Silence Is a Powerful Measure of Engagement

How you can tell if your audience is paying attention

Papa CJ
Age of Empathy
Published in
4 min readMay 26, 2021

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Photo by Sound On from Pexels

Yes, it’s ironic that a comedian looks at the quantum of silence as the indicator of success, but hear me out.

A Comedian’s Dilemma

One day I’m doing a college gig where the crowd is going insane. They are clapping after every joke, cheering, hooting, standing on chairs, and basically taking the roof off. The next day I’m doing an upper-middle-class audience in some fancy hotel ballroom. They have polite smiles on their faces, my inner critic on stage is telling me it’s going terribly and I’m just dying on my arse.

It’s the kind of gig where I want to leave the venue as soon as I finish the show because the last thing I want to do is to engage with anyone in the audience post-gig. Because me being absolutely terrible is always the elephant in the room. If I do engage, should I acknowledge it with a ‘Sorry you had to sit through that…it wasn’t my best night’?

Or worse, should I not say anything and take the risk of them mentioning that I was as popular as a Ku Klux Klan member at a Black Lives Matter rally? A thousand times worse than option one. That would make me want to dig an imaginary hole in the ground and bury myself right there.

They have polite smiles on their faces, my inner critic on stage is telling me it’s going terribly and I’m just dying on my arse.

Or then there is a third scenario where they feel obliged to say my performance was nice, and then either I have to mention that it was sub-par or have to graciously say thank you. In such a case both of us realise the farce of it all. Add to that, any witness to the exchange is thinking, ‘Seriously? Were they not in the same room as me? Could they not see how crap that was?’

Who Is Listening?

I remember the first time I was subject to this unique form of torture and embarrassment. 1 Nov 2004. The night before I had done Kojo’s gig in Central London in front of a largely black urban audience and had a killer set. The audience was banging their chairs in appreciation and hooting ‘Brraaap…

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Papa CJ
Age of Empathy

Professional comedian. Published author. Disappointing lover. Oxford MBA. Executive coach. Website: http://papacj.com. Newsletter: http://papacj.substack.com.