Edited By Al Bahmani
It’s late Friday night and a comic hears a knock at his hotel room door. A half dressed cutie stands there and says, “I saw your show tonight and got so turned on that I want you to make love to me tonight!“. The comic asks, “Was it the early or the late show?“.
There is nothing a comic takes more personally than bombing. Most would rather be accused of a crime than to be exposed to the uncomfortable stares of entertainment inadequacy. You never see it coming. The Bomb assumes its position when you least expect it. There is no clue as to its arrival, no prep for its ire and certainly no remedy for its results. Pre-bomb symptoms often take on flu like qualities. They include a sudden hot flash, a tightening in your vocal area, watery eyes, confusion and that one bead of sweat that develops somewhere in the middle of your back and rolls precisely through ass crack center. No matter how physically comedic or rhetorically gifted you are nobody is outside of its realm of influence. Many years ago I performed at the HBO comedy festival in Aspen and watched George Carlin stop in the middle of a taping and opt to close a showcase show later that night because the audience just wasn’t there for him.
Somewhere over the Rainbow…. If George Carlin can bomb, why oh why can’t I.
There are many ways to handle the Bomb, but as a comic who has experienced it few times and witnessed it many, I wanted to offer a few options as to how to address the humiliation with your head held high.
Step #1 – RECOGNIZE IT EARLY – Most competent comics know when it’s just not their night. Whether it’s the delivery, the material, the tall waiter in the front, the noisy table in the back, the bachelorette party, the older comic who moon walked at the end of his set, the fringe white comic who worked “nigger” into a Lone Ranger bit or the clever opening line you thought of in the wings that failed miserably – It all works against you, but if you fail…it’s still your fault.
Step #2 – KNOW WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE – First, you try your opener, when that doesn’t work you panic and start pressing. After burning through a few reliable premises and it’s clear that failure is imminent your instinct is to insult the audience, “I want you guys to grab each other’s numbers, keep in touch and never, ever gather as an audience again”. That’s mine . The facial expressions of the comics in the back of the room tell your story. No matter how much other comics like you as a person they get joy out of your collapse, and you know it. Just as you would theirs. As a last ditch effort you go into your closer hoping for a faint piece of laughter to neutralize your final ounce of fail. After that collapse you try to negotiate your exit as quickly as possible but the microphone stand is farther away than you remember and the mic holders diameter is less that it was when you initially pulled it out. The audience has somehow stopped their slow clap and you’re still on stage making eye contact only with the floor as you loudly stuff the mic into the still shrinking plastic circle. Your MC begrudgingly reminds them of your name and you rush past them mentally preparing excuses that nobody wants to hear.
Step #3 – WALK THAT SHIT OFF – When you bomb a negative energy surrounds you that shouldn’t be imposed on others, it’s almost fart-like. Other comics would rather not be associated with “that comic who bombed”, know this, understand and respect it. It’s not personal. No matter how close you are, no comic wants the stench of Bomb anywhere near them. Leave the stage. Head for the door. Walk as far as you can while evaluating what went wrong. Find a bar. Have a shot or two. Call someone you love. Come back to ground zero and…
Step #4 – PRETEND IT NEVER HAPPENED – Personally, I’d rather people think I’m crazy than to acknowledge failure. After bombing it’s better to talk about anything other than your set. Honestly, you don’t want to hear what people thought went wrong, so why ask them? If you feel Bomb coming on (see Step #2) think of something interesting to talk about after the deed is done. Flood people with so much information that they forget about what they watched you do on stage. Make your performance only a small part of why people remember you. If you can’t be funny, be interesting.
Step #5 – SELL YOUR PRODUCT ANYWAY – What’s weird about the anatomy of the Bomb is that there will be people who will want to buy your CD/DVD anyway. This is a tough one to break down. Maybe it’s because they feel sorry for you and genuinely think you need the 10 bucks or maybe your product is part of a twisted fund raising scavenger hunt benefitting spina bifida. Either way, you’d be surprised at the silver lining that is revenue after such misery on stage.
Most importantly, the best of us sometimes bomb and the worst of us sometimes do well so it’s best not to invest too much into either end of the spectrum.
Hopefully these steps will provide help or maybe even therapy for the true comics rite of passage that is bombing. However, if you find that it happens too often maybe stand-up just isn’t for you, in that case…there’s always radio.
Billy D. Washington is a former Harris County Deputy Constable in Harris County, Texas (Houston) turned international touring headliner. He’s been seen on “Last Comic Standing” and “The Late Show With Craig Ferguson” and the movie “Arlington Road”. He is also an accomplished musician and playwright.