SMH: Barry Humphries is a reminder that we should laugh the phrase ‘read the room’ out of existence

David Free writes:

First, notice that we’re talking about the room. The definite article seems important. Nobody has accused Humphries of forgetting how to read a room. Comedians prize the ability to read the rooms they perform in. To lose that knack would indeed be a calamity.

But unless they’re abject hacks, comedians don’t read a room so they can overhaul their entire act on the spot, and tell the room exactly what it wants to hear. All good performers give audiences part of what they want, but push back against them too. Only by challenging an audience can you make it think, and maybe even change a few minds.

The injunction to read the room is more sweeping and less negotiable. It implies that the whole world is one big room now. There are no walls anymore, no discrete theatres or intimate audiences. Apparently, we’re now meant to gauge the mood of the entire planet before venturing a joke or opinion about anything.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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