You’re up on stage at the Comedy Store, you start your act and lay out your first joke and it doesn’t get a laugh. You feel your face flush.
You say your second joke and it doesn’t get a laugh.
Suddenly the light is brighter. The sweat glands in your scalp activate. Beads of sweat form on your forehead.
Someone in the audience clears their throat.
You say your third joke. Nothing. You stutter a little.
You try to shake it off and smile but it seems that you forgot how to work your face.
Time slows down. It’s ‘Inception’-slow. You’re in the 3rd level; 10 seconds seems like an hour and you ask yourself, has it been seven minutes yet?
That’s when the realization strikes you; Holy shit. I’m bombing!
I’m eating it with a shovel.
I’m face-planting it into Bandini Mountain.
I’m shitting the bed!
You try to act cool. Your butt tightens, you try to pretend it doesn’t bother you, but even pretending becomes impossible. You continue with your material hoping that the next joke will win them over… will it?
Bombing has happened to everyone. Whether it’s one joke, ten jokes or an entire act. Whether it’s on stage or in a group of people we’ve all said something hoping for a laugh and have, at one time or another, gotten no response and we all feel that failure.
But comedians have it harder. We’re up on stage. We’re in the light. More is expected of us, because, after all, we’re comedians! The mere fact that we’re on stage at a comedy club or a comedy night, implies that we’ve got the goods…
So how does a comedian NEVER bomb? Is it possible?
I’ve been doing comedy for 27 years professionally and I can tell you that in that time, I’ve bombed about four or five times.
That’s it. And that was in the first few years.
At one point I was doing a show during a break for a friend’s band. I got up on stage and started doing my set, I wasn’t getting many laughs and I got visually nervous and these three drunk guys stood at the foot of the stage, one of them said, “look he’s bombing…” and they just started heckling; when one guy ran out of breath, the next guy took over where he left off.
It was miserable and I couldn’t recover.
That night I decided, I’m never bombing again.
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How did I do it?
First I made a couple of changes. I changed my definition of bombing. I changed it from “when my jokes don’t work, I’m bombing,” to “when the audience can’t stand me,” I’m bombing.
Then I wrote 30 or so responses to hecklers.
But I knew I needed more than that. I needed to understand the science behind why I was visually nervous and how to work through it. Once I understood the “why” I could begin to understand “how.” How to solve that problem.
It starts with:
- Audience Psychology – one of the greatest things a comedian can learn is the psychology behind an audience.
Most comedians don’t take the time to think about this.
According to a new documentary on comedy called “Alone Up There,” some of the comedians interviewed in the movie had a point of view that when a comedian takes the stage it’s “us against them.”
Do you think this is true? It’s not.
Think about it. You’ve been in the audience. You’ve watched comedians and when they take that stage. Are you sitting there with your arms folded saying “try to make me laugh douche bag!?”
No! You’re not.
You’re most likely waiting for that first joke to make you laugh. You’re want that comedian to make you feel good by getting you to laugh or think.
You’re always rooting for them, until they give you a reason not too.
Sure, there are some people in an audience that are there to try to heckle or otherwise interrupt a show, but the real ‘assholes’ are few and far between.
So, we as comedians, know at an intrinsic level, that the audience is rooting for us.
Now we just need to take that confidence to the stage.
Ricky Gervais said it best in an interview on Big Think: “Comedy is about empathy.”
The audience wants to root for you so give them a reason to.
This post is in 4 parts. Keep an eye on your email box as the parts will be separated by only a day or so… comments?