Over the last five years in Toronto, I have gotten very comfortable in a wonderful performance space called Comedy Bar located at Bloor and Delaware Ave. It is a staple to most in the comedy community and has basically become my version of Cheers (only I have to keep repeating my name to drunk locals). I like to call it my “comedy womb” because it’s warm and safe and I almost always have good and enjoyable sets there. The problem, I’ve found, with performing in the same space over and over again is that you can't get a very good gauge on how your material will work outside of that space. Comedy Bar, for instance, typically brings out a younger, smart, hip crowd that is there to watch (and enjoy) a comedy show. Whereas a comedy club like Yuk Yuks might bring out all of your high school bullies and also a stagette party (maybe these things are the same for you).
On Sunday I performed at a festival that was showcasing an amazing lineup of American comedians and I was lucky enough to perform on the “warm up stage” which was just off to the right of the main stage about 2 hours before the headline show started. Hundreds of people gathered around the outdoor stage and laughed as performers told their jokey-jokes, all while enjoying the beautiful ambience and sound of nature in the background (helicopters, speakers from another sound stage in the distance and of course: a flock of Canadian geese.)
Everyone had a great set!
Sorry, I should clarify, everyone had a great set aside from me: the newborn baby that was ripped out of her comedy womb – naked and naïve to what life had hurtling her way. That’s right, everyone, I shit the bed. I “ate a dick”as many a-comic would eloquently say. I was strapped to a meteor and exploded the lives of nearby infants, mothers and fathers.
People will often say to comedians: “I could never do what you do.” Well, honestly, sometimes I can’t do what I do. And so I present to you this piece of art that will describe exactly what it feels like to bomb (at least to me), wrapped in the most comforting party food known to man.
The 7-Layer Dip of Bombing
Layer 7: The Refried Beans AKA The realization of a bomb
This layer is surprisingly the least hurtful of all the layers as you are too busy struggling to feel anything other than the struggle itself. This layer includes blank faces staring back at you, sometimes frowns, various background chatter and whispers of disappointment. If you’re lucky, there will be a few moms in the audience looking at your face as though to say, “you’ll be okay, sweetheart,” like a toddler falling off of a slide. The best thing to do in this layer is to keep trucking along; although many will make the mistake of turning on the audience with such sassy remarks as “WHAT, YOU DON’T LIKE THIS? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU F-CKING PEOPLE?” OR, if the moment is truly special, they will do as I did Sunday and ask the audience repeatedly, “do you guys like me?”
(They do not, despite the smattering of sympathy claps.)
Layer 6: The Guacamole AKA The flood of embarrassment immediately after
This “greenish” feeling comes after you’ve taken a seat and are really ready to let the memories of your garbage existence to truly sink in. This layer is where you try to put the puzzle pieces together of 1) what went wrong and 2) why did it go so wrong oh my god. As you “laugh off” your nightmare set, you will engage in conversation with other comics that you will nod along to but barely comprehend because you’ll still be thinking about how your dreams just died in front of a lot of people.
Layer 5: The Sour Cream AKA The explanation
This layer hit me VERY hard Sunday and is the most embarrassing layer. This is the part where people (comics, strangers) will come up to you and say something along the lines of “good set” even though you are both incredibly aware of the large dump you have just taken in front of a live audience. If comedians were confident people, we would smile brightly, say “thank you” and be done with it. Unfortunately, we are fragile flowers who need your love to survive. So instead, we opt for explaining in great detail that you KNOW we had a bad set and let everyone in a 5-block radius know this just in case they thought YOU THINK you had a good set. Which you don’t. Because that was horrible. Obviously. This layer lasts AT LEAST 5 minutes with every individual who has just witnessed your human livelihood expire on stage.
Layer 4: The Salsa AKA Denial
This layer is strange because you’d think denial would come sooner. Nope! This part comes after enough people have sympathetically told you that you had a good set which makes you question if the bomb even existed… maybe you DID have a good set? I mean sure, it was rocky off the top… for like, the first… two thirds of it. But they were kind of on board when that person in the audience got a huge laugh! And when the mic cut out!
Layer 3: The Cheese AKA The anger you can direct only at yourself
“Of COURSE you didn’t have a good set. You had to ask people if they liked you. You’ve been doing this for NINE years! And you opened with THAT joke? Really?? You forgot a bit you’ve been doing for FIVE years?! They were right to hate you. You are truly the raisins of comedy. No one likes you. Please leave all of the cookies, muffins and any other baked goods you have snuck into as quickly as possible. You are a MISTAKE.”
Layer 2: Black Olives AKA the emotional equivalent of that Snow Patrol song
“If I lay here. If I just lay here.”
This layer is kind of like being in a coma but your brain is still fully functional and questioning your very existence. Like, are you even funny? Have people led you to believe you are something you’re not? Were all those good shows actually just dreams you invented in your mind? Are you Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind? What is real? Maybe you should just become a receptionist like you always dreamed of when you were a little girl…
Layer 1: Garnishes AKA Understanding
This is the point where you realize that the only thing that will fix your broken brain and broken body is to do standup comedy again and do it better than the last time. You will not feel okay until you do.