That Time I Bombed is where the Straight asks comedians about their life-changing shows, favourite specials, and, a subject that any peformer will face at some point in their career, a time that they bombed on stage.
Who are you
I guess I would be considered a “conceptual comedian” because I’m terrible at writing jokes. I create situations and happenings that are funny. Currently, that includes Paul Anthony’s Talent Time (the first Thursday of every month at the Rio Theatre).
One time, in January, I decided to switch out the seats in the venue for exercise equipment so people could get started on their New Year’s resolution to “get fit” while enjoying the show. The equipment sponsor fell through so I made my dad drive me around to every Canadian Tire. I thought if I only got a couple stationary bikes from each store, I could return them the next day without too many questions.
So I’m getting him to drive all over the Lower Mainland and then back to the venue to drop them off. At the third location, when my 65-year-old father was straining his back to lift the last bike on a pile, he said, “Paul, can’t you just write a joke?” I think that sums me up pretty well.
First standup experience
When I was maybe 12, my mom snuck me into Rumor’s Comedy Club in Winnipeg to see Emo Philips. He was my absolute fave. Mid-joke, he spotted this young kid in the audience (me) and was a bit thrown. He made some quip I didn’t understand, but brought the house down.
After the show, he signed an autograph for me that said, “Good luck with your new skull”.
The first time I did stand up was at the same club, eight years later. I didn’t like the attitude I was getting from the manager when I asked for a spot on amateur night. He was trying to school me on what I needed to do to be a successful comedian. I wasn’t trying to be a successful comedian; I just wanted to shake things up. So I called up a friend who worked for a news station. He brought a TV crew and reporter to film a fake story about how the “underground cult legend” Hugh Phukovsky (my alter ego) was doing a spot on an amateur night in Winnipeg.
They interviewed the manager and the audience coming in and really got them hyped for someone they had never heard of before. That was my first-ever set. It went really well.
Life-changing comedy show
Early David Letterman. Even though I was too young to understand it at the time, he’s the reason I try really hard not to get better or grow. The first 10 years of that show were UNREAL. For sure he got better at interviewing as the years went on, but what I loved about him was that it was so raw and he just tried shit. A lot of it didn’t even land, but it was exciting.
He once did a show from JFK Airport before a long weekend just so he could get on a plane right after to get the most of his time off. They just used whatever furniture was there in the departure gate. No audience: just people walking by, kinda confused. It’s so awkward, but endlessly exciting.
When I was 14, I was also obsessed with this public-access show starring an elderly polka band called the Cosmopolitans. My work kinda makes sense now, right?
As far as live shows, it was Mitch Hedberg at the Giggles in Seattle less than a year before he died. I can safely say it was the hardest I have ever laughed at a comedy show. So much of his genius was wrapped up in his unique perspective and genuine personality, so it makes sense that his comedy would be elevated when you were in the same room as him.
Hugh Phukovsky actually played Giggles the month earlier with the comic that was opening for Mitch that night, so I was asked if I wanted to come back to meet him. Of course I did, but that’s another story.
Top three comedy specials/albums
Steve Martin Live — Concert Film I rented it when I was 19. He walks out to thunderous applause in a massive arena and then starts flapping his lips. It was like he started the show, but you can’t make out what he’s saying. Then he glances across the stage and notices a mic on a stand at centre stage. He walks over to it and says, as he gestures towards it, “Oh. They have THESE things!”
I thought it was brilliant and it absolutely destroyed me. I didn’t laugh out loud, but there was this shockwave of energy that washed over me and I turned it off. I went through this phase where I was so afraid of being influenced by other comedians. I wanted to make sure I was fully myself.
So for years, I only consumed horrible comedy, which doesn’t really make sense. And it also explains a lot. I finally watched the concert maybe 10 or 12 years later. I liked it. That first throwaway line was still my favourite part.
