That Time I Bombed is where the Straight asks comedians about their life-changing shows, favourite comedy albums, and, a subject that any comedian will face at some point in their career, a time that they bombed on stage.
Who are you
My name is Ivan Decker. I am a professional comedian living in Vancouver—one of the few professional comedians able to survive in this city that don’t have a day job other than comedy.
I have been doing comedy in Vancouver for the last 11 years. While I am mostly touring nationwide now, I love performing in Vancouver. It’s where I got my start, so I’m very comfortable with the audiences here. Sometimes, comics come from out of town and complain that Vancouver crowds are “too PC” or “lethargic and unforgiving”. I don’t think this way; I love the crowds here.
Vancouver is a beautiful, world-class city full of people who want nothing less than the best—why not try to deliver on that? Just because people in Edmonton are keen to laugh at anything after a pony jug of Jägerbombs and the crushing reality that their economy is crashing down around them faster than a Bieber meltdown doesn’t mean crowds here aren’t good.
Oh, also I tend to not talk solely about my genitals for 30 minutes on stage either. People seem to be pretty happy about that.
I’ve performed six sets that have been televised nationally and am a regular on CBC’s The Debaters. I tour coast to coast and perform in theaters regularly opening for Canadian comedy superstars like Steve Patterson or Brent Butt.
First stand-up experience
I was in my late teens when CTV released The Comedy Network as part of a new cable television package in my hometown. Since I didn’t have much to do in the evenings as my brother had taken over sole proprietorship of our PC to play World of Warcraft, I would watch re-run after re-run of shows like Comedy Now! and Comedy at Club 54.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that these shows were pretty low-end on the comedy spectrum, but they were on TV so my teenage brain assumed these comedians were the best of the best! I remember watching that and thinking to myself, “Most of these comedians are the worst comedians I’ve ever seen. I’m sure I can do what they’re doing if I start now and work hard for maybe 10 years.”
Three years later, I was taping my own Comedy Now! It aired two years after that and it is just as terrible as the others. Hopefully, some other young teen sees it and becomes inspired in the same way.
Life-changing comedy show
When Jerry Seinfeld retired all of his material shortly after the end of his hit TV sitcom, Seinfeld (perhaps you’ve heard of it), he did a live HBO show.
The most important word in that sentence is live. Back in the late-nineties/early oughts, comedians used to do a show live to air, which was quite a feat. Now, comedy specials are shot over the course of a few different shows and then edited together. This one was straight through.
I remember watching it with my family, finding it randomly while flipping through channels. I couldn’t believe how much I was laughing at this man just talking on TV. And even as child, I connected to things like his Halloween joke or his silver medal bit—jokes that still stand the test of time today.
Top three comedy specials/albums
Chris Rock – Bigger & Blacker This special is absolutely one of the quintessential specials of our generation. It’s front-to-back killer jokes. Every bit is 10 out of 10 and even though it was recorded in 1999, the things he talks about are still relevant today.
And for those who say comedians back then were softer, think about this: he opens with a joke about the Columbine shooting. He doesn’t win them over with fluffy-puff jokes about how women like to shop or men pretend they know how to fix stuff. COLUMBINE. RIGHT OUT OF THE GATE. Even our current social hero, Jim Jeffries, does 20 minutes of misogyny before he gets to the gun control bit that everyone loves him for.
Brian Regan – I Walked on the Moon You want observational comedy in its finest form? This is it. Again, such amazingly poignant bits I think every single one can be found individually on YouTube. The bit he does about UPS alone is, in my opinion, one of the greatest jokes ever performed.
Jerry Seinfeld – I’m Telling You for the Last Time As I mentioned above, this is the special that made me start comedy. It’s all the jokes that made Jerry the famous comedian that he is. Recorded live, it is a great example of his work ethic and the time he spends on every. single. word. All of his jokes have everything exactly where it should be because he tries every joke a million different ways before it is finalized.
