The Art Of Bombing


Thursday, 11:49am
Tampa Bay, FL
“What kind of music do you play here, Bob?” “Oh, we got both kinds. Country and western.” (Bob, the bar owner, and Jake Blues in “The Blues Brothers”)


Each year around July 4th, I like to post something on the blog about the First Amendment to the Constitution.

The part about free speech remains a protection that Americans enjoy (most of the time)… while much of the rest of the world refuses to even consider the concept.

Even otherwise enlightened joints like Europe have an itchy relationship with free speech.

Hell, we couldn’t get such a protection passed here in the States now.  If it hadn’t been wedged into the Constitution by Jefferson in the Bill of Rights 240 years ago, it would still be an unrealized pipe dream of writers and deep thinkers everywhere.

Make no mistake:  Your freedom to write blogs without government interference… as well as your right to use words like “fuck” to your heart’s content while making your point… is protected (mostly).

And this freedom is what fueled America’s dominance in stand up comedy.

Hey, don’t scoff.  Satire, ridicule, and funny stuff very much qualifies as deep thinking.

In fact, it’s how public opinion gets changed the fastest.

And this freedom has been denied to almost every human who has walked the planet in our history.

So don’t take it lightly.  Your ancestors would have killed for such a seemingly obvious privilege (and both did kill to get it, and die defending it).

The Man don’t like free speech.

Bugs him.  Irritates his sense of authority and moral dominance.

Well, fuck The Man.

For every writer who was or will be jailed for writing the truth (as he or she sees it)…

… and for every deep thinker who has been ostracized or exiled (or beheaded) for daring to challenge The Way Things Are…

… here is my toast to you, on the eve of the anniversary of our country’s bid for independence.

We’re not perfect, by a long shot.  We are, in fact, extremely dysfunctional on most levels — government, commerce, entertainment, Fourth Estate, and on down the list.

Still, I love this rickety old experiment in democracy.

As a writer, it’s part of my job to love and enjoy the good parts.  I owe it to all the poor slobs who preceded me in the gig… ink-stained wretches who could barely dream of the freedoms that writers enjoy today.  (Let alone the amazing stage presented by the Web for eveyone with something to say.)  (And even those with nothing to say.)

Mmmm-whaw!  Big kiss to the Constitution.

Our rights are fragile, as recent administrations have made abundantly clear.

Love them, hug them, nurture and protect them with passion and action.

And, most of all…

… enjoy the hell out of them.

To that end, I am proud to introduce another guest post by my friend and colleague Kevin Rogers.  (That stand-up-comic-turned-killer-copywriter who was also the very first writer to guest-post on this blog a while back.)

I laughed out loud several times reading this post, and I hope you get the same raw enjoyment.

The lessons are good ones, too.

So, without further ado… put your hands together and give a rousing Marketing Rebel Rant welcome to our guest, Kevin Rogers.

Kevin Rogers, everybody.

Take it away, Kevin.

And don’t fuck it up.

[Applause, dropped mic, feedback, lights dim…]

Thanks John, I’m honored to be back.

(And a special shout out to everyone who posted jokes and comments last time. Not surprisingly, there’s an army of sharp wits floating around here at camp Carlton.)

I had such a good time examining copywriting tactics through the prism of stand-up comedy on the last post that I’m going back to the well. Only this time let’s flip the script and observe at the art of bombing on stage…

…and how studying the cause and effect can help you avoid “eating the big one” with your marketing campaigns.

One of my first “hell gigs” as a stand-up comic was a deal too good to pass up…

…$75 to drive 600 miles from my apartment in Clearwater, FL to Gadsden, Alabama for one show in a strip mall country bar called Shit Kickerz – or something ridiculous like that.

(Don’t bother doing the math on that. I was 19 and living the dream. Besides, as you’ll see, negative net profit was not my biggest problem on this gig.)

