The Comedian

At a lovely fundraising event on Saturday night, I experienced something for the first time: I was present when a comedian completely bombed.

He started off pretty well, warming up the crowd with some gimmicks to get clapping and applauding. In hindsight, I should have known that things were going downhill, because one of the things he got us to clap for was the setup for a joke about him turning down an offer from Saturday Night Live to appear at the fundraising event instead. People were seemed really happy for him when he told us that SNL was interested, so when it turned out to be a joke, I think he started to lose our trust.

After a few jokes–some hits, some misses–things really took a turn for the worst.

It started with a joke that might have worked with the right crowd, perhaps a much drunker, less compassionate crowd. But this particular crowd of people is all about being inclusive, welcoming, and kind to people of all shapes and sizes, so when the comedian made a joke about a physical impediment (a lisp), you could hear crickets.

I had two reactions to the joke: One, I was appalled. I laugh easily, but not at that type of humor. Two, I was fascinated. I had never seen a comedian bomb before, and I was curious to see if he’d recover. I don’t enjoy seeing people suffer, so I was rooting for him to pull out of the nose dive.

Then he made an extensive joke about ugly women that wasn’t funny and was really wrong for this kind, compassionate crowd, and I stopped rooting for him. I wasn’t rooting against him, really–I’m sure he meant no harm–but it really just wasn’t working, and people weren’t finding joy in it. So after exchanging confused looks with all of my friends at the table, we got up and left the room.

I’ve heard that most comedians experience difficult crowds on a routine basis, and it’s just part of the job. That must be really tough! Imagine going to work every day and completely failing every other day. I think I have a greater respect for what comedians do now, though I hope this particular comedian figures out how to better connect with this type of crowd at fundraising events.