NASCAR, hockey and open-mic comedy. The common thread? Spectators at all three arrive with a little bloodlust.
As much as crowds love good comedy, there's a giddy anticipation when an audience senses that a comic is on the verge of crashing and burning.
It's a question I've been asked before: What is it like when the jokes don't work? When the laughter is definitely at you, not with you? What is it like to bomb?
For me, it's like the feeling you get when you're walking down a staircase in the dark, thinking that you're at the bottom, and realizing as you plant your foot firmly that you're a good two to three steps up from the floor.
There's a panic that sets in as you dangle and wave your foot wildly looking for a solid landing because you know that the next few seconds are crucial and your moves will determine just how badly you get hurt.
Comedy is an aggressive medium to begin with. For newer comics who don't know how to wrest that power and control it consistently, bombing is inevitable.
They may start a joke and forget their lines. Maybe they deliver a joke and get no laugh, causing them to press or pander for laughs. Sometimes, a heckler throws out a line that catches the comic off guard and there's a shift in the control of the room. Once that control shifts from the stage to the crowd, the comic knows the end could be near if they don't act fast.
So, what should you do when you don't feel that floor rushing up to make contact with your foot and you're about to lose the room? Remember that it's not you that the audience doesn't like - it's your material. Taking it personally, retaliating verbally, mocking the crowd for "not getting it" is going to ensure you end up at the bottom of that staircase with a broken ankle and a brief career.
Keep in mind that it's on you to make them "get it." Be entertaining. Smile your way through it and become the sympathetic figure instead of the aggressive, confrontational guy who's sucking onstage and has now become angry to boot. In comedy, as in society, we love the underdog. Play the game for the long and keep in that that your ego will heal. If you do, you'll live to fight another crowd.
Jay Grove is a Concord-based comedian who performs nationally and has written jokes for the New England Cable News, "Iron Brides" television show, and the upcoming "Deliver Me." He hosts "Punchlines @ Penuche's," every Monday night at 9 at Penuche's Ale House. He can be reached at email@example.com.