Recently I embarked on writing a new set of material and the process is going fairly well. Writing new material is difficult because when you’re on stage hoping to hear sounds of laughter, it is hard to not venture back to material you know will deliver.
We had a decent crowd on Wednesday, but an odd energy definitely existed in the room. They were a fine crowd, but often they didn’t react, which is purely an observation and not a judgement. Most of the crowd had come to see their mutual friend perform, and I believe that set a bit of “We’re patiently waiting for our friend to perform; You’re not him” feel.
As a comedian, there is nothing better than having friends in the crowd. They support, know, and understand you. They already have an established connection with you and this amplifies their enjoyment of the performance, which is spectacular.
Their friend did very well, and I took stage after him. The moment I set foot on stage, I felt an urgent sense of doom. My first few jokes fell flat and the crowd froze up. At one point a girl made a sound that I can only describe as the most audible sound of displeasure one can hear, and at that point I knew they weren’t going to warm up to me. I thought about switching to old material, but there wasn’t quite enough time and there was no point in wasting it on lost ears. I’d have tried riffing, but none of the comics had found much success. And at that point any riffing would have been correctly detected by the crowd as desperate, which never compliments riffing. I could tell they weren’t going to like my longer bit, which seems edgy at first but is actually somewhat absurd. So I threw that out, skipped to the end, and got the hell off stage early.
A crowd’s reaction to you is based on two continuums: whether they like you; whether they like your material. As a performer you have to learn to help influence those in your favor, but some nights you can’t. And on nights when you bomb, the crowds reaction to you dictates the type of bombing that you suffer.
Types of Bombing:
- Love you; Don’t Like Your Material – You feel good about yourself but worried about your material.
- Don’t Like You; Love Your Material – You feel bad about yourself but pleased with your material.
- Don’t Like You; Don’t Like Your Material – You walk away devastated.
I can’t vouch for how the crowd actually felt, but I walked away feeling that they didn’t enjoy me or my material, which is the worst type of bombing and is the most soul-wrenching, ego-crushing, mentally devastating feeling. It put me in a comedic stupor for about 24 hours. And it reminded me that standup is similar to chess in that when you’re defeated, you can’t pass the blame to someone else. The outcome is 100% dependent upon your abilities in that moment. It isn’t uncommon for chess players to become physically ill after losing a match, and I think the same is true for performers. It is your ego’s only response to a direct hit.