When to admit a set is going poorly

Interesting comment thread going at the handling-a-poor-set post I put up last week.

Is #4 a good idea? Seems like we comics always have the urge to say, "Wow, this is a huge pile of fail!" ...but as soon as we say that, at that point it DOES become a huge pile of fail.

I chimed in there with my .02 on it which is, basically, you should avoid dwelling on things going poorly for as long as you can. You often wind up sabotaging yourself by going negative. But at some point, I do think it's worth pointing out the elephant in the room if that elephant is a roomful of people who clearly dislike the words coming out of your mouth.


Abbi Crutchfield said...

I am a big proponent of not admitting this isn't going exactly as you planned. That way, if you're failing to make them laugh, and you're completely confident and happy about it, it's absurd, and you have a reason to laugh at yourself. Then you end up actually having fun with it.

In other words, call the elephant in the room. Name it. Make it your pet.

ECN said...

Again, this isn't about what is best for you. It's about what's best for the show. And dragging the room down by talking about how the show is bad is not best for the show.

Crowds are naturally pretty resilient. If they see something they don't like, they'll wait it out and get to the next thing. (This only works within reason. Still, though.)

But as soon as you break into the show and say "this is bad," that implicates the crowd in the failure. The one minute, they're sitting through a boring patch of the show waiting for the good part -- the next minute, they are in a tense situation.

You've turned up the volume on the bad part of the show, when you should be endeavoring to do no harm for the next acts' sake. This alleged elephant in the room is not the show's elephant -- it's your elephant. You're going to lead it out the door as soon as your set ends. No use calling attention to it.

And how about the one guy in the back who's laughing? And the three guys over there on the side who aren't laughing but are enjoying what you're doing?

Hey, you just insulted them. You just told them they didn't like your act, when they were actually liking it just fine. And now you're gesturing at the room and talking about an elephant, and they don't see an elephant. They probably think you're crazy. Good work.

And now you've created a hostile and unprofessional bunch of muck that the next act is going to have to address, either actively or at least tacitly. You've gone on after people who did that, right? Remember the uncontrollable sense of rage you felt at those guys for making you follow them?

Well, have you ever felt that kind of rage at a guy who just did his act and kind of failed?

So which one would you rather be to the next act?

Josh Homer said...

ECN nailed it.

Abbi Crutchfield said...

"This alleged elephant in the room is not the show's elephant -- it's your elephant. You're going to lead it out the door as soon as your set ends."

Good point. Pretty much what I'm saying. Well, ECN you're saying don't bother acknowledging that things aren't going well because it makes things tense, and I'm saying, don't bother acknowledging that things aren't going well unless you'll do it in a way that doesn't make the room tense. I'm saying, change your mindset first. Don't let bombing affect you to the point that it ruins your performance.

If readers want a simpler answer to how you deal with bombing: be funnier next time.

But if readers want an answer to to how to feel about a set that goes differently than they planned, how to feel about the audience's reaction, how to behave professionally in the face of difficulty, where to place one's self-worth after it's all over, then it's good to keep hashing it out here through comments with other people putting in their two cents about what works for them.

The audience does the courtesy of watching, you do them the courtesty of performing as best you can, and then both parties go on to forget the other, whether the experience was good or bad.

Mike said...

But what if the elephant you're acknowledging is your own deficiencies? That doesn't put the onus on the crowd at all, and they can feel connected to someone putting themselves out there and coming to terms with a failed attempt. If done in a skilled and non-belligerent manner, this humanizes the comedian and could set a personalized tone for not only the rest of the set, but for the rest of the show. In club shows in particular the audience sees the comedian as somewhat of a celebrity no matter what they've accomplished. (I've done nothing and been asked to take pictures with people enough to know that.) So if you can create some sort of bridge to connect with them, no matter if its written or riffed then how can that not be beneficial? It's a skill like anything else in comedy that is learned by trial and error. So to say "never do this" is always counter intuitive to what being on stage and developing is all about.

Mike said...

Sorry for the double post, but case in point Mitch Hedberg. He was brilliant at picking apart his own material and dismissing it as stupid while keep the audience 100 percent on his side. I think there's a big difference in commenting on a bad show as opposed to talking about your own personal bad set. Saying "this show is real shitty" is obviously always a terrible idea.

ECN said...

"But what if the elephant you're acknowledging is your own deficiencies? That doesn't put the onus on the crowd at all..."

Yeah, it does. If you're like, "hey, by the way, I'm bad at this," then they're going to feel cheated. They've come out to see comedians, and here they are watching a guy who KNOWS he's not good and decided to go up anyway.

And if you're like, "hey, that was a dumb joke I just did," then they're going to feel cheated. They've come out to see comedians, and here they are watching a guy who isn't even TRYING to entertain them.

Which... well, some very specific comedians can get away with the latter. But you REALLY have to finesse it, and it really only works if... well, consider Mitch Hedberg. He had two things:

a) Kind of a goofy slacker thing going on, where "not trying" (or at least not LOOKING like he was trying) was part of his charm. He also had:

b) A bunch of awesome jokes. Do you think Mitch Hedberg was talking about "hey, that was a dumb joke" after bombing unremittingly for three minutes? No. He did that after killing for several minutes with great material, and then doing one dumb joke -- and before killing for several MORE minutes with more great material.

Talking about bombing always goes much better when you're not bombing.

ECN said...

Oh, and one more thing. You talked about the mystique -- the kind of automatic legitimacy -- that comics have on their side, especially at club shows.

If you start "humanizing" yourself by talking about how you're failing, that's out the window -- not just for you, but for the rest of the bill. You'd better hope the restof the bill didn't hope to use that advantage for anything...

Josh Homer said...

Will you marry me?

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