Who knew three minutes of talking could be exhausting? When people find out you do comedy, they usually ask one of two questions. The most popular is: can you tell me a joke? If you’ve ever asked this question, I forgive you; but know that I’ve spent at least a minute of my life hating you. It’s like if somebody told you they were a plumber and you said “oh shit, can you show me how to fix a toilet? Like right now!”
The second most popular question people ask is “do you ever bomb?” Yes. The answer is always yes. Every comedian has bombed. It’s part of comedy. The more interesting question, though, is “what is it like to bomb?”
Lonely. When you bomb on stage, you find yourself alone. Alone in a room full of people. You stand solemnly, staring out over a sea of silence and prying eyes. For a moment in time, nobody understands you. Not only does nobody understand you, but everyone knows it. Everyone is watching you be misunderstood in real time. And we all know the feeling.
We’ve all felt alone. We’ve all felt like nobody really gets us, but it’s not just you who feels the solitude when you’re on the stage. Everyone does. If you want to know what it feels like to bomb on stage, go watch someone bomb on stage. You’ll feel it, too.
If you’ve never been to open mic comedy, I suggest you go; because you will certainly watch someone bomb. You’ll feel the energy, and you’ll understand a bit what it’s like. It’ll make you want to crawl out of your skin like a shedding snake in the sun. It’ll make you want to run like a cheetah sprinting for its life across the Savannah. And you’ll have nowhere to go. You just have to sit there, in your simple little chair.
You’ll find a time to leave, and you probably won’t want to come back. But maybe you should. There’s something to learn from the pain, something to gain from the discomfort flushing out your cleanly veins.
To concoct a single word for what it’s like to bomb on stage is hard, but I think it’s safe to say that “exhausting” does the trick. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. To exhaust yourself is to rid yourself of something vile so you can be reborn. So, yes… when I bomb on stage I feel alone, I feel terrible, I feel exhausted; but I am also rediscovered. Every time I bomb on stage it’s like the world has pushed me further into the soil of the earth so a fresh flower can begin to bloom.
Sometimes the flower is trampled early in its life by the busy crowd. Sometimes it begins to bloom, only to be halted by the wind or a summer storm. Sometimes, though… sometimes it blooms straight out of the ground with perfect pedals and a center colorful and round.
The way to the fruitful flower is to keep digging, to continue to allow myself to be pushed down knowing that beauty will rise. Not always, but it will rise. Knowing this helps guide me through the challenging times. I know that I will bomb on many more occasions, but I’m not afraid. It’s part of the process, of comedy and of life.
We all bomb. We all make mistakes, we all do something stupid, we are all misunderstood one time or another. It’s not always public, but it often is. Increasingly so, as we broadcast our lives far and wide more now than ever. If we learn to bomb with grace and gratitude, we have in our hands the power to be something beyond beautiful.
So, what is it like to bomb? Go out in the world and find out. Take a chance. Fall on your face. Do it again. Do it again. Fall harder. Show the world your scars. Dig deeper, and one day you’ll find yourself a force to be reckoned with forever.