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 Simon King—hold for applause—standup comedian, small-time dissident, and consumer of unrealistic, potentially unsustainable amounts of bourbon. I’m also an absolute maniac with a microphone and a special little snowflake of uniqueness in the comedy universe.
I was once described as the only comic you can hear from space, which NASA has spent millions proving to be true. And if you like to think while you laugh, I may be your guy. If you like loud, fast-paced, stream-of-consciousness comedy with a solid point and just enough silly voices and noises, then come aboard. If you’re gonna tell me I talk too fast, you didn’t come here to think, or that there are not enough fart jokes, AWAY WITH YOU!
First standup experience
Shortly after the meteor containing my escape pod crashed onto Earth, and following the tragic destruction of my home planet as chronicled in THE GREAT BOOK OF WATOOMB!, I found myself lacking direction. What was I to do? Who was I going to be? How would I fit in with my new homeland?
I soon realized that being funny was the best way to control people and blend in—all while biding my time before taking over this measly planet. Well, it was either that or be good looking. But since I look like all my parts came from different model years that were kicked together by a chimp with a runny eye infection, funny it was.
Since then, I have dedicated my life—or at least until the return of the mother ship signalling my voyage across the trans-dimensional rift to the Ultraverse—to standup comedy. What was the question again?
Life-changing comedy show
In 1978, I was sitting backstage at the Roxy in Los Angeles and watched as a young Robin Williams took to the stage with nothing but his manic energy, wild imagination, and enough cocaine in him to fill the dried and emptied skull of a giant sea beaver, and I remember being blown away by how powerful standup comedy was.
I was enthralled by just how engaging improv-based, stream-of-conscious comedy could be. I knew I needed to find my way there. I was only just over one-year-old, but even then I thought, “Hey, this beats the hell out of the crap I’ve been doing onstage: grabbing my feet, waving with one hand, saying dada. So hack. I gotta up my game.”
Right then, I knew that, as a comedian, you have great power to make people think as well as laugh while still holding true to who you are. You have the ability to make them feel and to take them places. I was fundamentally changed by that experience and that led me to starting again, to try to access that improv side of myself while seeking deeper meaning in my comedy.
Eventually, I was lucky enough to become Dane Cook’s opener for many years. But then I hit 11 or 12 and he said I was getting too old to relate to the majority of his audience. Show business is a fickle bitch.
Top three comedy specials/albums
First of all, this required more thought than a table of drunks figuring out how much they each owe during the cheque drop at a comedy club. But I’ll give it a whirl in the sprit of international relations.
Doug Stanhope — No Refunds This is one of the most perfect comedy specials ever made. It’s dark and smart, like if Cormac McCarthy wrote physics textbooks. And it’s the right album to play at a funeral if you hated the person.
Stanhope is, for my money, the best working comedian anywhere today and he approaches standup like he’s building a Rube Goldberg machine of premises and punches. Most of his specials actually are special and choosing between this one and Beer Hall Putsch was harder than a dirty priest at a Little League game.
There is no one as fearless, as ruthless, and as downright thought-provoking as Doug, while still being well on the right side of funny. He’s also shunned conventional fame as best as he can and has managed to stay on the radar. He’s pretty much everything you want in a comedy revolutionary. ***FIVE VODKA SODAS OUT OF FIVE***
Maria Bamford — As Me About My New God This special shows you just how deep you can go into yourself and still be relatable. It winds beautifully between outright funny and wonderfully open. Bamford doesn’t just do voices to accentuate her pieces—she becomes the person and the results are fantastic.
She’s a comedy genius and there’s no argument about that. In fact, if you wanna argue about it, I will be at park on Seymour and Davie all day every day (things are going great) and prepared to arm wrestle you to prove I’m right. ***FIVE LEXAPROS OUT OF FIVE***
Brian Regan — I Walked On The Moon I chose this one because it’s got one of my favourite pieces of his in it. Then again, almost all his specials have one of my favourite pieces of his in it. He’s brilliant and, when it comes to just laughing out loud, he’s always my go to.
Regan does things with comedy that others can’t or won’t. A genius at premise mining, he explores everything to all of their corners and then some. If you think an avenue of humour is dead or a premise is beaten flat, well, Regan will almost always prove you wrong. His energy, likability, word economy, act outs, facial expressions, writing, just pretty much all of it, is amazing.
Brian Regan doesn’t get his due when we talk about the greats in the field and I’d love ot change that. You can have your Carlins and Pryors and Hicks and that’s great, but when you wanna talk about best of all time, all three of the comics I’ve listed here should be in that conversation. ***FIVE SNOWCONES OUT OF FIVE***
Disagree? Well, you know what park I’ll be at.
All-time favourite joke or bit
What time is it? Seriously, there’s no way for me to answer this because even I don’t know what’s gonna make me laugh until it happens. When it does, it could be such a table slapper or a thinker, and I shift what’s at the top of that list. I can’t rate stuff like that.
