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
I’m a 38-year-old boy. I’m single, childless, and I have been able to sleep in almost everyday for over 19 years, except for flights which sometimes take off before noon.
There should be legislation against that.
I don’t feel the need for a family because my jokes are my kids. Also, women won’t date or touch me.
I’ve taken some hits and gotten side tracked, but I’m back and stronger than ever. Strength has nothing to do with comedy, but I’m still kind of funny and I can open jars for you. (This is for a dating site, right?)
First stand-up experience
My dad snuck me into a “dirty” show on a cruise we took to the Caribbean. I guess he was dirty compared to the regular, big-stage comedian who was terrible but squeaky-clean. The dirty comedian was allocated to a small bar. My dad snuck me in with a few choice words to a cool bartender.
As far as the performance goes, I was surprised that the jokes that I told with my friends at age 12 were dirtier than the comedian’s material. My dad and I just kept looking at each other every time the comic’s jokes bombed.
At one point, the comedian's punchline was drowned out by the sound of a blender. Annoyed by the noisy interruption, the comedian went on a tirade about how real men don’t drink blender-drinks. Seeing the opportunity for a joke, the bartender promptly delivered the noisy drink to the comedian onstage.
It killed—the crowd that was seemly absent to that point exploded. By far the biggest laugh of the night went to the bartender. The comic didn’t know whether to shit or go blind.
Life-changing comedy show
I was only 18, but again my dad snuck me into Lafflines in New Westminster to see the late Winnipeg comedian Kerry Talmage.
Kerry’s act was so tight that he had a giant laugh after every set up. My cheeks hurt and my eyes were fogged with tears. There was actually a moment when the tears and a couple of beers gave me tunnel vision and I was transfixed on a person doing something that seemed superhuman.
The thought of actually performing comedy myself seemed ultimately impossible. There’s no way I could even approach the 100 percent kill rate that Kerry had. He must be one of the best in the world. I was entertained, but disheartened.
Then I saw Kerry again and he repeated the show word for word. It wasn’t off the top of his head; it was an act; crafted over time.
He wasn’t magic; he was a craftsman. The look behind Kerry’s curtain was disillusioning, but good for some encouragement. Rest in peace.
Top three comedy specials/albums
Steve Martin - Let’s Get Small Finding this album in my dad’s collection was like gold. I’d never heard a grownup acting silly. I loved acting silly, but the school system tries to train silly out of you. Finding this album was a revolution for me.
Adam Sandler – They’re All Gonna Laugh at You This album showed me that grownups can also be filthy. I loved dirty jokes and Adam’s accents were easy to emulate, so this album became a tool that helped me get kicked out of class on a regular basis.
George Carlin – Jammin’ In New York Bringing together the silly and the dirty, George used these devices as a tool to slip ideological material past the crowd’s defences. The silly and dirty would be the spoonful of sugar I would use to feed my way of thinking to the masses. (With the help of beer, which I call opinion juice.)
All-time favourite joke or bit
Chris Rock's Niggas vs. Black People. This bit came from such an honest place about a subject that is so incredibly tense, so when Chris sets it off perfectly, it destroys in a way I have never heard a bit do since.
To be able to tackle such a hot button issue, blow it up, and walk away unscathed was masterful. It’s a joke I try to measure up to every time I write.
Something you saw that made you laugh but probably shouldn’t have
I laughed at a wedding reception once. In a closely packed group of guests, one of the bride’s family members made an incredibly touching and heartfelt speech.
It was such a tender moment and we were all standing facing each other. The pressure was killing me. “Don’t laugh, don’t you fucking laugh.”
Then another women raised a disposable camera to take a picture, but it wouldn’t work. She had to rewind it. So in a moment of the highest emotional tension, during a silent part of the speech, all I could hear was the clicking of the lady winding her camera.
It was all it took—I began convulsing with laughter. My body ached like I was stifling 30 sneezes. I had to pretend I was crying for 45 seconds. I think I ruined the speech, but I don’t know if anyone noticed.
I am so afraid of emotional intimacy that my body will try to physically stop it without my control. (I was laughing while writing this.)
That time I bombed
Corporate gigs can go very poorly. One gig I had in Montreal was for 300 people over 65 years old.
The crowd was on a bus tour from Ontario and they had been delayed four hours by a snowstorm. They had decided to put me on while they were waiting for the food to save time.
As a 24-year-old, I had literally no material that would work with them. I died for half an hour straight and then the food came out onto the buffet tables. I was then standing between 300 seniors and their food.
I retreated off-stage to them shaking their heads at my choice of material. I received a complaint that I said the word Jesus.
I had to come back the next night for another group of 300 seniors. My agent called me to chew me out—the client wanted to fire me unless I could guarantee a good performance the next night. I most certainly could not. I sweat bullets all night.
I Googled clean jokes and committed a few to memory—no where near 30 minutes. I was fucked. I couldn’t eat; I was shaking. The thought of seeing old people so disappointed in me was unbearable.
I felt like I was meeting a bully for a fight as I walked into the hotel. I took the stage with my stomach folded like a paper crane. I planned to speak very slowly to stretch out my material.
I joked that there were too many elevators in the hotel and it was confusing. I asked where one lady was from and after she told me several others wanted to tell me where they were from instead.
I actually asked them if they had beautiful grandchildren and they loved it. I didn’t tell one joke, but I actually got a high-five from a man as I walked off. The client was very happy and relieved. The stress had taken years off of my life, but I got paid rent for another month of my dream.
I toyed with the idea of formulating a squeaky-clean act, but too many gigs like that could make you jump off a cruise ship.
John Beuhler is currently competing in the Sirius XM Top Comic Contest. The winner is guaranteed a spot at three of Canada’s biggest comedy festivals in 2017, including JFL NorthWest in Vancouver. You can vote for John until August 22 here.
John is a paid regular at Yuk Yuk's and can be seen performing at various venues around Vancouver, including The Blemont Bar on August 21 and Corduroy in Kitsilano on August 24.