How do you know when you’re bombing? Is it the sweat beading on your forehead? Or that feeling of not connecting with the crowd, or any single person in it for that matter? Is it hearing crickets or getting groans instead of laughs? Is it someone from the crow yelling ‘You’re not funny’? Having had all of these happen to me, I can safely say I know what it feels like to bomb.
But there are many levels of bombing. At the top we have simply, ‘not doing so well’. This is when your jokes don’t hit as hard as they normally do, but significantly so. Like in a crowd of 100, whats normally 50 people laughing is now 5. So basically you’re still getting laughs, but you are just not doing as well as you normally do or should be doing. I had one of these sets in Playa Del Rey, at Tower 42. The room was packed with 50 people, mostly older, wealthy, pretty much all white, and getting tired as the night went on. I followed 2 really awesome sets by Kyle Kinane and Lachlan Patterson. As I go up, about 15 people leave the room to go to the bathroom. The room is kind of in chaos. I may have smoked some marijuana earlier, which doesn’t help in this situation. It quiets down and their energy is low, so instead of raising it, I just match theirs. And comedy is a sport of teaching, so you teach the audience to be a certain way, they will be. I dug myself a low energy whole, and it was extremely difficult climbing out. But I was getting scattered laughs, I was just not doing so well. But fortunately, Playa Del Rey, is a tiny city in the middle of nowhere along the coast, so nobody will ever really know, except everyone in that room.
The next level of bombing, would be ‘struggling’. This is where you are hardly getting laughs at all, and you’re working hard to remedy that. At points in my set at Playa, I felt like I was struggling, but it wasn’t quite that bad. Struggling is something other people can watch and say damn that’s a struggle, where as not doing so well, people can watch and just assume that’s how the comic normally does. Struggling is a gateway between levels, because a struggle can turn into a kill if you work hard enough and get them on board, or, alternatively, a failed struggle can end up in the next level down of bombing, which is ‘bombing’.
‘Bombing’ is where the crowd definitely does not like you. You often get groans instead of laughs, you look like you are struggling but also defeated, as your efforts won’t do you any good at this point. This level can also be called ‘tanking it’.
The next level down is, ‘eating sh*t’. When you eat sh*t, you and everyone in the mile radius around you can feel the vibrations of how bad you are doing. Maybe you’re not funny, maybe you’re having a bad day, maybe the crowd is just a bunch of assholes, but for whatever reason, there’s just no good coming out of what you are doing up there. Every comic has eaten sh*t once in their lives. If you haven’t, you have no reason to get better. Eating sh*t, almost always ends with someone from the crowd just letting you know that you have to get off. Where as the other levels of bombing can fly by with no crowd interruption, when a comic eats sh*t, generally a responsible, or standoffish, crowd member, will do his or her best to put a stop to it.
Generally, if you eat sh*t enough times, you will eventually be forced into the last, lowest level of bombing, which is called ‘quitting comedy’. Some people never fall this low because they just hang out in ‘bombing’ ‘struggling’ and ‘not doing so well’. It’s kind of a tragedy that they never eat sh*t enough to quit. It’s also equally tragic when a good comic has a bad few days, eats sh*t a few times and then quits when he/she should have kept going. But the point is, bombing is way deeper than just a ranking of how you do comedically. It eats at your soul. Bombing is a social event. You and everyone around you has it burned in their mind as they watch. Bombing regularly can be dangerous to one’s self esteem, but it can also make you fearless. It all just depends on how you process rejection. However, for it to make you a good comic, you also have to kill sometimes. For all bomb and no kill, makes Jack quit comedy or in some cases life.
But what we can learn from this, is that bombing is subjective, but can be categorized by its qualities. The key to being a good comic, other than getting your bomb on, is knowing when you are bombing and when you are not. Many comedians will fall on one of the aforementioned levels and still claim that they ‘killed it’. The point at which you stop doing that, you become aware of how strong you really are. And though I’d like to say I bombed in Playa Del Rey, I did, but it was on the highest level. I just didn’t do so well.