Are there bits that I think are genius and I wish I wrote? Of course, but in terms of the best bit, I can’t judge art like that. It’s fluid and emotional and dissecting it, for me, is too hard. If we’re going by feeling—what makes me want to tell jokes—then it’s just being around standup.
Feeling the audience waiting on the words and watching them rise and fall: they go wherever we take them and tha,t in and of itself, is so inspiring. Standup is so much more than being funny, so unfortunately, I have to go with this nebulous answer that leaves nobody satisfied.
Look, I know that’s not the answer you’re looking for, so I’ll give you an all-time favourite personal comedy moment:
I once got into an elevator on the 26th floor. On the 25th floor, a man got on. Just me and him. After 10 seconds, I turned to him and softly said, “I’m very good at small talk.” Then we remained in silence for the next 24 floors. I found that personally hilarious, but I’m messed up.
Sadly, that’s probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done and yet I am doomed to live on knowing I’ve peaked.
Something you saw that made you laugh but probably shouldn’t have
I find tragedy incredibly funny, probably because I can’t deal with how terrible everything is. So pretty much everything falls into that category. Except ISIS—those guys are meanies, and honestly, it’s kinda hack.
That time I bombed
Oh, man. Buckle in because this is a long one and, unlike most everything else I’ve written here, completely true.
In the winter of 2010, I was doing a series of corporate shows in Saskatoon with my friend and killer comedian Matt Billon. During the run of six weeks of boring corporate, clean, hour-long shows, we were offered a bar gig miles and miles away in Medicine Hat, Alberta. Eager to do anything that wasn’t a tedious “behave yourself” set, we jumped at the chance.
Fast forward six hours of driving and we’re in a bar that’s split into two: bar and showroom with a dividing wall down the middle, and doors near the stage and at the back of the room leading between the venues. In the showroom, which seats about 100, there was a large contingent of people there to see a comedy show—a comedy show that Matt and I were going to provide. There was also a good amount of people on a raised area at stage-right that were having a drunken Christmas party. As they were friends of the former owner, the staff at the bar was unable to to kick them out. But you could tell immediately it would be a problem.
So Matt starts the show, and right away, the people who came for the show are amazing and the people who came to drunkenly hit on the co-worker they’ve been eyeing all year but couldn’t get up the courage without the right amount of rye, are animals. Matt is a great comedian and as experienced as you can be, but after half an hour of fighting these drunken jerks, it was over. He left the stage short of his 45 minutes and I didn’t blame him one bit.
So now I’m up and I decide I’ve had enough of these selfish, drunken idiots. I don’t mind if a whole audience is garbage—I do tons of shows a year, so that’s just another rough one—but when most of the crowd wants to watch the show and a few people wreck it for them, that’s when I lose my patience. Now, the story is quite involved, but in the spirit of word economy, I will do my best to be quick.
After half an hour of trying everything I knew how to do—reasoning with them, threatening them, talking to them, ignoring them, everything—I was about ready to give up. I had never walked offstage before the end of my time in my life, but I was honestly at my wit’s end. I had even reasoned with the, pointing out that there was an entire empty bar right next door that they could go be as loud as they wanted to in, but they were having none of if. It was a battle of wills and I was losing.
So there I am: mic back in the stand, about ready to walk for the first time in my life, to admit defeat in the face of an audience. But just then, the server brought a shot onstage and said it was from my “friends.” I expected this to be some sort of brutal shot from the loud table just to mess with me.
I look over and standing by the door are not only Matt, but two other comics and friends of ours who happen to have been in town for their own shows elsewhere. They’d seen the whole thing and watched me fight this table like it was an angry bear who just got denied a mortgage. They’re all grinning like idiots because, of course for them, this was hilarious as there’s nothing funnier than watching your friend struggle onstage. (I once watched a comedian bomb so hard he removed everything but his underwear and shuffled off to the sound of his own footsteps and I wept with laughter. Gold.)
So at this point, I decide I’m not going out like that. Not in front of my friends. Not for an audience who mostly wanted a show. I say to the crowd that I’m going to the bar next door to finish the show and anyone who wants to join me is welcome. So I walk offstage and roughly 95 people followed me from the showroom to the adjoining bar. I performed without a mic, lights, or stage for another hour-plus and it was one of the best shows I have ever done to one of the most appreciative audiences I have ever played. It was an experience I will never forget.
Oh, and the only people left in the showroom were the four worst hecklers closest to the stage now sitting in an abandoned, brightly lit room with no music playing finishing up their beers in silence. I don’t think they’ll ever forget that show either.
Simon King plays the Vancouver Stand Up Comedy Wildfire Relief Show at Yuk Yuk's Comedy Club this Sunday (August 13) and the 28-Hour Comedy Marathon For A Cause at the Kino (3456 Cambie Street) this Monday and Tuesday (August 14 and 15).
Proceeds from these shows will benefit the Canadian Red Cross and the Canadian Disaster Animal Response Team.