The Andy Kaufman Show This is the the special he did that starts with, “We now join the Andy Kaufman Show already in progress…” and everyone’s in hysterics. Then he sings his goodbye song while the credits roll. After a brief black out, it starts over again and loops all the way back to the end. It’s a variety show and he does interviews from a desk that is 10 feet tall, so he’s literally looking down at his guests.
I met his girlfriend, Lynne Margulies, in L.A. in 2004 and she gave me this homemade DVD that had all these rare sets Kaufman did at small comedy clubs in the ’80s. It was stuff that wasn’t on the Internet—at the time, anyway—like him eating a bowl of ice cream and doing his laundry onstage at the Comedy Store. It’s not really a comedy special, but it’s sure special to me.
Elayne Boosler — Party of One This isn’t the greatest special ever, but I always go back to it. There is something that is so charming about it. It’s really dated, but in a great way. It’s a total time capsule. And also important because when Showtime aired it in 1986, she became the first female to get her own one-hour comedy special on cable.
The network didn’t believe anyone would listen to a female comedian for a whole hour, so she actually had to self-fund it and then sell it to them after the fact. Speaking of which, I also highly recommend watching Lily Tomlin’s Lily for President and Lily Sold Out. Her character work is incredible.
All-time favourite joke or bit
There is a joke I heard three and half years ago that I still think about once a week. It was from DJ Douggpound, who’s probably best known as the editor of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!
Douggpound was opening for the Dr. Steve Brule tour. His live show is him at a DJ table, where jokes are interspersed with samples and songs. He asks, “What was Osama Laden’s middle name?” and then plays the first two words of that Barenaked Ladies song “One Week” that starts with “It’s been—”.
It’s such a long way to go for a joke, yet it happens so quickly and its surprising. It’s equally as dumb as it is brilliant. If you can pull off those two things simultaneously, you have my respect.
Something you saw that made you laugh, but probably shouldn’t have
There's nothing that can't be joked about. But the more delicate the subject, the more skilled you need to be to make those jokes work. When someone can pull off a great joke on a taboo subject, it’s pretty thrilling. I think Bill Burr and Louis C.K. used to be really good at that, but I can’t listen to either of them anymore.
That time I bombed
I still bomb 50 percent of the time as I don’t really have an act. If I get onstage, it’s probably the first and last time I’ve ever said that thing, so it’s hard to choose but…
When I was Hugh Phukovsky, I would perform with a water gun full of urine to control hecklers, so I’ve been chased out of a lot of places and had to jump into moving vans. I bombed pretty hard at the show I did inside the polar-bear enclosure at Stanley Park. There was a huge moat and fence between me and the audience (that included Andrew W.K.!) and that’s never good for comedy.
But probably the most painful was bombing in front of my girlfriend’s entire family while emceeing her sister’s wedding. Her parents are very religious. I mean, they rented a trailer for her and our daughter to stay in that weekend as we weren’t allowed to sleep in the same building because we aren’t married. Very lovely people, but rigid in those ways.
I opened with a joke-joke: “Emceeing a wedding is a lot like making love to Queen Elizabeth…” Which brought out some loud gasps. I’m thinking, “SHIT. This is just the setup. The first line of the first joke at the very start of the evening and people are already voicing their disapproval?? I’m screwed.” It’s hard enough DJing music at a wedding that keeps all generations happy, but comedy relatable to five- to 95-year-olds? When the first couple jokes bombed, I tried some crowd work. That went nowhere and out of desperation, I dropped the jokes and tried to just share some sincere feelings about love and relationships.
However, I hadn’t plan to go serious, so I hadn’t gathered my thoughts beforehand and was not feeling confident. I just rambled on about nothing to blank stares. You think bombing in front of strangers is bad? It was the first time I met a lot of them and I felt like such a schmuck. I think a big part of having a life in comedy is being able to feel a whole room of people hating you and choosing to not agree.
Paul Anthony hosts Paul Anthony's Talent Time: Game Night on Thursday (November 2) at the Rio Theatre (1660 East Broadway). Future shows take place on the first Thursday of every month. Like Talent Time Facebook page for all show updates.More