By Kat Goldman
What is “ banter? ” Dictionary.com says it is “ an exchange of light, playful, teasing remarks,” or “ good natured raillery.”
Folk singers love to use banter in between songs when they are on stage. This differs from the real rock stars when, at best, they will mumble a short “ thank ye’ , thank ye’ ” in between their songs, and usually it is in a sexy, British accent. Have you ever noticed how rock stars remain more mysterious the less they say ?
But folkies know that using banter is always a great way to win over their audience, for the crowd to get to know you better, and to ease tension.
I once knew a guy from Nashville who used to spend a half hour backstage writing out and memorizing his banter before the show. He was good at it, but he sure took his time. This raises the question: how long should your banter be in between your songs?
Too long is not good, but you still want to develop a rapport with the audience. Rule of thumb: when the audience starts to “boo,” or when they begin to talk amongst themselves, you know your banter has gone on too long. This is your cue to quickly SWING your guitar back in place and start singing again- immediately- like there’s no tomorrow. (Your guitar will also block the last few legumes that audience members may have been directing at you, as your banter became wearisome.)
My friend Glen says to just act natural in your banter. What I like to do is talk about my relationship issues with the audience. I will ask them:
“Do you think I should leave my boyfriend? Or do you think I should not leave him?”
“Stay? Or Go?” I will ask. I figure someone might have some good advice for me, so why not put it “out there?”
“Leave him!” Some guy will yell. Then I will give him one of my CD’s away for free at the end of the show. I always find their suggestions so helpful !
One time I played in Manhattan and Tony Bennett was in the audience! (That is, he was in the audience watching his daughter’s jazz set before mine. He took off in his limo just before I got on stage…)
That night, I thought I would deliver some friendly banter in between songs. But I must have gone into it a bit too long because suddenly my manager called out:
It’s a good thing Tony Bennett missed it.
I once saw a folksinger tell some epic story about his life:
“I grew up in Minneapolis … (nine minutes later)… I wrote this song when my mother left us….” He went on and on. It was a disaster! One woman began to cry, but that was because she was drunk. Some guy in the front row fell asleep and started snoring, loudly.
So you see, it’s important to learn just what is the appropriate length of your banter. Also, put some thought into what will be your content. Stay away from inappropriate jokes and never mock a member of your audience. For example, don’t yell out to someone “Nice hairdo!”
Try not to read your banter from notes. It never hurts to memorize, but mostly it should flow naturally. You can introduce your next song if it is necessary, or else, leave them guessing. And remember when somebody yells “GET THE HOOK!” it’s definitely time to move on.