“You can’t please ’em all.”
Now there’s an oft-spouted aphorism from the comedy world, lemme tell you.
This is a general kind of excuse you can drop to someone who has walked off the stage, not to thunderous applause but to deafening silence.
Welcome to the wonderful world of bombing.
I find stand-up comedy far more appealing to perform than theatre, mainly for the immediate response you receive. For example, after a theatre production, the audience sticks their meaty palms out in front of their chests and slams them together. This is a normal course of events for theatre, whether the audience liked the show or not.
Stand-up works from moment to moment, or bit to bit, with the immediate response telling you exactly how you’re doing. I really like the fact that comedy audiences aren’t under some pretense of having to be polite.
If you didn’t like the joke, you don’t laugh or you continue to chat with your friends on something else more interesting.
The comic on stage is left to either get those balls back into the air, to try to get the audience back on their side, otherwise you’ll be witness to a sad, slow death. There is nothing more agonizing than watching a comic helplessly flounder through a miserable set.
Unless you happen to be that comic.
It’s the natural state of things to expect to bomb a few times during your career as a comedian.
Whitehorse is a pretty safe place to do comedy.
This is such a small town with the same audiences heading out to watch comedy every night. No one wants to watch a friend completely die under the lights, so, while we may think the set sucked, the blow is lessened by the friendly politic comments afterwards.
And trust me, we know when we suck.
During one particular show at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival, I walked onto the stage to begin and looked out into a large crowd of 50-somethings. Launching into the first bit, I knew I was in trouble.
The crowd wasn’t hostile in the least, but there were palpable waves of complete and utter disapproval coming from those filled seats. I almost wish someone had shouted out insults, compared to their stony disappointment.
Imagine an entire crowd of your least-favourite grade-school teachers.
It was the longest 45 minutes of my life.
This is what makes comedy a tough business. The response is so immediate when something goes wrong. You have to be able to roll with the punches, move on and try and get through the show while still keeping the energy going.
These are tough lessons to learn, but getting through a rough show is a reward on its own. Once you get past feeling sorry for yourself, of course.
The resolve that comes after a bad show is a good push to do better the next time.
And if you still can’t please ’em, maybe the next comic up on stage will do worse.
What can I say – nobody’s immune to schadenfreude.