"You're Not Funny," The Definition of Comedic Bombing

When the Joke Just Falls Flat

Looks like the joke's on him
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To bomb as a comedian means that your jokes don't go over with the crowd and get no laughs. Typically, when a comic says he or she "bombed," they are referring to an entire set. However, it is possible that just a single comedic bit falls flat. Sometimes, individual jokes here or there bomb — and that's okay!

To "bomb" is a right of passage for every comedian, and while it usually happens early on in a comic's career, plenty of comedians have bombed even after finding success and becoming established. It could be a matter of having new material that hasn't been polished or worked out yet, or it could just be because the comic has had an off night. 

Many of the expressions related to comedians not getting any laughs refer to violent acts: bombing, choking, dying. That's because comedians are a dramatic bunch. But whether or not the comedian "tanks it," it truly is how he or she deals with the joke or act falling flat that defines the professional skill of the performer.

Great Comedy Bombs

Almost every successful stand-up comedian has a story about the time they bombed on stage early in their careers and didn't get a single laugh. Even Dane Cook has bombed, and that's after becoming the biggest comedian in the business.

"Saturday Night Live" cast member and Comedy Central comedian Brooks Wheelan once flopped so hard during one of his performances that he got booed off the stage. He was slated after Foster The People but before Ludacris at the University of Florida's annual "Gator Growl" festival, but the crowd wasn't expecting a half-hour-long comedy set and increasingly got more agitated as his jokes fell on deaf ears. About 10 minutes into the set, the audience was loudly booing and Wheelan exited the stage with "Enjoy Ludacris!" 

Comedian Margeret Cho once famously stated, "I got my period on stage once, but I was killing so I just let it go. Nobody seemed to mind/notice. Then there was the time I shit my pants while getting a standing ovation. I just walked out backward.” Talk about your embarrassing situations! But Cho handled both in strides, like many great comedians do, and made the best out of her ... crappy situation.

Try, Try Again

If you're a stand-up comic and you happen to find yourself on stage with an audience that's gone silent, the best thing to do is not to panic and to breath through the routine. Some comedians suggest moving on to another topic entirely while some recommend making light of how badly the joke or set missed. In any case, you're not going to be judged for one show very often — unless you're on a reality show competition like "Last Comic Standing" or "America's Got Talent." 

Every other time, the skill of a comedian is judged not on how bad he or she flops but on how well he or she handles the situation as it happens and after it's over. As a comedian, humor must be central in your life and the ability to laugh at oneself is equally important to being a good comedian. 

Just remember some days you have great shows where the audience is in tears from laughing so much, but some other days they walk out angrier and less joyful than before.  For this reason, it's important to know your audience to avoid these situations — just make sure you're not walking into the Republican Convention and trying to tell jokes about how terrible their Congress leader is and you'll be fine.