Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Comedy needs to be Cold

If you went to a taping of the DAVID LETTERMAN SHOW you noticed that the Ed Sullivan Theatre was freezing. David insisted the temperature be 60 degrees.  You could hang meat.

Why so cold?

Because cold audiences laugh. Hot audiences don’t.

Cold audiences are more alert. Warm audiences are sluggish. If you’ve got a comedy on stage and see people in the audience fanning themselves with their programs just know you are dead.

Audiences for CHEERS filmings were almost always great. The 200 people in the bleachers were thrilled to be there. They were already fans of the show, it was so exciting to see everyone in person, they were primed to laugh. If I’m being honest, there were jokes that got way better response than they deserved. But one night the air conditioning went out.

And the laughs stopped.

Even for CHEERS.

Same with the dress rehearsal for my play GOING GOING GONE at the Hudson Theatre in Hollywood. We had an invited audience and those poor souls were melting. The actors couldn’t see, there was so much sweat in their eyes. Needless to say I got no laughs. I’m just happy no one had a heat stroke. Every night during the run I made sure that the theatre was COLD. And the laughs thankfully returned.

Great attention is always paid to the lighting, set design, and sound of a production but often times the theatre temperature is taken as a given. It’s worth noting before a performance. I mean, when Sam & Diane can’t get a laugh…

23 comments :

VP81955 said...

So a multi-cam is the stage equivalent of revenge -- a dish best served...

Matt said...

I can tell you are from SoCal. 60 degrees is not cold.

Gary said...

I went to my first Letterman taping not long before he retired. After being warned for years how cold his theater would be, I brought a jacket in, but was still prepared to shiver. Surprise -- the theater was certainly cool, but nowhere near as frigid as I expected. A possible reason? One guest that night was Betty White. So maybe they warmed the place up a little due to her advanced age?

Mike Barer said...

Does this thinking pertain to movie audience?

Jonathan Stark said...

So true, Ken. Belushi used to say that audiences were better when the lighting was bright, too, but I hated it when the lights were too bright so that never happened.

Rob Dames said...

So true. Back when I was directing theater with star casts, most made a point of knowing the temperature in the theater. Like Sheila MacRae who wanted the theatre at 64 degrees, but she also insisted on taking publicity photos at 3 AM because her psychic told her that was the best hour for her.

Buttermilk Sky said...

I saw THE REGARD OF FLIGHT in the American Place Theater, which is a small basement-level venue in New York, on a miserably hot day. It's a very physical show starring the great clown Bill Irwin, and the air conditioning was somewhere between feeble and non-existent. Never has an audience (including me) laughed so hard or so much. If something is funny, it's funny. If it isn't, chilling the audience won't help.

Matt R said...

As one of the poor souls at the GOING GOING GONE dress rehearsal, I second this. Aaron Altman's sweat patterns were nothing compared to mine that night.

Cowboy Surfer said...

I never let the set go over 70.

MikeKPa. said...

The National Refrigeration Council. Proud supporters of TV comedy for more than 70 years.

E. Yarber said...

The connection between audiences and cold goes back a hundred years. Barney Balaban, who was later president of Paramount, had worked as a bookkeeper for a cold storage plant in Chicago. When the temperature was high, they'd keep the office cool by poking a hole in the wall of the ice house and having a fan blow through it. After building the Chicago's Central Park Theater in 1918, he got the idea of keeping the place open in summer by building an ice plant next to it and piping the cold air into the auditorium exactly as they'd done back in his bookkeeping days. When motion pictures were silent, the theaters had been able to keep their doors open in hot weather, but talkies were forcing them to enclose their audiences inside. Paramount owned over 2,000 theaters of their own, and Balaban had the idea to outfit them with air conditioning, which became as much of a selling point in some areas as the films on display.

Anonymous said...

So is the corollary that Drama needs to be hot?

Unknown said...

Since you brought up audiences, here's a Friday question: You won the TV lottery! NBC is giving you the go ahead on reviving an old popular show (since Will& Grace, Murphy Brown (?) and Roseann was such a success). What show would you do (can't be your own, sorry)? WKRP? (the trials and tribulations when they go to streaming radio) Dick Van Dyke show? (Richie is now a TV writer) Hudson Brother's Razzle DAzzle show? Bob Newhart? He is now a radio psychologist?...oh wait...
What would you do?

VincentS said...

Just came across this on IMDB, Ken: /tvseriesfinale.com/tv-show/frasier-kelsey-grammer-hints-that-a-revival-will-be-announced-soon/

Kaleberg said...

I saw Lena Horne on her final tour in Washington DC during a heatwave. It was 106F out. Horne hated air conditioning. It was at least 106F in the theater, probably warmer. She was pretty damned amazing, and the audience loved her. We loved her. She got her laughs and her applause as well.

Myles Warden said...

Ellen joked about the temp on Letterman the other day on her show because she likes it cold too. Some producer confirmed the temp David used to keep it at it. I think it was 58. Some websites say as low as 55. FRIGID for a building.

Madame Smock said...

Did they perform Oh! Calcutta! at 60 degrees ?

VP81955 said...

A Friday question for Ken:

Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of KHJ's 48-hour "History of Rock & Roll" (https://www.dailynews.com/2019/02/19/radio-khj-made-history-itself-by-presenting-the-history-of-rock-and-roll-50-years-ago/). Did you listen to much of the original version? What did you think of it? I understand KRLA, a Top 40 competitor, had just begun an hour-long weekly historical series that lasted over the course of a year -- did you hear parts of that one too?

In 1970, Drake-Chenault authorized syndicated versions of the "history" to air on local stations; I recall WOLF in Syracuse (which had a Drake "more music" format but may not have been an "official" station) did a "history" for several hours on successive Saturday nights hosted by Don Bombard (later known as Bob Shannon on WCBS-FM in New York).

Filippo said...

If somebody told me that somebody who is warm does not laugh I would think heʼs telling a joke.

Joseph Scarbrough Puppet Productions said...

60 degrees is freezing? Come on, I keep the inside of my house set at 60 all year - it's comfortable and livable - especially during our brutal and unforgiving summers where it's not uncommon to jump well into the 90s (and sometimes even higher) outside.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I thought the other reason was that Letterman didn't want to sweat on stage. I was always amazed none of the actresses wearing those skimpy little dresses turned blue.

wg

MikeN said...

Jo Scarbrough, Obama does not approve.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJJetURziTQ

Janet Ybarra said...

It certainly makes sense overheated audiences aren't going to laugh.

But does that mean there can't be a happy medium?