Flop sweat (noun phrase): A performer’s anxiety; fear of failure
It’s 10pm. I’m on the east coast and about to do the first of two bar shows. Both shows have three comics, doing 30 minutes each. This show, I am the first up. I wait at the back of the room as the MC walks up, reads my credits and then walks off stage. He doesn’t say my name. Did he think he said my name? Do I go up? In the awkward still of the terrible moment, I walk on stage to a smattering of applause as the audience realizes that was indeed the intro.
Moments after getting on stage, I start to bomb. Jokes aren’t landing and tables of people don’t find me funny. Bombing is a lot like black ice, once it starts, you can’t do much to get out of it. You just hope that when it’s over, you aren’t hurt too badly. I start to panic a bit. I can smell the flop sweat on me, and so can the audience. I am making amateur mistakes and I can’t seem to fix it. I check my watch – only 23 minutes more to go.
Sadly, that wasn’t my worst gig. My worst gig recently was in an old folks home. YEP! You read that right! I helped out a friend hosting a night of comedy featuring a handful of very amateur middle aged comedians … in an old folks home.
A lady met me at the door, brought me to a beautiful pub inside the building and then walked me right up on stage. The stage being the corner of a room, with a pool table in front of me, and the low hanging billiard lights blocking everyone’s view of my face.
The sound system was a speaker behind me on a chair, not in front or beside, where the folks could hear it. I did a quick sound adjustment while I spoke to them and then did a few minutes of material to warm them up. No laughs. I brought up the first comedian. No laughs.
Second, third, and fourth? No laughs.
Everybody was doing dirty material for an audience who was already old in the 1940s. I did material that I had done for CBC and Just For Laughs to total silence. Well, almost total silence. You see, everybody was seated at tables of four. Two seats facing me and two facing away. You would assume the folks facing away would turn their seats to watch. Nope. They faced away and promptly fell asleep. During one of the comedians, a woman whispered: “This one isn’t funny.” Of course, she was in her 80’s and hard of hearing so instead of a whisper it came out as deafening yell. The show lasted 45 minutes. It would have been better if I had sung a hymn.
Back to the east coast. I bomb that first show, walk out of the venue with my head spinning, get into a car and the driver takes me to the next place. I walk on stage 15 minutes later and I have one of the best shows I have ever done with the same jokes. Why?
I found out later the audience for the first show had been sitting in the bar since 6pm drinking. They saw the early show and then mine three hours later. Turns out it wasn’t me, every comedian on that show bombed. The audience was too drunk to laugh. It made me feel a little better.
Lots of guys blame a bad show on the audience, and while they can sometimes be right, I rarely agree. It’s the comedian’s job to go out and be funny. Break a sweat and work the crowd. It’s your job to make them laugh. Unless it’s an old folks home at 6pm – then, I guess, just steer towards the ditch and hope for the best.