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 comic originally hailing from glorious Calgary, Alberta. I had a house and ran a business. Then, after performing comedy at an open mic, I decided I loved standup comedy with all my heart. So I quit my job and lost all my money touring the Prairies.
Seven years later, I sleep in a garage in Vancouver but tour almost every single weekend for comedy. I couldn’t be much happier. Every Wednesday you can find me in Kitsilano hosting Cords Comedy at Corduroy Restaurant, which is the greatest time of anyone’s life who attends.
First standup experience
My parents wouldn’t let me watch stuff with swear words growing up, so I was sheltered from really great comedy in my youth. Although, my dad had Steve Martin’s Wild and Crazy Guy on vinyl, so I listened to that on my Fisher Price record player until I knew every word.
The first standup show I ever saw on TV (and LOVED) was Sinbad. He was doing a bit about McDonald’s and how thick the milkshakes were. Holy cripes, did I laugh. His comedy and fashion have influenced me to this day.
Life-changing comedy show
The first time I went to a live comedy show was at Yuk Yuk’s in Calgary when I was around 21. I went with my all-time worst girlfriend who had the most obnoxious laugh. A few months later, I would end up having to call the cops on her because she punched me in the face a bunch. Anyway, that show was magical. Dan Quinn headlined and killed start to finish. I had a buzz leaving that club that I’d never experienced before. Comedy was my favorite entertainment from then on.
The show that really changed my life was a show at Comedy Monday Night in Calgary a few years before I started doing standup. It was the finals for the city’s Great Canadian Laugh Off and everyone was doing their best seven minutes. The hilarious Lori Gibbs won that night. It was awesome to watch.
Going in, I had a bet with a lady friend who said the headliner would be the funniest comedian I’d ever seen. I can’t remember what I would get if he wasn’t—probably love-making. I was hoping the comedian would suck, but while they were tallying the votes, Matt Billon went up to headline. I didn’t know him at the time. He mixed crowd-work with a bit about how the lady cutting his hair at Great Clips asked him if he was famous.
It was the most amazing thing to see because it didn’t even feel like he was “performing” so much as embodying all that is comedy—flowing in and out of conversation and crushing the whole time. It’s exactly what standup comedy is meant to be. I lost the bet really bad. I can’t remember what I had to do, but it didn’t involve love-making.
Three or so years ago, I saw Rory Scovel at a small 40-person room in Calgary. He killed so hard I thought the walls were going to explode and everyone would die from the roof collapsing. These type of shows continue to change my life, like when Louis C.K. popped into the Comedy Mix and the Kino in December. I almost ripped my head off and stomped it into a sewer grate out of excitement and laughter.
Top three comedy specials/albums
I’m going to tell you this list and then immediately think of a bunch more I should have mentioned when I’m trying to fall asleep tonight, but I’ll give it a go.
Chris Rock — Bring the Pain Chris Rock’s Bring the Pain is my favorite special of all time. He talks about real shit while also being impossibly hilarious straight through. It still holds up to this day. I was exposed to this before any Richard Pryor, so while Pryor will probably always be the best to ever do it, this special defined the generation of comedy I was raised in. Then Dave Chappelle did it all over again in the 2000s.
John Mulaney — New in Town John Mulaney’s New in Town is the perfect special for almost anyone to watch. Young, old, boy, girl—it’s just so well crafted and relatable. I remember the first time I watched it, I was like, “Holy fuck, that was funny” and immediately showed my girlfriend at the time. We both watched it through again right after and I laughed just as hard. She loved it. To this day, I send people random bits and it has a 99 percent hit rate which is really hard to do in comedy.
Louis C.K. — Shameless I’ll pick Louis C.K.’s Shameless because that was the one that really put him on the map although he hasn’t relented since. Each special is better than anything most comics will ever do in the entire career. As a fan, I’m in awe. As a comedian, I’m like, “For fucksakes, how does he think of that?” with his ability to manipulate premises and punchlines in the most unique and hilarious way possible. He’s too good at comedy and ruins it for everyone.
All-time favourite joke or bit
Chris Rock’s Niggas vs. Black People, even though he retired it, is the best bit I’ve ever heard in comedy. It’s perfect from start to finish. Every sentence is a punchline, even the premise.
I remember the first time I heard Bring the Pain when I was in high school, I didn’t even know comedy could be that funny. Also, the O.J. bit where he says “Now I’m not saying he should have killed her, but I understand.” That is the epitome of comedy—taking a ridiculous, opposite, controversial, or unfunny premise and making people lose their minds with laughter.