All-time favourite joke or bit
The joke that made me laugh the most the first time I heard it was Brian Regan’s joke about getting a hearing test. It’s on his album All by Myself, but the first time I heard it was when I saw him live. This joke is such a great combination of silliness, razor sharp timing, and personal vulnerability. Listen to it. It is amazing.
Something you saw that made you laugh but probably shouldn’t have
I used to work in a grocery store that was situated in a part of the Lower Mainland that harbors a lot of entitled rich, old people, and one day, this woman came in who was obviously a little senile—but her WASP-y entitlement was holding strong. She had a lot of angry questions about prunes and her bowel movements, and I couldn’t handle it.
I started laughing right in her face and had to pretend I was coughing. I eventually had to go and get my manager to talk to her, but he knew I was laughing about it so he just started trying to make me laugh while he was talking to her. I remember at one point he said, “Why not just go to Denny’s for some moons-over-my-hammy and pot of coffee? That always sends me right to the toilet.” I finally cracked and had to run into the back dying of laughter.
That time I bombed
I have so many of these stories it’s hard to know where to begin.
Because of the fact that I am labeled as a “clean” comedian, people often send me in to places where other comedians wouldn’t get booked because the audiences are too conservative or generally old. But just because I don’t swear doesn’t mean I have anything to relate to these people with… especially not in some of the smaller communities our great white, northern country has to offer.
Last Christmas season, I got booked for just such a gig in a town called Naicam, Saskatchewan. (Pronounced “nay-cam”—take note of that for later.) This town’s population is about a thousand I think and I was to perform for the employees of the town’s Ford dealership. The gig was in the Naicam Town Hall, which was a building slightly smaller than the multi-purpose room at my elementary school.
I arrived at the town hall about two hours early, as it was quite snowy and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t late. I was wearing a suit with a purple tie and the second I walked in, I don’t think anyone in this tiny town had seen a man in a properly fitted suit since someone came through to tell them all they were closing the mill. I was introduced by the CEO of the company after he drunkenly ranted and did a present exchange for about an hour and a half.
The room was lively. People were having fun. I walked on stage and it was like someone set off a concussion grenade in the room. It got so silent and I just watched disgust wash over the faces of these poor hillbillies.
Now, at this point in my career, I’ve done my fair share of bad shows so I had some tools at my disposal but nothing was working. It was like an action movie where the hero is met with an unstoppable adversary, and they empty the magazine of their gun into its chest to no avail so they throw the empty gun at it in a moment of final futility.
I moved my closing bit to the beginning of the set just to get SOMETHING. ANYTHING… Nothing. I told joke after joke to a crowd of silent farmers staring down at their tables; they were all saying grace for 45 minutes straight. Then, as we were all well aware of what happened, I finished my contractually obligated time and said, “Well everyone, I think what we’ve all learned from this is that they don’t Naicam like they used to.”
I walked straight out through the crowd out the door and into my car without saying anything to anyone, and drove three hours through the frozen highways of Saskatchewan back to my hotel in Saskatoon. A couple of days later, I got a call from the agency that booked me and they said that the company didn’t want to pay me because my show was so awful.
About two weeks ago, I heard there was a tornado headed for Naicam and I got pretty excited. I’ve sworn to myself that if I should ever come upon a large sum of money I’m going to make sure I purchase the Naicam Town Hall and bulldoze it and then erect a statue of me wearing a suit in its place. I might do that with the car dealership as well.
Or I’ll just buy it and force the employees to do stand-up for me at annual meetings. I don’t know. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
Ivan Decker will be heading to Montreal's Just For Laughs at the end of July to perform a variety of shows, most notably the Carrie Fisher Comedy Gala on July 31. Ivan has also released his first comedy album, I Wanted to be a Dinosaur, which can be heard on Sirius Radio or purchased through Ivan at one of his shows.
The album will be released for widespread distribution on iTunes and other streaming services in six months. You can also see Ivan perfom regularily at the Comedy Mix and other various venues around town.
Follow Ivan on Twitter for updates on shows and of course, for his jokes.