Last night I was back at Sam Rhodes Comedy Explosion at Maltby St Market, where I closed the show again, and just like last time it went pretty well. I even remembered to film myself this time, so I have an objective record that it was a great set and not just my memory playing it up.
But in between that and my last gig at Malt were four shows that didn’t go so well – ranging from an “ok but not great” 10 minute spot at another bar show, to a grim 5 spot at an open mic with almost no audience, where even my usually reliable bits fell flat.
I’ve been grinding away as a stand-up comedy bottom-feeder for long enough to know that’s just how it goes. Some nights it doesn’t work out for you and there’s no point beating yourself up over it – just dust yourself down and get ready for the next show.
But… There’s no denying that trying to do stand-up can really grind on your soul sometimes.
When it goes well there’s no better feeling than walking off stage to an enthusiastically clapping and cheering crowd, and the congratulatory back slaps as you rejoin the other acts at the back of the room.
On the nights when absolutely nothing works, you get no laughs for your entire set, and then trudge back to your seat with nothing but a smattering of polite applause, it can make you feel like crap. It’s especially bad if you’re at an open mic where other acts have done well, and you feel like just another delusional, unfunny prick who hasn’t got what it takes. They made the audience laugh, why couldn’t you?
The successful acts grab a drink and compare notes after the show, while you skulk out of the door in shame and spend the long journey home doing a post-mortem on your set to figure out what went wrong.
If it happens to you a few too many times in a row, it can be hard to not let it get to you and leave you wondering whether you should just quit.
Firstly I think it’s important to remind yourself of the shows that have gone well. You know that it’s worked before for you, so there’s no reason it can’t work again. And always remember that bombing is just a part of being a stand-up – all the greats have bombed a ton of times, even when they were at the top of their game.
If new material bombs, that’s a learning process – we all know you need to try stuff out a bunch of times to work out if it’s got potential. If tried and tested material bombs, sometimes it’s because of factors outside of your control. Maybe the act before you sucked all the energy out of the room, maybe the audience wasn’t right for you, maybe you just were off your game this night. I’m not saying you should always make excuses for a bad gig, but there’s any number of reasons a show might not have gone well for you.
If you have a lot of gigs where you’re not getting laughs, maybe it’s time to rethink what you’re doing, but one or two bad nights isn’t the end of the world, or even a long run of bombs. If you’ve got faith in the material, and you know it’s worked in the past, just keep grinding on and finding ways to improve your performance.
Ultimately you have to confront yourself with a choice: “Am I going to quit stand-up because of a few bad gigs, or am I going to keep at it until I can make it work?”