That Time I Bombed: Alicia Tobin discovers that high death tolls don't cut it with kids

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      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 am a robot. I mean, me human. Ha-ha, give me your wallet. Beep boop beep. 

      My name is Alicia Tobin and I am a comedian and writer living in Vancouver on unceded Coast Salish territories. I have a local comedy show called Alicia Tobin’s Come Draw with Me and a Canadian Comedy Award–nominated podcast called Retail Nightmares

      I will eat all three rows of cookies in one sitting.

      First standup experience

      I went to see Adam Sandler at the Montreal Just for Laughs festival in, I think it was, 1992. I hadn’t anticipated that Sandler would be doing material I had already seen on Saturday Night Live. I wanted a refund! I had no idea until that moment that standup wasn’t totally just improvised. Me not smart. I thought he just came up with Opera Man on the spot during the middle of Weekend Update.

      The first time I performed comedy was at a weird restaurant on Commercial Drive. Even though the experience was fine, it made me feel so anxious it took me about a year to try again. The rush that people get from doing standup is really uncomfortable for me.  

      Life-changing comedy show

      I saw Paul F. Tompkins live for the first time and there was something so human about his act. He made deeply personal stories extremely funny. It gave me something to work towards and a desire to be more myself on stage. Sorry! I lack the charm and talent Paul has, so mostly I just talk about snacks and being sad. Oops!

      Going to shows, like the Sunday Service, the Laugh Gallery and the Hero Show, just to watch helped me to see that there was a place for what I found funny. There was also a place for comedians I just didn’t have to pretend I liked—I really liked these people!

      About seven years ago, I wrote something for the Hero Show: a letter to a shark named Nicole from a National Geographic documentary about the migratory patterns of the Great white shark. I learned so much about comedy from that shark. I learned that I could just do something dumb and silly and it was way nicer than trying to be tough or clever—two things I am not.

      Top three comedy specials/albums

      Eddie Murphy – Eddie Murphy  His 1982 album was a Tobin family favourite. There was one rule with the album: do not take it out of the house or play it for friends. This rule was broken immediately. Can you even imagine the power my brother and I felt playing that album for the neighbourhood children? It was very short-lived. We should never have played it for the Catholic family down the street.


      Maria Bamford – Lady Dynamite  I know a television series may not count as an answer, but I don’t feel like arguing. The few times I have been in the same room as Maria Bamford, I press myself against a wall until she goes away as I get so nervous. She is so impossibly funny. By sharing that she lives with mental health issues, she brings this wonderful, soft, risky, fearful, and beautiful courage to her act. And it blows my heart open, and pours laughter and hurt and love right into my body.


      Joan Rivers at the River Rock Casino  I met Joan Rivers before her show in Richmond in 2013 and the first thing I remember was just how good she smelled. I know it's a weird thing to mention, but she just smelled so beautiful. Her perfume reminded me of a flower that blooms at night, like frangipani: strong, intoxicating, heavenly. And I guess she was like that on stage, too. Joan Rivers was a powerful force. Offstage, she took time to get to know people, take pictures with fans, and was the epitome of professional.

      All-time favourite joke or bit

      I can’t see how Tig Notaro’s "Taylor Dane" bit can’t be the best one I have ever heard.          

      Something you saw that made you laugh, but probably shouldn’t have

      I have laughed at some jokes about how Donald Trump looks. I tell myself that since he isn’t human it isn’t body shaming.

      That time I bombed

      I was so excited for my first “corporate gig” that I didn’t really ask for any details about the show. Also, the person who booked me had seen my set multiple times, so I assumed I was going to be fine. The lucrative corporate gig (50 whole Canadian dollars!) turned out to be a spaghetti dinner fundraiser for a Burnaby soccer team. A children’s soccer team.

      It was still daylight when I went on (I was just standing in front of some tables of tired families) and I could see every little face in the room. I remember thinking about how hard clown school probably is or how much talent one needs to be a magician. If only I could have used a few napkins to make a puppet or a cloth large enough to hide my entire body.

      My cleanest joke at the time involved a massive catastrophic event where many people would die and I just tried to be clean so I could get out of there as soon as possible. It was a really rough time for everyone. I wish I could say it was the worst for me, but I already knew we would all die in an earthquake.

      What I learned was to ask more questions before accepting work and that it is important to only do shows that you are ready and qualified for. It isn’t about what I want, but about putting on a great show and not terrifying children.

      I know some young comedian out there is reading this and thinking that this doesn’t apply to them because they are so excellent at comedy. But I can assure you: I wrote this part just for them! 

      Catch Alicia Tobin's Come Draw With Me on February 24 at Hot Art Wet City (2206 Main Street) as part of JFL NorthWest and listen to her podcast, Retail Nightmares, here. You can also follow her on Twitter.