One of the first things people ask me when they find out I do comedy (besides “how the hell are you going to make any money?”) is how I cope with failure, or bombing a set. To most people, this is viewed as the worst possible thing that can happen to a comedian, its a common nightmare that we all have when it comes to public speaking: trying to be funny or try to make a point, and no one responds. While it certainly isn’t the greatest feeling in the world, and I can’t exactly speak for every comedian in the world, what I can say though what most comedians will tell you is that bombing comes with the territory. Its part of the process. In order to understand what works in your act, you need to fail every once in awhile. Comedians of all levels will bomb an open mic or too before they leave the stage forever. Its just what happens. What’s thrilling to me about doing open mics and trying out new material is that it really could go either way: you could either kill, or bomb. The worst feeling for me comedically speaking is not being able to take that chance: to be sitting on a ton of material and not be able to even test it.
Throughout my life, I have experienced failure in the things that I have done. Everyone does at some point in time. But beyond my horrible foray into baseball as a child. That was the one time in my life where I feel like there was nothing I could really salvage from that failure. No matter what happens in this life, I will always hold over my parents head the fact that they continued to sign me up to be on baseball teams despite the fact that I had the hand eye coordination of a hyperactive Gerbil. I think the highlight of my “career” was the time a baseball hit me so hard, my thumbnail came off. But enough about that, lets get back to the point. While I might have failed a decent amount in my life, I always believe that failure is a great teaching tool. If you get something out of that failure, you’re still moving forward to some degree. Just sitting back and dwelling on it will keep you in the same spot. I think this is one of the many factors that led to me pursuing comedy: when it comes to comedy, you need to improve off your failure.
The first time I bombed, I could see it coming. I just got a bad vibe from it. I messed up my pre-gig ritual. The pages of my Moleskine were falling apart. I was following a pretty well known comedian in the local circuit, who (as always) killed her set. It was just bad comedic juju. As I got up on stage, the meager amount of people there could smell my fear. It was so strong that even the Old Spice Guy would have objected to its fragrance. Hesitantly, I told my first joke, the opener, the one thats supposed to get everyone going….it fell flat, hard. The lack of noise in that room was palatable, beyond a guy in the back eating chicken wings with the gusto of a Velociraptor and making noises scarily similar to the time I tried to cook Top Ramen in my microwave. We usually remember the times filled with noise, but times of silence can be just as powerful. I’ll never forget that silence for as long as I live. Never one to back down, I solidered on, and continued with my act. I don’t remember the context, but I do remember vaguely at one point talking about potatoes, and that sparked a few pity laughs from the crowd. I normally view pity laughs as very frustrating useages of space and noise, but anything to break this agonizing 5 minutes of silence was fine by me. Thankfully, I finally reached my final joke, and apologized to the crowd and said I’d do better next time. It was a good room, so they applauded, appreciating my willingness to stand up there and basically talk to myself. And while that initial failure really hurt, it refreshing in a way. With that failure, I understood what I needed to do. I realized that night, that this wasn’t just something I did as a hobby. I realized this was something I needed to do to survive. If I go too long without performing or writing, I get incredibly cranky. If I’m mad, I’m either hungry, or haven’t performed in a couple of weeks. So rather than lettings this failure drive me away from doing comedy, it drew me closer to the art form. I appreciated it, because I realized how hard it really was going to be to accomplish anything in the field. And that night I realized I was willing to do whatever it took to get there. Even stand in front of a bunch of drunk people staring at me, not saying a word.
From that point on, Bombing didn’t seem that scary. And neither did failure. Things don’t always go right, you’re bound to fail at some point. That’s just life. The key is what you do with that failure. If you are willing to fail and learn from it, nothing will stop you. I know I’ll bomb again at some point. I’m trying my best to have that not happen the next time I perform. Or the next time. But I know that at some point it’ll happen. But I now know that by failing one night doesn’t mean I should give up comedy. Its just another opportunity to learn more about the art form I’ve grown to love.