I also remember listening to John Mulaney’s Salt and Pepper Diner story and crying from laughter at work. Same with Louis C.K.’s bit about trying to smoke weed with young kids or Bill Burr’s steroids-in-sports bit.
I couldn’t find any video/audio of it online—it’ll probably be on his next HBO special—but Chris Gordon’s “How are you guys doing tonight?” bit is political comedy at its finest. It really pushes the audience to do better.
Something you saw that made you laugh but probably shouldn’t have
Well, kind of along that vein, my good friend Dave Merheje was in town and got us into a packed club without having to wait. We posted up at an amazing table right next to the DJ booth and dancefloor. The jams were flowing and everyone was into it.
The girl I was seeing at the time said I had to leave with her at 1 a.m. to catch the last SkyTrain, but I was too into it and that wasn’t happening. She stormed off to go home alone then came back and said I had one last chance to leave or this was it. We started having an argument. I was like, “This isn’t going to work because you’re not about this life.” And she was like, “Grow up, you idiot. You don’t know what you want.”
The fight escalated. We were getting nowhere. Just then, the DJ played “Turn Down For What” which has a very distinct build-up. My eyes opened the most wide they could and I asked her, “Holy shit. What if I dumped you right when the beat drops?”
She said, “Don’t you dare. I’m not joking around.”
I said, “Neither am I!” and the beat dropped. I shouted, “You’re done! You’re outta here! This is over between us!” all while laughing. It was the best. It was so incredible that even she started laughing hysterically, which, by the way, NOT a good thing in a fight.
She composed herself and left. That was the last time I saw her.
I still had Dave though.
That time I bombed
Oh boy, bombing is hilarious—especially when it happens to someone else.
I once saw a perfect bomb where a comedian did a 10-minute set (five minutes of it over his allotted time) to a packed audience with not a single sound of laughter from start to finish. Flawless. I’ve never seen it since. He walked off stage to his girlfriend’s table and she shouted, her eyes vibrating with embarrassment, “What the fuck was that, Brian?” He never did comedy again. I still think about that.
As for me, I’ve had a few great ones. My worst ones were very early on. For one, I was at a Roast Battle comedy show in Calgary against a much better comic. I invited all my friends to come watch and I got destroyed to an extent where the whole audience—even my friends—turned on me. I sat dumbfounded to deafening applause while 300-plus people pointed and laughed at me. Worse yet, the other comedian riffed on my Puma jacket. I can’t remember what it was, but the joke implied I was a pedophile, so everyone called me a pedophile all night.
Even drinking 40 post-show beers couldn’t drown out my own thoughts of humiliation. I went home alone and ate a firstful of "magic" mushrooms (a reeeeal not good idea when you’re trying to get a thought out of your mind), turned on the shower, and rolled around in the tub shouting “Why God? WHY? FFFF-WORD!” while reliving the experience in psychedelic 3D for six hours straight.
Another time, I was performing a show for one table of 12 people, all whom were well into their 50s and got free tickets to a comedy club on a Tuesday night. I’d heard the house emcee, Terry Hollas, needed a clean comedian to perform a guest spot so I showed up to ask what he meant by "clean comedy".
Jason Laurens, the man in charge of the super successful Absolute Comedy Clubs in Toronto and Ottawa, was headlining and told me to go onstage. I said, “Oh, I don’t have any clean jokes.” And he said, “All jokes can be clean. Just remove the swears and dirty stuff.”
So, I went up there to impress Jason! I gave them my best version of my filthy dinosaur sex jokes, minus the filth and sex. I basically did dinosaur act-outs until the microphone cord fell out of the mic. As I picked it up, I looked at the lady right at the front and said, “I’ll plug it back in, but you probably don’t want me to continue.”
Politely but firmly, she shook her head no. I walked offstage to forced applause that sounded like the first 10 kernels to pop in a bag of microwave popcorn. I wanted to cry-ceratops (actually one of my dinosaur jokes I told that night).
Catch Chris Griffin at JFL Northwest, which takes place from this Thursday (February 16) to February 25 at various venues around Vancouver.
He appears in Jokes Please (February 16), Barely Legal (February 17), Vancouverite (February 18), Stacked Comedy (February 20), and B-SIDES (February 21). He opens for Fortune Feimster at the Biltmore Cabaret on February 17.