Tom Allen's comedy space odyssey: finding the right sized room for standup - The Guardian

In an age when a generation experiences TV series on a laptop balanced precariously on their chest, standup comedy is about coming together and being part of something. But the setup of the room can impact massively on your experience. Comedy should feel like a game of tennis. Even the best serve will miss if the audience aren't close enough, can't hear the performer or are sat at round tables with half of them facing away from the stage. And as for performing to people who are dining, I shan't mention how I was once heckled with "Where's my starter?!"

Related: Tom Allen: how a homophobic rant led me to come out in my standup act

Grand rooms can dissipate atmosphere with a high ceiling, but smaller rooms have their challenges too. At the Edinburgh fringe, rooms can vary enormously in size and design. Most comics will find themselves performing in small improvised spaces, converted toilet cubicles and huts made largely of tears and hair.

It is here a comic really plies their trade. Awkward shapes, odd sight lines and bits of the stage halfway out the window. The audience is often right in front of you in a space which probably seems like their front room. Is it even safe to be this close to a performer?

The experience changes in huge venues: an audience in complete darkness, and a brightly lit stage, give you the feeling of being in a brilliantly illuminated cell. In smaller rooms the performer can see everyone's face and the unsmiling man on the second row can destroy their confidence - especially when he's a fifth of the audience. And he might be having a wonderful time! He can't help that he's just got quite a miserable-looking face.

An audience need to see themselves reflected in the performer on stage and the performer needs to feel like their work is being reflected in the faces of the audience. And performers are so needy.

The best rooms tend to be a bit uncomfortable so you have to make the best of it and throw yourself into laughing. Because, as in life, we are all a bit awkward but comedy can help us make the best of an uncomfortable seat.

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