THE BLOG

Interactive Shows - You Have Nothing To Fear

04/08/2013 23:32 BST | Updated 04/10/2013 10:12 BST

There seems to have been an explosion of interactive comedy shows at the Edinburgh Fringe over the last three years, from Doctor Brown encouraging an audience member to become a bull to Adam Riches challenging punters to a game of swing-ball.

This year sees Knightmare Live guiding adventurers, blinded by an over sized helmet through a mythical dungeon and John Robertson's The Dark Room in which spectators choose their own adventure watched over by a floating head, challenging people to escape a non-existent room and handing out prizes made of random trinkets and quality software.

Yet popular as these performers shows are there is still an undercurrent of terror among audiences of "being picked on" - Which is a problem for someone like me whose act is entirely audience participation.

I perform an award-nominated comedy mind reading show (I Can Make You A Mentalist) which is part comedy sketch show, part mind reading show in which all of the mind tricks are performed by a random audience member and the one of first things potential ticket buyers say to me is "If I come, promise you won't pick on me".

I find this mindset worrying. The last thing I do in my show is "pick on people". I take a random person and turn them into a hero - all of my previews have ended in a standing ovation for the audience member and when I've spoken to them afterward they all said it was one of the best experiences of their lives.

I think it's root lies in the often adversarial environment some comedy clubs seem to revel in. The ones where you have a stand up looking for "victims" to wring humour from in the front row on one side and hecklers on the other. I've always felt this an unhealthy state of affairs and try to avoid playing clubs that pride themselves on it.

John Robertson from The Room refers to this lazy comedy cliché as "Goodeveningwhatdoyoudoyouarebadatithahahahahahahawhereareyoufromitsshithahahahahahaahahahah" - Dunno about you but it makes me shudder just thinking about it.

So what do you do if there's an interactive show you're desperate to see but you are terrified of being humiliated?

Here's my three point guide to seeing an interactive show without fear.

One: Sit at the front. Although this seems counter intuitive you are less likely to be chosen if you sit at the front because the last person we want on stage is someone desperate to be on stage and that's where they sit.

Adam Riches says "you can spot the eager ones and you really don't want that. It may be funny for a moment but it will ruin the dynamic".

Given the choice I'm far more likely to pick someone from the middle or back of the room than the front.

In fact, in my show it makes little difference as every single audience member is issued with a bag of props they need to use to propel the action in the show forward when they arrive at the venue.

You might not end up on stage but everyone is involved.

Two: Relax. Assuming you've chosen well and going to see a show like the one I've described rather than a stand- up comedy bear pit you need to remember that we need to perform a structured show. What that means is that we need anyone we select to come on stage, execute what ever role we have mapped out for you and leave without incident.

This means we need you onside & compliant - Not locked in a power struggle with us.

Anyone who steps on my stage is made to look like a hero not a fool because I need your help not your humiliation.

Everything is designed to get you onstage, have you inexplicably read someone's mind, get yourself a round of applause and leave as smoothly as possible.

Remember, it's no fun for us if it's not fun for you, John Robertson says ""I like to think I produce a sense of an inevitable party, "Come and play along, it's all part of the rolling clusterfudge".

Amée Smith from Knightmare Live likens good audience participation to "having a one-on-one chat that nearby people can overhear" which I tend to agree with, my show is structured so that a lot of it is like a two handed play where one of the people taking part a) isn't an actor and b) hasn't seen the script. Amée agrees it's about making the participant feel involved and important rather than humiliated "Making sure the participant feels involved in a conversation they want to have rather than put on display and mocked, that's important".

In fact the only time anyone has ever looked foolish in one of my shows has been when they have made themselves look a fool by messing around.

Which brings me onto the final point - How you can help us to help you.

Three: If we ask you to do something - Just do it! It isn't a battle of wits, we actually want you to win. One of the most difficult parts of doing an interactive show at Edfringe is that we all have really tight time slots (if we over run, we get fined) so if you make things difficult for us you kind of back us into a corner where for time reasons we have to abandon what we were planning to do but we still have to fill that space with a laugh. That in turn forces us to wring a laugh out of your conflict with us and that then has to be at your expense and none of us want that. Play nice and we'll look after you.

Interactive shows are meant to be fun, come and let us make stars of you.