To bomb is to fail. It is the surefire avenue into depression. It’s what comedians dread the most, attempt to avoid but will succumb to many times. Bombing is the common cold of comedy: incapacitating, disastrous, but necessary to build immunity. It sucks.
“Bombing” is comedy jargon for performing and receiving a disarmingly negative reaction, usually in the form of silence. Inversely to do well is to “kill” or “murder” or “crush”. I personally would have called the former “Poseidon” and the later “tickled”. (I totally Poseidoned/I had them tickled!) Comedy is too violent and bombing is brutal.
The mechanics of bombing have a number of tiers. First bombing encountered is usually “newbie” bombs: tiny, little, pink bombs sucking on pacifiers. Screaming follows the explosions from these bombs, as the soul wrenching reality that the untested thoughts of a shaking amateur aren’t as funny as previously thought. Another tier is the venue bomb: scud missiles composed of disjointed production garble (bad lights, bad mic, bad everything) that makes comedy more difficult than it already is. Audience bombs are improvised explosive devices that shoot shrapnel everywhere. The jokes are torn to shreds due to an uncommon set of references or a difference in comedic opinion. Carpet bombs are the ones dropped from drones because the room is devoid of human existence. Radioactive bombs occur when a person bombs so hard that the room is locked and the death lingers for the next few performers. Hecklers are timed-bombs; their presence is alarming, disarming and fatal unless deactivated. Sleeper cell bombing occurs when the material is polished and sparkling but the performer isn’t feeling it and has “fail” coursing through every neuron and fiber of his or her being. Lastly is the kamikaze (personal favorite) where due to an internal crisis, the performer chooses to self implode and bring the audience down in their misery.
“I’ve bombed everywhere” – Paul F. Tompkins.
Funny people bomb. Unfunny people bomb. Funny people kill. Unfunny people kill. It’s a precious fact of life.
It’s a fact of life that one’s heart will sink into the hallow recesses of their stomach. Fact: people will shake and stutter and flub against a few pity snickers. It is not uncommon to want to run, to take flight in fearful fancy, to quit. Hate, bitterness, apathy and resentment may clutch at a funny person, warp them due to broken promises and empty sacrifices. All these emotions can be potentially uncovered by bombing.
But, at the risk of sounding like a jerk, I love it when people bomb. When an open mic level comedian bombs, it’s like viewing an epiphany. They are quickly learning in a trial by fire and the experience will either reinforce or break them. It’s as exciting as a cup of coffee at dawn while overlooking a robot manufacturing plant. (“Those T-100s are coming along nicely”.) When I see somebody competent that I don’t know bomb, it’s like hearing a tribute. I intensely listen for all the beats and punchlines and laugh at the absence of laughter. For comedy compadres that I know, it’s a delight to see them bomb because those are the breaks and bombing is ultimately fodder for the charmingly antagonizing relationship most comedians have with each other. The shit giving, piss taking, razzing, ribbing “business” relationship comedians have grown accustom to as the social status quo. It’s exciting to see an established comedian use bombing to trigger a rant at the audience. It’s amazing to see others turn bombing into a riff jamboree. It’s inspiring to see professionals continue their act with the same commitment and energy whilst standing in smoke and blood (ignoring the explosion).
I take pleasure from these things because bombing isn’t an infinite MC Esher loop. More than often the desired affect will be achieved. People will laugh, and pride will bloom. The bombing will be worth it and the moment of success will be crystallized. The high will be immense as exiting stage right gains entrance to applause and high fives. It will be a small victory in a long-standing war as the comic awaits the next stage: to kill or be killed.