The coolest thing about being a cruise ship comedian is I get to perform stand-up for children way too young to visit comedy clubs on land. One night, this adorable little Chinese-American girl in the front row raised her hand halfway through my set.
“Do you have a question, Sweetheart?”
“Yes. When does the good part start?”
Needless to say, the audience went nuts.
Feigning outrage, I said, “Hey, Kid—I don’t come down to where you work and knock the iPhone parts out of your hand, do I?”
As the wave of laughter washed over me, I stuck out my tongue and did a victory dance. Apparently, this was the funniest thing her little brother had ever seen. And when he jumped out of his seat to hi-five me, their parents lost it as well.
I thought I had won that round until the unimpressed cutie opened her coloring book, started coloring and shouted—with perfect timing, “Boring!”
Point. Set. Match.
The difference between a ship’s youth counselor and a ship’s comedian is one entertains immature crybabies and the other entertains their children. That’s why I love having kids at my shows. They save me the trouble of dumbing my act down by explaining my jokes to their parents.
Why are little kids such a joy to perform for? Well, for one thing, little kids don’t drink. Or, if they do, it’s usually just a beer or two to take the edge off of all that free ice cream. Because they’re sober, little kids pay attention. And, for boat acts such as myself, getting the audience to pay attention is half the battle. When your typical adults-only, midnight-show crowd consists of inebriated NASCAR fans whose idea of whispering during a live performance is talking with their mouths full, a front row filled with enchanted third-graders staring up at you in wide-eyed fascination is like a breath of fresh, non-rum-and-tequila-scented air.
Because my family show contains inoffensive yet mature material aimed at adult fans of clean comedy, most of my punchlines sail right over the munchkins’ heads. But most kids don’t seem to care. They seem perfectly happy just to be there witnessing my show, if not participating in it. I can almost see the wheels in their tiny noggins spinning as they struggle to wrap their hungry brains around the novel concept of stand-up comedy: “Who is this real-life wizard up on the stage magically making grown-ups laugh with nothing other than the words coming out of his mouth? Can I become a comedian when I grow up or are my grades too good?”
Don’t get me wrong. Performing stand-up for children can be daunting, especially for newer acts. The way our cruise line bills our family-friendly shows can sometimes make the comic’s job more challenging than it needs to be. Parents hear the phrase “family-friendly” and mistakenly assume that our family-friendly shows are for kids. They’re not. They’re for adults. Adults who want to enjoy a professional comedy show without entrusting overworked and sleep-deprived youth counselors to keep Junior from following a bouncy ball over the bow of the ship. Unfortunately, some parents bring their too-young-to-understand toddlers to the comedy club expecting to find an on-board Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theater. Although enthralled grade-schoolers can energize a front row, do you have any idea how hard it is to deliver perfectly timed punchlines with an exhausted rug rat screeching, crying and climbing on his seat—three feet from the stage? It’s enough to make a comic wish he were at Chuck E. Cheese so he could play a nerve-soothing game of “Whack a Two Year Old.”
Even though entertaining adults and kids at the same time with the same jokes is the stand-up comedy equivalent to skiing a black-diamond run, the sense of accomplishment I feel at the bottom of the hill is exhilarating. Nothing makes my day like stepping off an elevator onto Lido Deck and watching a star-struck little boy point up to me and say, “Look, Mommy, it’s that funny lady from the comedy show!”
Nothing, that is, except watching his big sister grin from ear to ear and shout, “Boring!”