Over the years I have found the following to be true: You can make some of the people laugh all of the time and most of the people laugh some of the time–and the remainder think you suck and you will never ever make them laugh. I recently had my first and still only attempt at stand up comedy, and the handful of people who watched were the remainder.
I had a long-standing invitation from a musician friend to perform between sets, at a restaurant on the Manuel Antonio beach. It was a busy Friday night in February, and my friends who had hoped to come–to give me supporting chuckles, as one put it–all worked in tourism and couldn’t make it down. It was me and two apathetic tables of tourists who had come to dine, and not be interrupted by some raving lunatic. I was introduced, my opening lines got a polite snicker from somewhere.
Then the one line that got an actual laugh, a joke about a present fashion trend– “Buying a new pair of pants with holes in them makes about as much sense as buying new underwear that already has a shit stain.” My crudest joke, but I hadn’t planned on being crude. So I stuck with my script. I told a joke about the old hippie hit song, My Green Tambourine. “Its about a loser who stands on the street and bangs a tambourine and expects people to give him money. I mean, how much should I give to somebody who’s playing an instrument that took 10 minutes to master?” Silence.
Maybe there were serious tambourine players in the audience. I soldiered on–” I’m in a writer’s block group–its just like a regular writer’s group, except we don’t write shit! Every meeting we just sit around, drink coffee and talk about the unfinished first chapter of the books that will never, ever get written”. Silence. Maybe there were people with writer’s block in the audience.
I had a set of jokes about life in Costa Rica, and told a story about the most dangerous barrio in Costa Rica where the ‘’muertos” are actual dead bodies. Muerto, besides the dictionary meaning, is also Costa Rican slang for a speed bump.
But the only dead body that night was mine– I was dying with a mike in my hand. I was actually laughing softly at the silence when I finished by dedicating my bit to a (made up) couple who had fallen on hard times. “They aren’t the brightest bulbs on the Christmas tree”, I said. “He is in jail right now–he was busted trying to smuggle cocaine into Colombia”. Pause for the laughter that did not come. “And she is here hoping to get work.
She said she came to this area because she heard we had an acute shortage of yoga instructors”. More silence. Maybe I had an audience of tambourine playing, coke snorting yoga instructors in writer’s groups.. I said a quick Thank You Very Much and retreated to my friend’s table where a cold beer was soon in hand. The first of many. Later we went back to his place to party some more. I consoled myself–’It would’ve really sucked if it had been an actual comedy club”….”the people there came to eat and listen to music”…”.
If just one table of friends had shown up…” It was a perfect storm for a failed routine and the very definition of bombing–’’I needed your drummer back there to do that little rimshot and cymbal slap after each punch line’’, I said to my friend. We drank, smoked and laughed the rest of the evening away. Sometimes the best joke is the one you tell on yourself.