Five Comics Walk Into a Club for the First Time… Again
Stand-up comedians live interesting lives, spending much of their time alone figuring out ways to make us laugh, then going up on stage to find out if they're right. To celebrate the return of Edmonton's stand-up scene, we asked some local comics about the layoff, Zoom shows, what they missed most and what it was like when they bombed so hard.
By Cory Schachtel | August 12, 2021
I’ve been doing comedy for like 18 years now, so the thing I miss is just the people around comedy — the other comedians and staff and just kind of being at the club hanging out with people. If I were younger, I’d probably miss the live performance aspect of it more, because it’s exciting being in front of people. It’s like the same stuff you’d miss if you were an accountant who couldn’t do accounting anymore: You wouldn’t miss doing taxes, you would miss hanging out with other accountants. And doing comedy is exactly like doing taxes.
With Zoom shows, I think comics got used to doing shows where there was no heckling, there was no drunk table, no people who wouldn’t shut up, so I think the new stock line is gonna be, “Man, do I ever miss Zoom shows,” or, “I wish I could mute certain tables.”
The worst bombs are usually at work parties where the only reason you got hired is because somebody in the company wanted to be a comedian, and this is their chance to tell some jokes as the emcee. Hiring a comedian gives them cover to be like, “I’m gonna bring the comedian up in a minute, but the other day I was thinking…” and then go into their 10-minute dream set. And if they bomb they can just go, “Well, here’s the professional!”
But this guy was the rare breed who was actually very funny. He had all these inside baseball jokes, like making fun of Claire from accounting. He had funny stories about everybody so it was like a company roast, and he destroyed. And then I went up, and it felt even worse, because the crowd was like, “Well, we just laughed for the guy from HR. What do you got?”
I was supposed to do an hour. But it was going so badly that I just did a half an hour and just couldn’t continue. But the lady who organized the event had everything timed out to the minute. So my set was from eight to nine, and then at nine, the photo booth and bar were supposed to open. All the other vendors that were in the room were told don’t do anything until nine. So it’s 8:30, and I’m done, and then people start going up to the bar and the photo booth and all these vendors were saying no, we don’t open until nine. There was a half hour to kill, and I was just about to leave. And then the emcee was like, “We might as well bring the comedian back up for a little more entertainment!” So after just bombing and trying to slink out of the room…I had to go up to a smattering of applause and bomb for another half hour. The first half hour I did was the only material that they could possibly have enjoyed, and they hated it. And then I had to go up and do a bunch of material that had no chance of working and it went even worse. It’s the only time I’ve double bombed.
I did a lot of backyard shows that were pretty good, but I haven’t done a lot of Zoom shows just because it doesn’t really feel real to me. Now it feels very good to be in a group of people that makes you laugh, and the adrenaline rush of actually being on stage, feeling the energy in the room, even with the hecklers or the drunk tables. A lot of people hate that, but for me, it’s all part of it.
One of my favourite bombs was right before the pandemic, in Bragg Creek. It’s just this super nice town full of recently retired, or about-to-retire people, and I was like 19 and, you know, we don’t really get each other sometimes. Nothing was connecting, they just weren’t with me on anything. They just kind of looked at me like I was their grandson and I was disappointing them.
But it was a fundraiser, and I had suited up for the show, but I was just dying on stage. And so I started going faster and faster, and by the time I ran out of jokes, I was like, well, I told every joke I have — that’s always 30 minutes, so I probably did at least 20 minutes by now. And when I walked back to the back of the room, the comedians were laughing at me super hard, and I couldn’t figure out why. And then I checked my phone, and I realized I did 12 minutes.
A few small towns have defeated me like that. Another was Gibbons. I was trying to do crowd work, and I asked this guy, “What do you do?” And he didn’t answer me. So I was just making fun of how he was ignoring me. And I said, “Oh, this guy’s gonna beat the shit out of me in the parking lot after,” thinking that would be a funny thing to say. And then as soon as I said that he gets up from his seat and starts rushing the stage. He was a grown man, and I was 19. He was probably 30 feet away, so I had about 10 seconds to freak out. When he was about two feet from the stage somebody grabbed him and took him outside. And I’m like, what the hell just happened? I didn’t think I even said anything to piss him off. And then somebody from the crowd pipes up and says, “Oh yeah, that’s my uncle. He’s deaf.” I still think about him, because I never found out why he was mad.
I’m so happy to just see my friends again. I really only hang out with comics, and we’ve all been away from each other. I’ll probably eat my words and in a few months be like, “I hate these people,” but for now I’m excited. This is what I want to do with my life, so if I’m not doing it, it feels like I’m missing a big portion of it. Also, having some income is nice.
