In comedy, there’s a term that a lot of comedians use — “bombing” or “to bomb.” This isn’t an act of terrorism or a threat to national security. Although the definition of bombing is different to every comic, we all have our own degree of failure to classify bombing. Some comics look at it like it’s the end of the world; I look at it like a learning experience. One thing is for sure, I never think it’s the crowd’s fault. Every crowd at a comedy show knows they’re at a comedy show. It’s our job as comedians to make people laugh. Sounds easy enough, right? But it is actually one of the hardest forms of public speaking. Being funny in a conversation is easy. Doing it when everyone is expecting humor, now that takes away the element of surprise, so you have to be twice as witty and masterful.
Being funny can feel natural, but being funny on stage takes work and preparation. Just talking in a mirror or writing things down in your pocket-sized notebook isn’t all it takes to make yourself funnier. You have to perform it in front of real people. Most of the time, if you’re just starting out, you can’t just go down to the local comedy club and try out material to a paying audience. So your only resource is an open mic. Let me be the first to tell you, there’s nothing glorious about an open mic. They are just practice. And like in any sport, no one keeps stats at practice. You just, for lack of a better term, throw shit on a wall and see what sticks. In doing so, you will bomb hard and often. The best thing to do when this happens is to make the best of it. Every time you get on stage should be a learning experience. Here’s are some of my biggest bombs and what I’ve learned from each one.
My first real bomb happened at an open mic within my first few months of comedy. I thought I was hilarious at the time, like every other up and coming open mic’r. I was at a Thursday open mic, at a bar known as the Blue Martini. This is what some people would call an “urban” mic; I like to just call it a black room. Probably as hood and as aggressive a crowd you could ask for. And I’m going up on stage for the 20th time or so, and after two minutes of me staring at the floor, muscling through my mediocre punch lines and dirty jokes, all I hear is silence the whole time. Not a laugh, not a “boo,” just completes silence. Me and my ego couldn’t take it anymore, so I just stopped. Put the mic in the mic stand and walked off stage. The second that happened, the audience, full of drunk men and women, all in unison, all say “Aww.” They felt bad for me! I was so bad that night they didn’t even have the urge to boo me. From that explosion on stage, I learned what I did wrong. The jokes weren’t the worst part. My stage presence was horrible. I didn’t engage with the audience at all. I looked down at my shoes the whole time I was on stage. The audience saw I wasn’t confident. And they ate that alive. So from then on, I worked on stage presence and appearing confident. Always look out into the crowd. Make eye contact throughout the joke. Say everything like I mean it. Still a work in progress, but I can at least identify my problems.
My next great bomb was at an indie show in Solon, at the Terry Macklin Center. I’m a little over a year into comedy and I once again thought I was great. I haven’t done any big shows or been in a comedy club yet. This was my first time doing a real big show. 700 people were in attendance, mostly full of an older, black audience.. I got up on stage, saying jokes that are based on pop culture and recent rap songs. And I referred to the crowd as old, just to add insult to injury. They didn’t just “boo” me, they gave me the classic Apollo, get off the stage hand waves. I wish I could blame them, but when you tell a crowd with the average age over 55 that “they are so old that they buy their weed with AARP cards, can’t really be shocked at how they respond. After that sad and depressing death on stage, I realized I needed to write more material that is universal to people. That I needed to start writing material that works with audiences, no matter age or race. I needed that bomb to happen to get me to open my eyes to the fact that I have to get out of my comfort zone. Everyone doesn’t live on Twitter or Facebook. Everyone doesn’t look on blog sites for the latest celebrity gossip. Most people just care about real life. I needed that bomb to know I needed to be better.
That brings me to my third and most important bomb, the 2014 Cleveland Comedy Festival. This bomb hurt the most because I could gauge my skill level to other comedians in real time. This was a real competition; and I had months to prepare for it. I wrote jokes that I believed in and everything. But when I took the stage in my prelim round, CRICKETS! Jokes that worked in comedy clubs all around northeast Ohio all of a sudden weren’t good enough. After I realized that I wasn’t just the jokes that failed, it was my delivery. Not just the way I said them, but the context in which I presented them. I didn’t warm the crowd up at all. I just started telling my jokes. Didn’t warm up to them, didn’t introduce myself, just straight set up, punch line. And that’s when I learned it wasn’t just about jokes. It’s about performing. People have to like who you are, or at least relate to your character somehow so they can see the humor in what you are saying. You have to give the audience a chance to keep up with what you’re trying to say.
With all that being said, I’m still learning, one bomb at a time. With every hard knock, I got one to grow on. Can’t make an omelet without cracking a few eggs. And insert any other cliché motivational saying you want. Point being, no one is the ultimate comedian. Bombing can be useful as long as you look at it objectively. If you always kill it on stage, what will you do when you encounter a crowd that doesn’t love you out the gate? You have to be able to adapt. Thinking on your feet has to be apart of your skill set. Hopefully if you’re an up and coming comic, this makes those bumps in the road not seem like earthquakes. May the odds be in your favor.