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
Hi, I’m Jacob Samuel. I’m a standup comic and cartoonist based in Vancouver. Two of my shows, Teenage Dirtbag (February 25) and LMG News (February 24), are on at the JFL NorthWest Festival.
I’m also releasing a book of single-panel cartoons called Slinky Hell. I’ve published cartoons in magazines throughout the world, including in The New Yorker. One of my cartoons was even re-published in Germany’s top business magazine and I’ve also sold cartoons to acclaimed documentary filmmaker Ken Burns.
Also, I’m about to do my first national TV taping of standup at the Winnipeg Comedy Festival. Moreover, I’m newly single and accepting any invitations to dates and/or dinner parties.
First standup experience
The first standup show I ever saw live was in Montreal in 2009. Even though I had always loved comedy, I had never been to a comedy club before. I did not know that they existed. I just thought that sad men in leather jackets somehow showed up at Just for Laughs galas.
I was so unfamiliar with standup that I did not realize that the MC was also a comedian. I remember thinking to myself, “Why does this host keep trying to tell us jokes? Just introduce the next person.” The headliner for that show was Jon Dore, which was a hilarious and eye-opening experience.
The first time I ever performed standup was in the summer of 2011 at a music open mic at Benny’s Bagels in Vancouver. I had flirted with the idea of trying standup and had been writing jokes ever since I had moved to Vancouver about a year prior, but I did not have the courage to get onstage.
Then, a girl I was trying to date told me that she was regularly going to this music open mic at Benny’s Bagels and that a guy had “tried standup there the week before”. She said he wasn’t very good but he was “cute for trying”. I immediately thought, "Well, I’m sure I can do better than that guy." So I showed up at Benny’s Bagels and the guy running the open mic let me tell five minutes of jokes.
I got enough laughs that I felt confident enough to do it again. Did I end up making out with that girl outside of Benny’s Bagels a few weeks later? Absolutely. Did it turn into a fruitful and fulfilling relationship? Of course not.
Life-changing comedy show
I’ve always been pretty comedy-obsessed, so I can’t point to one show that changed my life. But one that does stand out to me is when, in 2011, I saw Steve Martin play music with his bluegrass band at what was then the Vancouver Centre for Performing Arts. The best part of that show was that, between all the songs, Steve Martin did a few minutes of standup.
I’ve always been a big Steve Martin fan, but seeing him tell jokes and embody that persona in front of a live audience was something else. That was at least a few months before I ever thought about trying standup, so it solidified in mind that comedy was what I was most interested in as opposed to the alluring sensuality of bluegrass.
Top three comedy specials/albums
Stewart Lee — If You Prefer a Milder Comedian, Please Ask for One One of my best friends was trying to turn me onto Stewart Lee’s comedy for a long time, but it’s really an acquired taste that takes more than just a few YouTube clips. Then, one night, I decided to watch an entire Stewart Lee special and it blew my mind.
Admittedly, the first half of If You Prefer a Milder Comedian, Please Ask for One is slow. The last 30 minutes, though, comprises one long self-contained joke about a pear cider ad campaign that is probably my all-time favourite piece of standup comedy. It’s both absurd yet emotional, and filled with the most biting and clever lines. The special ends with the best call-back (a referral to an earlier joke) I’ve ever seen.
Mike Birbiglia — Sleepwalk with Me I’m embarrassed to say that it took me until after the release of the movie version of Sleepwalk with Me to listen to the album. When I first listened to the album, I couldn’t believe how funny it was and how many great bits there were that never appeared in the movie. I think the jokes on the album are fantastic and it’s a recording of a performance where a comic is truly in tune with the audience.
Maria Bamford — Ask Me About My New God! To me, Maria Bamford is one of the most purely funny, if not the funniest, comedians out there. I could’ve chosen any of her albums. To me, comedy is at its best when it is both weird and personal. Maria Bamford exemplifies this.
All-time favourite joke or bit
One joke that stands out to me is in Jon Dore’s Comedy Now special. I love jokes that involve elaborate set pieces that totally misdirect the audience. In the bit, Jon gets his “little sister” (who is actually another comic unrelated to him) to come up and tell a joke to the crowd. It’s just a cute/silly joke. Then, as his "little sister" walks off, they stop and make out. One of the best bait-and-switches I’ve ever seen.
Something you saw that made you laugh, but probably shouldn’t have
Three years ago, I watched Anchorman 2 alone at home after eating a VERY strong “special” cookie. I laughed so hard at every part of that movie. Since then, everyone I’ve told this to has been shocked that I found that film funny. At this point, I’m never going to watch it sober because it remains a great memory.
That time I bombed
What I’m going to describe here is a true bomb. To me, the “true” bombs are when everything is set up for you to succeed; where you can’t blame bombing on the venue, sound, lighting, audience or any other factor other than yourself failing at comedy. Around four years ago, I was on a Wednesday showcase at the Comedy Mix in downtown Vancouver. There was a full audience.
As I understood it, I had just been promoted to being a regular Wednesday performer at the club, which means I was on my way to becoming a professional comedian. So, I was way too self-assured which is often a thing that precedes bombing. I thought that it would be a good idea to show the club I had been developing material outside of my regular seven-minute set.
Two things happened that makes this one of my worst bombs.
First, I opened with a joke I had never done at the club before that fell completely flat. Not only did it fall flat, but it alienated the entire audience because what I thought was a relatable premise (my parents wanting me to become a lawyer) was not. Instead, it made me seem like an out-of-touch elitist.
To me, a true bomb starts when the first joke you tell, which needs to win over the audience, gets total silence. I was also not expecting it to get total silence and the audience could tell that based on my disappointed and shocked face.
So, then, I stumbled through the rest of the set getting barely any laughs. The second thing that happened was that I closed with a joke about spacer earrings that involved a large drawing on a pad I had brought out. If a set isn’t going well, you at least want your closing joke to land. Also, there is nothing worse than using any kind of prop only to have that joke bomb.
So, the end of this set was a perfect storm of comedy failure: after a set with barely any laughs, I closed with a joke that got no laughs and then had to walk offstage with a giant drawing pad. I was a defeated man dragging his canvas of shame. No one made out with me after that set.