One of the worst nightmares of every public speaker — especially for comedians — is telling a joke and getting no laughs from the audience, or what we call bombing. The bad news is, everybody bombs. It’s just part of the job, but it’s how you recover from bombing that is more important. The good news is, as you become more experienced and confident, it happens less and less. And even when it does happen, it won’t be as bad anymore.
First thing to do is gauge the reaction of your audience. What I mean is, see if they really noticed that the joke didn’t work. Sometimes, the audience won’t notice at all. If you can move on to the next joke without calling attention to your misfired joke, you can actually get away with it. But your next joke has to work. Two jokes in a row that fall flat will definitely get their attention, or worse, lose their attention. That is why experienced comedians will sandwich a new joke in between old and tested jokes.
If it’s really obvious your joke didn’t get any laughs, then it’s time to stop and admit that you failed. Strangely, this will illicit laughter from them. I think it’s kinda like saying to them that it’s okay that I bombed, I’m not taking myself seriously and neither should you. You can say standard things like:
“I don’t know what I was smoking when I thought of that.”
“I knew I shouldn’t have bought that joke from Carrot Top.”
“My wife wrote that one.”
“I am going to fire my comedy coach after this show.”
One mistake performers make is to get back at the audience for not getting the punch line, which can lead to them turning on you, then the show becomes real ugly quick. It might be better to just do blame it on yourself and self-deprecate at least for the sake of the show. Then you can blame the audience after the show. Now, if the audience didn’t pay to watch, then screw them. Do whatever you want.
Honesty is the best policy when it comes to bombing. Admit that the joke didn’t work. Make fun of yourself for thinking it was funny at all. Then move on. Now, if you really want to be good at making come backs from flat punch lines, go to an open mic and purposely do bad jokes. Your brain will be forced to think of “savers” or one-liners to get you back on track.
Tim Tayag is a pioneer of point of view stand up comedy in the Philippines and Asia. He started his comedy career in San Francisco back in 1997 and has toured and performed all over the world. You can learn more about him by visiting his website or purchase his comedy CD.
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