Bombing is the number one fear associated with doing stand-up comedy. When your show isn’t getting any laughs, life stops being a movie and you’re thrust into the awareness that you’re really here in front of people. A flush of tingly heat spreads over your face, all you can hear is a deafening roar of silence. Then your internal self-talk starts screaming, “Why am I doing this to myself!” Your mouth feels as if it’s stuffed with cotton, your heart is thumping in your chest, and beads of perspiration snake down your face. You’re experiencing what comedians call flop sweat.
If this description is enough to scare you away from wanting to be a comic, quit now because bombing is an inevitable aspect of being a funny person. Accept it and prepare yourself to deal with it resourcefully.
In one of my classes, a student had been bombing when I finally asked, “Have you noticed that no one has laughed in the last five minutes?” “Yes,” he replied, “but I didn’t want it to affect me.” But you should want it to affect you. It’ll feel so bad, you’ll want to do something about it.
If what you’re doing isn’t working – do anything else.
Anything else? Yes, anything else. You must have the flexibility to shift and change because anything different is better than repeating what isn’t working. The new thing you choose may not work either, but at least now you know two things to avoid.
Bombing isn’t just the suffering part of being a comic. It’s the learning part. If you never bomb, you’ll never learn. From bombing you usually learn what doesn’t work, which is just as important as knowing what does.
If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.
With comedy as with anything you learn, you’ll be bad at it when you begin. If it’s really worth doing you’ll continue to be bad, until you’re good. It’s just that in comedy, your faltering is so damn public.
You have a choice about how you respond to “eating the big one.” You can frame it as failure or feedback. If you choose to view bombing as failure, you’re bound for a spot among the multitudes who’ve tried stand-up a couple of times, bombed, felt like a loser, and quit. But if you want to do this for a living, you’ll find it very helpful to reframe bombing as useful feedback.
In comedy you get clear and instant feedback. The audience either laughs or doesn’t laugh. To improve your show, you must take responsibility for how it went, honestly face its shortcomings, and correct them.
What was your worst moment when bombing?
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