I've bombed there before.
By "there," I mean Rumor's Restaurant and Comedy Club in Winnipeg, where I used to be a regular host.
In theory, Rumor's paid me $40 and a meal to welcome the crowd, tell some jokes, and get everyone laughing and warmed up for the headliner. In practice, sometimes Rumor's paid me to welcome the crowd, tell some jokes, bomb horribly, and hide until everyone left the club and it was safe to come out again.
So, my heart goes out to comedian Tom Segura, a very funny American comic, who recently lived through an epic bomb at the same club. He recounts what happened in his podcast, above, while playing clips from the actual show. It's not for the timid. Generally speaking, you know something's gone horribly wrong when a comedy club manager approaches the stage and asks you if you're OK.
When you do well in comedy, you feel like James Cameron at the Oscars. When you do badly, you feel like Justin Bieber's eggs. So, it's awesome that Segura's so good natured about his experience, let alone even able to listen to it again. He blames the bombing on three factors: the club, the audience, and himself. Yeah, it pretty much takes a village to experience humiliation on this scale.
As I say, I've been there. Mercifully, I've never faced an angry mob, but I won't rule it out for the future. My most memorable bomb at Rumor's is the time I was onstage and noticed a table of people who wouldn't shut up during my act. I decided to handle the situation delicately: "Shut the eff up!" I yelled, though I may have actually said the full eff word.
I expected waves of laughter, and I got back waves of hate. Turns out that a wedding party was seated at that particular table, though the spotlight was so bright in my eyes, I didn't know it. The audience turned on a dime and, unlike Segura's group, shut up and sat in judgmental silence, like Tom Cruise in Magnolia. I didn't sleep for a few days.
I saw the same thing happen to Canadian comic John Wing at Rumor's when he suggested to a heckler that he wasn't exactly an MIT grad.
"What's that?," asked the heckler, proving the point.
"Massachusetts...Institute...of Technology!," yelled Wing. He left the stage a few minutes later to almost no applause. No one's ever won over a crowd by saying that they're dummies, except maybe Don Rickles.
Another time, Canadian comic Ron James stormed off the Rumor's stage and refused to come back until the club removed the idiot in the front row who was heckling him. That's the only time I've ever seen a patron removed from the club, if you don't count the amateur comic at the open mic who vomited onstage, ran out the door, and never came back.
Here's the problem; when someone in the audience is out of control, whose job is it to solve the problem: the comedian or the club? On one hand, any good comic prides him- or herself on the ability to control the room and handle bad things when they happen. On the other, what happens when there's someone in the audience who just won't shut up? Does the club have a responsibility to intervene at the horrible risk of not selling a few more pitchers of beer and tater tots?
In Canada, it's actually very rare for hecklers to yell stuff designed to destroy a show; most of them are just drunkards having a swell time and wanting to participate.
In Winnipeg, though, I think there's something special going on. Unlike America, where the audience tends to identify with the comedian onstage, we Winnipeggers tend to identify with our fellow audience members. "Hey, if you insult one person in the audience, you insult all of us!"
In that special way, we're close to each other if completely unsympathetic to the poor person boldly attempting to entertain us, the unentertainable.
The next time Segura comes back to Rumor's, and I hope there will be a next time, let's do him a simple favor: leave the torches and pitchforks at home.