It was a cavernous strip mall dance hall bathed in black light — turning anyone you talked to into a neon cartoon of eyeballs and teeth (bad teeth at that).

Ten minutes before I hit the stage, there were 11 dudes in cowboy hats wandering around looking desperate and 2 girls with poofy bangs drinking bottled beer at the bar.

If this was the audience I’d driven 9 hours to perform for, tomorrow’s trip home was going to feel twice as long. Every cell in my body screamed: Leave now!

The Art of Bombing

When asked to list their worst fears, most people rank public speaking scarier than death.

I believe it was Jerry Seinfeld who pointed out… “that means most people delivering the eulogy at a funeral would rather be in the casket.”

Makes sense.

A classic bombing is almost as painful for the audience as for the performer on stage. I’ve seen some doozies, too. Total meltdowns where the comic snaps and the audience is trapped in their seats… frozen in seething contempt.

The best are those occasions where the comic refuses to go quietly and remains on stage ranting until he’s completely “walked the room” (a comedy phrase for tormenting the audience into getting up and leaving… table by table).

A few comics (Bill Hicks and Andy Kaufman come to mind) made an art form of walking rooms before sobriety or an untimely demise broke them of the habit.

But the truth is, whether you’re an entertainer, a marketer or just the whacky guy at the company picnic, if you’re bold enough to call attention to yourself…

You’re going to bomb eventually.

In fact, I don’t trust anyone who hasn’t crashed and burned a few times. I want my experts wearing scars, don’t you?

Bombing as a comic will cause you to drink a little more and sleep a little less until your next good show… but it’s a necessary evil. Because each soul-drenching death adds another layer to the armor. Preparing you for future battles.

Bombing in marketing, however, can cost you a life savings. Some entrepreneurs never make it past their first tour of duty.

So here to help you avoid such a fate are…

The 3 Mistakes That (Almost Always) Lead To Certain Death.

1. Misjudging your “message to market match.”

One of the most common scenarios John takes on in his famous Hot Seat interventions is… entrepreneurs with a mixed bag of interests trying to be all things to all people.

Which, of course, causes you to be nothing to nobody.

People like to imagine their experts fixated on solving their problem and not much else. So try not to blow the image for them.

My pre-schooler gets freaked out if we run into his teacher at the grocery store. In his mind, any activity she engages in outside of the classroom is a serious breach of their agreement.

She teacher, him student. End of story.

Your customers see you the same way. You get to be the champion of one niche. So, choose wisely.

If you’re a hypnotist/entertainer selling a video on “fertility through guided meditation”… do not mention anywhere in the same ad – or the same website – that you’re also available to perform magic at children’s parties.

No sane woman is taking fertility guidance from “Bonkers the Clown”. So demonstrate your balloon-twisting skills on a totally different site… under a different name… wearing heavy make-up… and a wig.

2.  Wimping out.

This one is crucial… whether you’re speaking at live events or writing direct sales copy, you’ve got to beam with confidence.

Now, there are some pro comics who play the nervous, insecure or ambiguous character (remember Emo Philips?)… but trust me, it’s only an act.

If the crowd were to mistake that meekness for weakness and become aggressive, they’d quickly see another side to the character.

I once watched Bobcat Goldthwait yank an overzealous audience member out of his seat… drag him on stage by the leg… and kick him back off the stage onto the floor.

He then launched right into another joke with that nervous pitchy character voice… and the audience went wild.

Marketing yourself with confidence doesn’t require you to take on a “Rich Jerk” type persona, but you do need to write and speak with gravitas. Always use an active voice rather than a passive one.

(If you don’t know the difference between active and passive RUN to the bookstore and buy “Elements of Style” by Strunk and White.)

Your readers crave leadership.  (Not, leadership is craved by your readers.)

3. Get the crowd behind you BEFORE you take on hecklers.

Most hecklers suck. They’re rude and incoherent and serve no purpose but to interrupt the show.

