With stand-up comedy, it’s not like a play or a movie where if people don’t like it they can go, ‘Well, we didn’t like the set, or the script, or the costumes.’ With stand-up comedy, if people don’t like it they’re basically saying, ‘We don’t like you. You know…your personality.’ – Mike Birbiglia
The karma of comedy has an eerie way of balancing out an ego. I’ve been living pretty high on the hog lately. I performed in New York, featured at the Improv twice, and had my first radio spot all within the span of a month! I was feeling unstoppable. This weekend I bombed. Atomically. So like an Aikido Black Belt, the karmic cycle of comedy used my own momentum against me.
Bombing is perhaps one of the most frustrating, sad, depressing, enraging, sometimes hilarious experiences that a comedian can go through. It is a staple of the comedy landscape. If you’re a comic who’s never wandered through the minefield of a bad show, you’re either the best comedian God has ever created, or you’re a delusional lunatic.
This past weekend, I stunk up the joint. I was hosting a one-nighter in the suburbs of Pittsburgh on Saturday night. It was in the back of a restaurant and it truly was a good-looking room. Nice sound. Spot light. Alas, those accouterments didn’t help me. My set sucked so hard Dyson is looking to purchase the legal rights.
Bombing as an MC is a fairly typical occurrence though. MC’s have three goals (in order of importance): focus the audience’s attention on the stage, read announcements (drink specials, 50-50 raffles, who’s car is getting towed), and make the audience laugh.
Unfortunately, I constantly forget that the MC really isn’t there to crush the room. I’m there to warm the audience up, get them used to the idea of listening to someone talk into a microphone. Then I tell a few jokes, announce that there are 2 dollar “you-call-its,” and get off stage. But that’s not enough for me at this point. I need to kill. If bomb or even just have an average show, I walk off-stage feeling like a complete fraud.
We are responsible for our own actions. So allow me to express some culpability for the bad performance: I had not written any new material in a month, I had not performed at an open mic for nearly two weeks, and I had not taken time to get focused before the show. I figured I could just skate by and do well. But within 30 seconds of stepping onto the cold stage, I knew that my lack of hard work was going to come back to haunt me.
The person that said, “There’s no such thing as a bad audience,” was a moron. I bought into this theory when I was a wide-eyed youngster. All it did was make me internalize guilt for bad shows. I’ve since realized that the audience is also responsible for the energy of the room. It’s maybe not entirely their fault though. They were lured into the situation with the vague promise of “comedy.” However, taste in comedy is much like taste in food. And you wouldn’t walk up to a restaurant that just said “Food” and expect the menu to only have Gluten-Free Vegan Pizza.
This particular audience seemed hell bent on having a bad time. A couple came in late and sat at the front table with their arms crossed. The guy sneered maliciously the whole time. His face looked like he had just double-crossed me in some awful soap opera and was prepared to deliver the shocking revealation.
But what you don’t understand Jeff…is that I switched the briefcase.
One woman kept groaning with disgust at every innocuous set-up:
Me: I don’t understand people who don’t like zoo’s…
Lady (offended): Awwww!
Me: Shopping malls are kinda weird.
Lady (horrified): AWW! No! Let the malls alone!
The lesson learned here is you can never control how an audience is going to react, but you can control your level of comfort by coming to the show focused and ready. If you’ve done your homework and give your best, then you can leave the show and the urge to crawl into a sewer drain and live underground for the rest of your life will be minimal at least.
I’ve broken a cardinal rule with this blog post:
Never let them know you’re bombing… – Steve Martin