Entertainer Victim Work

How to lose 1000 friends in 5 minutes

Entertainers like to bring volunteers out of the audience up on to stage, or talk to them in the audience. This is referred to as “victim work.”

Like vomiting in an elevator, it’s a powerful way to get bigger responses without even doing it right.

If you do it really wrong, it can go really wrong. If you do it a little bit wrong, you’re missing out on the potential of how great it can be.


There are definitely moral choices involved in how you use someone on stage, but I’m not going to talk about that very much. Have morals, use them.

People being offended by what you do is a different situation. Audience members get offended by whatever they want because they want to be offended by it. There is no direct connection between morals, ethics, and offensiveness.

If you’re trying to make some show that is inclusive, then doing generically offensive things, probably won’t help you. The many reasons that your audience might not like what you do with a volunteer all factor in to making a good show.

They’re the avatar

The whole audience is watching this victim and putting themselves in their shoes. This is THE reason volunteer work is so effective for a master and the way you can lose your whole audience when you fuck it up. It’s like every person in the crowd gets a one-on-one experience on stage.

Here are seven ways to not lose your friends.

1. Need

A bit with a volunteer on stage for no reason is the worst. The volunteer must be crucial to the success of the act. Is your victim just standing there while you do a funny dance with the hope that they will look embarrassed? I’ve seen this kinda thing. It’s worthless.

2. Fun

The show is fun (whatever that means to you) and is a game of challenge, surprise, and reward. The volunteer’s experience must be this same thing perfectly executed. So,

  1. The victim tasks need to be clearly laid out. CLEAR DIRECTION FOR EVERY MOMENT!
  2. The goals need to be attainable.
  3. The reward needs to be worth it.
  4. The challenges the victim faces must be doable, but not infantile.

3. Heroism

This person is a hero. This is your way to celebrate the whole audience. By positioning this volunteer above yourself, you put everyone in the room on a pedestal. Feels good.

I tell Becky to reach in a bag, pull out an orange. She does it. I say, “Fuckin’ Becky! She just killed it! Amazing orange pulling!” I just told the audience “you guys don’t have to do much and when you do it, when you show me you’re on my side, I will celebrate you. You’re in a place of love, encouragement, and success. Let’s see where we can go together!”

4. Reaction

People will be watching the victim’s emotional reaction. When we watch a movie, we depend on the reaction shot to understand a conversation. You gotta find ways to get positive reactions from your volunteer, or things will not go well.

This guy is being silly.
This guy is being mean.

5. Comfort

I’m not a fan of comfort in entertainment, so I’m not going to encourage you make you volunteer comfy, but I will tell you the audience will feel the discomfort immediately. You don’t need to do anything to make them more uncomfortable to get a laugh. The tension is already there. A demeaning joke or embarrassing costume is not necessary.

Can you relieve the tension with a rewarding act? Something that really pays off? This is the whole point in the first place. Make something good.

6. Humanity

The humanity of the victim is why we’re doing this. If you treat them like a prop, you’ve lost all. You just irked the audience and threw away a potent power. Look them in the eye, remember their name, give them something to do that only a human can do. React genuinely to what they do and say. Listen.

7. Celebration

Give the rest of the audience a chance to celebrate the victim, and they’re celebrating themselves. This is you giving away a valuable thing that you have ( fame ) to this person who has helped you. We’re all waiting for chances to give that volunteer love, specify those moments and it’s edifying for us too.

Written for folks who want to attract and energize groups

Scot Nery is an emcee who has helped some of the biggest companies in the world achieve entertainment success. He's on an infinite misson to figure out what draws people in and engages them with powerful moments.

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