Brain Chatter: The Laughter Paradox

October 20, 2016 Ron Tite

There comes a time in every standup comedian’s career when they become so successful that they can’t draw a crowd. Seems weird doesn’t it? It’s the “Laughter Paradox” and brands and content marketers can learn a lot from it. 

Here’s how Laughter Paradox occurs. When a comedian becomes a comedian, a lot of people in their immediate network genuinely want to come out and support the endeavour. The very first time I performed standup, I had a sellout crowd of over 100 family, friends and colleagues who wanted to support me. A select few may have popped in juuuuuuust in case there was an opportunity to rubber neck through an ill-timed performance disaster. We all love a train wreck and when they feature an elevated stage and spotlight on the proceedings the wreck is even more enjoyable, isn’t it? 

As I did more and more gigs, my friends continually showed up. I was incredibly grateful that someone would sacrifice a night away from their own interests and responsibilities to pay $10 to see me pursue mine. I appreciated those who attended but I certainly didn’t expect people to. 

Well, eventually everyone I knew had checked the “been-there-done-that” box and the novelty of seeing “Ronnie telling jokes” wore off. Hell, some had seen me so many times, they were actually mouthing the words to the punchlines as I said them. 

And that’s when I hit the wall. The Laughter Paradox. 

On one hand, I was good enough to have done so many performances that everyone I knew had seen me multiple times but on the other, I was still a nobody. The general public had no clue who I was and they certainly weren’t willing to trust a five-star review from my mother before committing to see me over more experienced pros.

I couldn’t draw a crowd. 

Sometimes, this wasn’t a huge issue because bringing the crowd to a 3rd party show wasn’t my responsibility. It was the producer’s or the club’s or the organizers’. But when I wanted to produce my own shows and generate my own ticket sales and have the freedom to do what I wanted for as long as I wanted, I couldn’t fill the room. Creating the content was easy and putting it up on stage was even easier but selling MY tickets, developing MY audience, and MY getting my crowd’s eyeballs on it was incredibly difficult. 

At that point, I did what many comedians do and what many brands should do: 
I created content partnerships. 

Young comedians in their first year of comedy may not have the experience of a road warrior but they certainly bring a crowd. Putting a newbie comic on the bill isn’t an exercise in mentorship, it’s an exercise in survival. Headliners don’t really want to the comics themselves, they want their mothers and cousins and neighbours and friends. They want the audience. Throw in a sketch troupe and it’s even better. 

Content needs and audience and you may not be able to deliver it on your own. 

Many brands and thought leaders are experiencing the Laughter Paradox (even though there many be nothing funny about their communications). Let me guess…

You launched your blog (or podcast or web series or e-Mag) with great fanfare and investment. You got great traction. You got great reviews. You pulled some good numbers. And then you moved on to other things expecting that the groundswell of support would continue even though those first interactions were the easy ones. They were your Brand Champions, your Loyalty Larrys, your Endearing Endorsers (or whatever other proprietary term your VP suggested you call them). You based your success on the low hanging fruit and suddenly they’ve moved on. 

Now what?

Well here’s what:

Roll up the sleeves. 

Stay in the trenches. 

Stick to the plan. 

Get into the habit of an on-going content creation process.

And once and for all, commit to building your own audience instead of continually renting them from others. 

Until your own audience is an appropriate size, partner with complementary brands who can bring their audience to your content proceedings. Extend your audience to complementary brands that your audience will enjoy or get value from. Make sure you both have something to win.

While you’re scurrying around creating content, remember that its distribution is just as important.

Every artist needs an audience. Who can help you build yours? 


Ron Tite is CEO of The Tite Group and co-author of “Everyone’s an Artist (or at least they should be)” recently published by HarperCollins. 

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