So for the comic, having to stop the show to tell them, “It’s amazing that out of 100 million sperm, YOU were the fastest swimmer…”


“Hey, man I don’t come to your job and knock the mop out of your hand… can I get back to work here?”

…while good for a quick laugh, is nothing more than a tedious game of Whack-A-Mole.

But, every once in a while, you get a really good heckler. One that shouts out witty jabs at just the right moments (preferably between jokes), and gets a segment of the crowd to rally behind her.

This is a risky scenario marketers also face in this age of Internet forums. The gurus take a beating on message boards… and while it’s RARELY a good idea to respond to the territorial pissings of frustrated wannabes… it can be done to great effect.

The key to success in either situation is to know your final shot before entering the battle, and leading your opponent accordingly.

A few years into my road career, I began welcoming good hecklers because I knew how the game was going to end. And I had a line so good, I could close the show with it.

After lulling the heckler into false confidence, I would feign defeat by saying…

“Look. You’ve been shouting out and disrupting the show all night. We’ve had a little fun with it. But it’s to a point now where it’s unfair to all these good people who paid to see the real show.

So, let’s make a deal. As a peace offering, I’m going to buy you a drink… and all you have to do is keep quiet and sip that drink for the next 5 minutes while I finish up here. Does that sound fair?”

At this point the crowd is touched by the gesture, and the heckler has little choice but to agree. And then I say:

“Great. Waitress… would you bring a vinegar and water to this DOUCHE BAG at table 6!”

Ka-boom! Good night everybody.

Bottom line: You can’t always choose your opponents, but you can always control the battle.

Meanwhile… back at Shit Kickerz…

I had yet to learn any of these survival lessons that night in Alabama. I was introduced to the crowd I described, plus a few more that straggled in unenthusiastically…

…then proceeded to bomb so hard that I literally took up smoking the minute I came off stage. (I had never smoked in my life, but after that – I needed a cigarette!)

Christopher Walken was quoted in the June issue of Esquire. He said:

“When you’re on stage and you know you’re bombing, that’s very, very scary. Because you know you gotta keep going–you’re bombing, but you can’t stop. And you know that a half an hour from now, you’re still gonna be bombing. It takes thick skin.”

I once calculated that every horrifying stage death I endured snipped a week off of the end of my life. (Not to mention the decade of cigarette smoking!)

But I wouldn’t trade it, because the experience makes the time you spend here richer and more productive. Bombing teaches you how not to bomb.

And hopefully this article did, too.

You’ve been great. Enjoy Foghat!


P.S. Now that I’ve laid my soul bare, it’s your turn. Tell me about your big bombs, and what you learned from it.

Just enter your name and primary email address below and we'll send you the new report right away.

"11 Really Stupid Blunders You're Making With Your Biz & Career Right Now."

  • Col says:

    Excellent stuff Kevin!

    All The World Is A Stage…..

    (It’s steppin onto the stage an remaining there that counts though),



    • Kevin Rogers says:

      Thanks Col!

      So true about stepping up. Reminds me of the scene in “Mr. Saturday Night” where Billy Crystal’s character, the old Vaudeville comic, accuses his brother of only having “living room balls.”

  • Matt D says:

    When I was a 19 year old punk, newly studying copywriting, I tried to write a 1st person 24 page letter selling diet products. I tried to pass myself off as a female who struggled with weight all her life and then finally found the answer.

    I bet you can imagine how well I did at that! Needless to say, I didn’t sell a dang thing from that letter. I can only imagine what people thought who read it. If they even got passed the 2nd paragraph! 🙂

    I recently read that letter again and my wife and I where in tears we laughed so hard.

    2 Lessons

    #1 At some point, ideally sooner than later, I hope we can all learn to laugh at our bombs and MOVE ON!

    #2 I recently read this from Perry Marshall – especially if you are a newbie – Sell stuff to people who you could write a page in their diary and they would hardly know it wasn’t them that wrote it. (in so many words)


    • G says:

      You bombed because you are clearly useless at English.

