others have the most difficulty even getting a few fans? A part of it is simply charisma. And the good news is that charisma isn’t something you’re born with. It’s a skill. You don’t have to change anything about yourself to become more charismatic. Nor is there isn’t a single style of charismatic leadership (the charisma of Chris Rock, Woody Allen, and Mitch Hedberg are different, but are effective for their personalities). There are several different styles that can be used in different situations and by different personalities.
Here are a few ways charisma can help you in your stand-up comedy career:
Benefits of a comedian’s charisma on the stage…
- Self-confidence- charismatic comedians come off as more sure of themselves
- Build quick trust with the audience– the audience is willing to put more initial trust in you
- Audience will pay more attention– Charismatic people hold an audience’s attention longer
- Spice up material– comedians with charisma are more interesting than comedians that are generic or undifferentiated
- Increased fan-base– people naturally want to follow more charismatic leaders.
- Make audience members feel heard– Charismatic leaders help followers take part ownership in an idea or cause.
- Build a larger network– It’s no secret that highly charismatic people have a large network.
Benefits of a comedian’s charisma off-stage…
Characteristics of Charisma
According to Olivia Fox Cobain, author of “The Charisma Myth,” charisma can be broken down into three characteristics: presence, power, and warmth. The different leaderships styles can be seen as different combinations of these three characteristics. You’ll notice as we go through these characteristics that they are all unconscious. How charismatic someone is generally a function of how much they exude these characteristics. It has little to do with the content being said and everything to do with how it’s being said (just like telling jokes in comedy).
Charismatic people are present with you. They legitimately seem like they’re not waiting for you to stop talking so they can have their turn. They’re in the moment… and we can generally feel it. You feel this lack of presence whenever you talk to someone who continually looks away or seems like they’re thinking about other things. Interestingly, it’s very difficult to develop anything more than a surface-level relationship with such individuals. It’s the same for the audience.
Presents is extremely important on stage. Ever watch a comedian get on stage and begin plowing through pre-written material without even acknowledging the audience? It’s blatantly apparent to everyone in the room that they’re in their own world. Quite often, the audience’s attention plummets. The audience can’t engage with the comedian on a real level. They might as well be watching them on television. Go to any open mic in the country and you’ll probably see this behavior (as well as the predictable response by the audience). Rambling through jokes creates a 4th wall between yourself and the audience that blocks connection. Ask yourself: how long would you listen to someone if they were only talking about themselves?
When a comedian is present with the audience it makes the audience feel valuable. Like they’re included. It breaks down the fourth wall and turns the monologue into a dialogue. It opens the doorway to develop a relationship with the comedian. But most importantly, the audience feels you’re being authentic. In everyday life, friends are present with one another when talking. This is what the audience is used to. It would feel strange to be trying to have a conversation with someone when it’s obvious that they’re somewhere else. They come off as inauthentic. By being present on stage you’re more closely aligning your performance with the type of communication that the audience is already accustomed to.
Outside of stand-up comedy, power refers to the ability to act and is closely related to authority. In stand-up comedy, power can play a strange role. Many comedians voice their insecurities on stage and come off as less “powerful,” but the audience gravitates towards them for this very reason. So while in business and everyday life power might be beneficial, in stand-up comedy it’s often just the opposite. Comedians that come off too sure of themselves can seem arrogant. They also seem like they’re not letting the audience get to know them on a deeper level. Basically, we feel like they’re hiding something.
What’s important here is that a comedian be authentic to themselves and to their material. Coming off too powerful can be a turn-off. Coming off not powerful enough can also be a turn-off IF the material isn’t aligned with it. For instance, a comedian that’s talking about how successful they are with the ladies but coming from a position of little power (i.e. little confidence) would seem inauthentic.
The last characteristic is warmth. Warmth is how inviting a person feels. Those that give very quick answers are usually seen as less warm while those that go on-and-on answering the simplest question come off as warm and more inviting to conversation. However, it’s different than introversion/extroversion. Introverts can still come off as warm, even if they might rather have their head buried in a book.
Body language can be a tell-tail sign of warmth. Those with open body language (shoulders back, head up, body turned towards the person they’re speaking to) come off as more warm than those using closed body language.
On stage, warmth is generally used to draw the audience in, especially near the beginning of a set. Introductory comments like “you guys having fun?” and “thanks for coming out” help to make the audience perceive you as more warm, more present (didn’t just launch into a joke), and more authentic (if you ask them a question and actually sound like you care).
This isn’t the same for all comedians. Lewis Black starting off a set by being warm would be ridiculous. But so would Brian Regan starting off cold. It all comes down to the comedian. That’s why these characteristics are a general rule of thumb.
These three characteristics combine to give an audience (or whoever you’re talking to) a general feeling of charisma. However, in comedy, you can break every rule and still be successful (I lay out an entire system for breaking rules in the Creativity For Comedians Program). Don’t treat any of these characteristics as “you either have them or you don’t.” The point of this article is to open you up to increasing the charisma-style that is most aligned with who you are as a comedian. Now that you understand the components of charisma, you can align your own persona and/or material to match (the Faster & Funnier Comedy Course gives shows you exactly how). When this happens, you’re comedy is going to come off as much more authentic to the audience.