When Comics Fail: How I Learned to Love the Bomb Part 1
Oh man, bombing.
It is the worst. For you readers who don’t practice stand-up comedy and have never experienced a bomb, it’s hard to describe the feeling. It’s like being slapped in the face by someone with clammy hands. Or getting offered change by a beggar. Or losing to a Nickelback fan at chess. It hurts.
You need a lot of confidence to stand in front of people you don’t know, and say “Hey, you guys are gonna find this funny.”
When they reply, “No, you are definitely wrong about that,” it is a blow. This kind of public, harsh rejection is the sort that scars kids in elementary school and creates life-long shy guys.
In fact, many studies that rank common phobias have rated public speaking as number one, higher even than death. People would rather die for realz than die onstage. And stand-up comics choose to go through this experience fairly often. Are we crazy? Masochists? Definitely some of us, but it is simply a fact that to become a decent comic, you WILL bomb. Many times. Worse, it could happen when you don’t even DESERVE it.
Here are some reasons I have seen comics with solid material that killed in other situations bomb like the Enola Gay:
- The audience didn’t appreciate their style of humour.
- The only people watching were other comics who rarely laugh out loud.
- The venue was super hot or cold, and people were physically uncomfortable.
- The show ran too long and the audience became fed up.
- They were opening for a more popular act, whose fans wanted to see them RIGHT NOW and were angry about being forced to wait.
The thing is, no one is really ever safe from the bomb. Sure, master comics have reduced their chances of bombing to near zero, but it does still happen.
A lot of fuss was made when Louis CK
How could one of the best comics alive today, with decades of experience under his belt, bomb? Did Louis bomb in the noob sense, delivering jokes in a quavering voice to an audience with their arms crossed, shaking their heads in horrible silence? Of course not. He probably couldn’t bomb that bad if he tried. It was merely a lacklustre set, and not up to the standards he’d established for himself. Thus, he considered it a bomb.
“Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb.”
And judging from his article, bombing doesn’t suck any less when you’re an established, veteran comic. In fact, it probably sucks more. He had these words to say about bombing in this interview for Esquire Magazine:
“Bombing means: You lost them, they’re gone, and you just roast in hell until your time is up. You want to get offstage. But you also don’t want to get offstage till you can solve it. Millions of things race through your head, but it’s mostly visceral. It’s mostly in your gut: Your stomach gets a shitty feeling, your throat constricts, you can’t breathe in a natural rhythm, you’re too aware of how you’re breathing. It’s like being high, but bad. You feel your pulse in your head. If you’ve lost the audience, the silence becomes horrible and your instinct is to keep talking fast. If you can respond by keeping your head cool — like you’ve got to actually will the sweat back into your forehead; I’ve actually been able to do that — and talking at the same pace, and letting there be quiet, and letting them know you’re okay, you can actually pull out of the nosedive.
I bombed at the Improv in L. A. about two years ago. I didn’t even get through the set. As I tried to tell my jokes, I felt like a kid trying to retell jokes that some comedian he saw did. I couldn’t make my mouth move.”
The other thing that sucks about bombing is that what constitutes a bomb is totally subjective to the comic. When I first began practicing stand-up comedy, I considered a bomb to be utter silence. These days, I feel like I’ve bombed if the quality or length of laughter doesn’t match my expectations.
What can we do to deal with it? Here are some thoughts on staying positive after a bad performance:
- Remind yourself that it’s just one set. Would you beat yourself up over one bad step if you were walking across North America?
- Be realistic about the venue and forgive yourself. Did you even have a chance to succeed?
- Think about how every comic bombs. Probably other comics who performed with you tonight did as well.
- Stand-up comedy is extremely difficult. Just by taking the stage, you have shown yourself to be a driven and brave person. Even if you suck, that’s worth something.
- Spend some time watching your favourite comics and get pumped up again. (I have watched the documentary “Comedian” more times than I can count for this reason). They were once bombing and feeling the exact same way…
- Reward yourself for getting out there and taking one on the chin. Have a post-show beer, order some poutine, or whatever you do to cheer yourself up. You deserve it.
- Go edit right away – use the negative energy as motivation to improve the jokes that fell flat.
After all this whining and moaning about a necessary part of the art form, I do see a silver lining. Other than slicing your ego to ribbons and making you want to quit stand-up, I think bombing is super useful. In fact, tomorrow we will go over 5 reasons why, like Stanley Kubrick, I learned to love the bomb, and maybe you can too.
I’ll leave you with a clip of a comic named Phil who performs out of Finland who recently performed in a “no win” situation on a tram in Helsinki. His blog entry about the affair demonstrates a positive attitude toward the experience, and an ability to laugh at oneself that bombing can help develop.