This element really matters, and it is this feeling the audience generates which I think makes or mars the show. The problem is of course that the audience are alway rather apprehensive when the performance starts. They are worried, about what the show will involve (what after all is stand up philosophy?), but also they are always worried about whether they will understand the pieces, a fear that is so real, and very understandable. As the performer one has to break into this fear, and make
Everything ok. But one can never do it alone from the front of the house, so one needs to get everyone on board, together as soon as possible.
In recent shows I have sought to do this in three ways. Firstly I make sure the most intense pieces are right at the beginning of the show. These pieces are the poetic and multi-layered works of Foucault and Deleuze. These are the pieces, which are for me as a philosopher so critical, and yet which could be fairly challenging for those (the majority) who are encountering these thinkers for the first time. By presenting them at the start, I deliberately worry the audience, while intriguing them with the language of these pieces, which is highly polished and rhythmic. The pieces serve then, I hope to get the audience's ear into the show, but you must be careful, because it scares them too . So the third piece I do is one of my storytelling philosophical classics complete with audience participation, and irreverent humour. The relief is palpable...what is more as it is integral to this story that philosophy often difficult when it is trivial, the audience kind of feel included ( I hope)- their fear has been reflected back at them, and they have laughed at it....
My second main strategy revolves around powerful one liners, the kind of things one will remember and do so long after the show is over. These one liners, memorable phrases abound in the kind of thinker I deal with, and I design the show to make them shine out. The audience then know they are getting something, will keep something in memory, and that is a lot of the battle.
Finally one does need to crack on with the show. It is a fatal mistake to tarry, the audience must not tire.So I crack on at a pace, keeping the rhythm of explanation and performance tight and carefully measured, so that the show does not feel at all long, which would be fatal to it.
In my last two shows this strategy appears to have paid off, as the audience have been very generous in their remarks afterward, but I will soon post up the shows, so you can judge for yourself.