In my opinion, every Zoom show that I did, I bombed. There’s such a lag that even if you get a laugh, it’s so far later that it’s too late. You can’t see people and if you can, they’re awkwardly staring at you from their couches. You lose a piece of your dignity doing that.
Most of my in-person bombs I block out of my memory, and just get really drunk after. But one of my very first times that I was closing was at O’Byrnes on Whyte Ave. It was a big deal for me, and it just went terribly. The layout back then had comedy right by the front door, and there were people eating and drinking and having fun near the back. So everybody was super loud and did not care that there was comedy happening.
There were like three tables of people near the front, and I was like, OK, this is better than nothing. But everybody kind of bombed that night, and I was closing. So we kept losing people and I was like, no, there needs to be people here for me to do a show. And by the time I went up to do 30 minutes, there were two people at one table on their phone the whole time. I was just basically practicing, like I was at home talking to nobody. And I’m a pretty high energy, loud comic. So by the end it was just this weird girl screaming on stage to one person getting ready to pay their bill. So I just left to no applause and went to get drunk.
Catch Natasha at Naked Cyber Cafe August 15, and Arts on the Ave August 20.
I was not good at Zoom shows. They gave me high anxiety that I’d never felt before performing. They’re just not the same at all, and any comic that tells you they’re fun is lying to you. Because stand-up comedy is such a personal thing. You have to be in front of a crowd, where everybody feels very close, and that was non-existent. In February I was like, I’m never gonna be a comedian again. But once I did my first shows, it was fine. So I was just all in my head. That’s why I liked some backyard shows, because they were still intimate, so I think they might catch on.
I did a show with Charles Haycock in Bentley, Alberta. It was a hockey fundraiser, and I usually do pretty well at hockey fundraisers. Charles went on and just killed in front of me, they loved him. And the show started a little bit late, so people were pretty drunk. And before I went on, the guy who booked me told me the girl who was there last year bombed real hard. So I’m like, Oh, great, now I have to be the voice of all female comedians, because if one female comedian isn’t funny one time, that means we’re all not funny. But I was still pretty confident they’d like me.
First of all, I called the town Rimbey, which was my biggest mistake. They were mad about that. And it just did not go well at all after that. They were not into me. I’ve heard comics say it’s hard to follow a dirty comic. But it’s just as hard to follow a super clean comic that really hits, and Charles is really good at clean and very smart comedy, and I’m a little bit dirtier and darker. And they did not like it, except for one table. I was not even going to say goodbye to the booker, I was just gonna leave out the side door because this was a bad one. And when we were in the parking lot, this guy who was at that one table came to me and said, “What the hell was wrong with all those people? You were very funny!” I don’t take bombing well, it really hurts. But that was nice, and really, you have to bomb.
Surprisingly, I did enjoy Zoom shows just because I got to tell my jokes, even if they were awkward or weren’t received well. I was really hard on myself for a while, I think because we hadn’t been doing it the way we were before, we weren’t exercising that muscle. So it was just nice to say the jokes and get them out.
I think my whole writing process has actually changed now. I started taking it a bit more seriously. Because I didn’t want to go back into comedy looking like I just started again, I wanted to come in hot and give people a reason to get excited. I wanted to throw that energy at them.
My worst bomb was at the worst setup. I was asked to close the show out at the Rec Room, which is a big arcade place with different levels, all these stairs and the setting is just kind of funny. I was told that I was going to be performing in the general seating area. It’s not like an auditorium, it’s where everybody’s eating in the lounge. And it was the Oilers season opener. I had to do a half an hour, and the whole time I’m like, this is the fucking worst.
I did the whole thing. And nobody was laughing, because nobody asked for this. They were just there to have chicken wings and watch the season opener. And my husband’s friends were there. And I was like, Oh great, now they think I suck, like, “She’s a comic — really?”
But bombing is good for you. Because it humbles you. So many times I’ve seen newer comics go on stage, and they’ve got this confidence, but they suck. And I’m like, Please god, give them the worst bomb ever, so that they’ll get better at it. Because you learn from bombing to just ride that wave because, once you’re equipped for it, something hilarious will take you up. Every room is different. You’ve got so many different variables, every time you do stand up. I once did a bomb joke about how if I’m bombing up here, it’s fine. And then I just addressed the crowd, like I’m not afraid of bombing because there are literal demons in the world. I just started naming off shit that’s scarier than bombing. And I feel like it gave the audience an understanding of how scary bombing actually is. But I haven’t done that one in a while. I gotta write that down.