These are my Top 5 Bombings on Stage or maybe I should say My Bottom 5 Performances on Stage. There’s been many more, but these are the ones that truly stand out, the ones that sit in your gut for a week or two afterward and make you question why you started doing comedy in the first place. Enjoy!
5. Snickerz, Fort Wayne, Indiana – September 1999 – The name alone should’ve told me it was gonna be a rough week. I had 5 shows and the first 4 shows the response was at best tepid. That’s where the audience doesn’t laugh, but you don’t get heckled and everyone avoids eye contact with you after the show. However, the last show it all came crumbling down. About 10 minutes into my 30 minute set, a guy with a big bushy moustache (he looked like the Jagermeister guy) shouted, “Git funny!”
Now this was before Larry the Cable Guy’s Git R Done, so this guy was a true maverick in the heckling world. The heckle “Git Funny!” is really bullet proof because there is no response, except to try harder and thus dig a deeper hole. I was not booked back at this club.
BRIGHT SIDE: No real bright side to this bombing story except to say the club closed a couple years ago.
4. Tribble Run – The Pacific Northwest – 10 days in July 2002 – First Tribble is the last name of the guy who books a series of poorly routed one nighters in the Pacific Northwest at various bars in front of audiences who seem unaware there is a comedy night. I had just come off of doing the Craig Kilborn show (AKA the Johnny Carson of my generation) so I was pretty hot stuff. In addition it was my birthday week, so the universe would seemingly be on my side. Instead I bombed every night. It’s one thing to bomb, but then to have to get up early the next morning and drive 6 hours to the next bombing is another.
I remember on the drive up to the gig I actually drove thru fire and saw a deer get hit by a car, I should’ve turned around then, but I didn’t. One night in Newport, Oregon halfway through my set I told the audience if you like my act go to the left side of the room and if you hate my act go on the right side…THEY DID! It was pretty evenly divided, one guy actually straddled the line and would move back and forth depending on what he thought of each joke. This might make for a good game show. I was pretty beaten down after 9 straight nights of bombing, but the last night in Astoria, Oregon in a hotel lounge I didn’t bomb and that’s all I needed to keep going...10% approval.
BRIGHT SIDE: I never did another Tribble run, but I definitely developed a thicker skin and I drove through fire, so that’s pretty cool.
3. The Rave. Milwaukee, WI. May 1997 – I’ve shared this story a few times, but basically I worked with Pauly Shore at a rock club in Milwaukee. I opened with a song I sang in Spanish (Viva La Gente – Up With People) and encouraged the audience to sing along. I was in my Andy Kaufman phase and the boos began to rain down. I was supposed to do 10 minutes and that’s what I did. The audience actually got tired of booing me. I left the stage after doing my contractually obligated 10 minutes and Pauly’s manager said to me, “What the hell was that?!?!” I replied, “Comedy?”
BRIGHT SIDE: The next night Pauly had me open for him in Appleton, WI. The response from the audience was again tepid (there’s that word again). But after I brought Pauly up to the stage he said, “Give it up for that guy. They booed him in Milwaukee, but I think he’s hilarious.” And that’s how Pauly Shore saved my comedy career.
2. 4th & B. San Diego, CA. June 2002 – This was another big music venue and everyone got in free. I had moved on from singing the song in Spanish and was now singing a song about a potato. (as an artist you have to grow.) My friend Dan went to the show with me and sat in the audience. Before the show he struck up a conversation with the folks next to him and told them I would be opening the show. They were impressed. I opened strong and Dan said the people next to him were laughing and nodded to him. Then I lost the audience. I told a street joke where I purposely screw it up… the audience didn’t get it and were very vocal about it. The people next to Dan actually moved away from him…I was causing second hand bombing. I got off stage and the manager of the venue said, “What the hell was that?!?!” I could now confidently say, “Comedy?”
BRIGHT SIDE: The check cleared and the venue closed due to failure to pay rent.
1. Just For Laughs Comedy Festival. Montreal, Quebec. July 2004. New Faces. This is the gig every young comedian strives for and there was so much importance placed on it. If you did well, fame and fortune awaited, if you bombed you would be ostracized from the show business community…okay not really, but at the time that’s how it felt. I remember from the start the set didn’t go well. I was told the band would play anything you wanted, I said, “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash. I should’ve known better than to ask French Canadians to play country music because it was just a cacophony of sounds.
If it was me now I would’ve made fun of it for a few minutes, but at the time I was too nervous and just dove into my 7 minute set like a robot…it didn’t go well. The next day all the New Faces got reviewed everyone received a number…my number a BOMB. The icon of a bomb not even a number like they had to bring in a graphic designer to draw in a bomb. Followed by the line: “Definitely not Milwaukee’s best.” I was devastated.
BRIGHT SIDE: I remember I was so bummed. I went to the after party that night and a friend of mine introduced me to some agents and they wouldn’t even shake my hand. A couple nights later I was walking to Andy Kindler’s show and Mitch Hedberg saw me. I hadn’t worked with Mitch in a couple years, but he called out, “Tom Clark!” I was blown away that he remembered me. He was walking with those same agents and Mitch introduced me to them and said, “This is Tom Clark. He’s hilarious.” Mitch waited for them to shake my hand and they did. Mitch’s review was all I needed to keep going in comedy. I’ll always be thankful to him.