      • Rezbi says:

        G, man, if you’re gonna have a go at someone at least have the balls to do it openly.

        Why the anonymity?

        People might think youse a coward.

    • Kevin Rogers says:

      I love it when the crowd begins to heckle each other! Makes my job so much easier.

      Matt- Ain’t it a blast to look back at first attempts? Reminds us of how organic the process can be when you don’t know the “rules” yet.

      But you bucked up and wrote it — that’s what matters most.

  • Rezbi says:

    Oh man, John, if you think free speech is restricted to the U.S. you obviously haven’t read Drayton Bird’s blog.

    You guys have got nothing on him… guaranteed!

    Check it out:

    • John Carlton says:

      I didn’t say it was restricted to the US. I said elsewhere, they have an itchy relationship to it. Gotta love the Brits and the Aussies, of course, for being cheeky wankers on all fronts.
      However, the US and Europe and Oz are just a part of the world at large, and very recent in their adoption of any kinds of freedoms or rights for the common man.
      We’re battling for free speech every day in America. It’s far from a settled privilege, and lots of folks would love to see it taken away.
      We must be watchful.
      And I know Drayton’s stuff, and have enjoyed it for a long time…

      • Rezbi says:

        I knew what you meant, John, I was just ribbing ya.

        In their defence, though and being a Muslim myself, I have to say the reason for certain censorship in Islamic countries is nothing to do withe being prudish.

        It’s more to do with morality and protecting the individual and society at large.

        Anything that’s not allowed by Islam is basically there for peoples’ protection.

        Also, it’s not nearly as bad as the western media makes it out to be, and I know because I been to these countries and lived in some.

        But, I guess that’s a whole other thread, eh?

        • Roon says:

          Yeah the Muslim faith isn’t so bad as long as you have a penis.
          Quick, name your favorite female comedian from Saudi Arabia.
          Not a whole lot of free speech going on there. THe more violent and insane the culture, the less comedy you’ll find. Oh there will be something that passes for comedy and it will get a laugh. Like the stand up routine Kim Jong Il does at
          his comedy club in North Korea
          ” I tightened that piano wire around my general’s neck so tight his eyes bugged out like a frog” (everyone appplauds at Dear Leader’s brilliant sense of timing and wit)
          See I’ve been around chronically violent people and they do have their own kind of humor, its just f’n brutal and violent. I caught myself laughing as hard as you’d laugh at a joke by Cambodian comedian Pol Pot if you were in his killing fields and he was throwing out his best one liners on how the sounds people made when he killed them.

          Ok too heavy? Well I’m just reflecting on the insight at the beginning of the article, you can probably determine the intellectual health of a society by the number of comedy clubs that exist and also the degree of oppression by the lack of them.

          If you love free speech , check out Pat Condell on YouTube. He rocks. For some reason though he doesn’t get booked at a lot of Muslim comedy clubs.

      • Ron England says:

        Hey John

        I love it that you guys in The US think of us Brits as “cheeky wankers on all fronts”! I thought that was just a Brit term, so I guess globalization IS here. As for freedoms and rights, these get abused and shit-upon daily by our dear rulers in the name of security and freedom. Cheeky Wankers!


  • Peter says:

    Hi Kevin,
    Bombing is only funny from a distance. My first ad was for weight loss and when my son showed it to his friend he asked “What sort of con is this?”

    Unfortunately I didn’t find it funny or instructive at the time and put the ad out… you can imagine how much product sold.

    Best heckler I heard was at a cricket match (would work just as well as at baseball). The batsman was sswinging and missing repeatedly when this guy called out “you couldn’t hit the water if you fell out of a boat!”


    • Kevin Rogers says:

      Funny line, Peter! The best and worst hecklers will always be found in the stands at sporting events.

      Booze + Pride + Testosterone = Entertainment.

      Always a good education for the kiddies, too!

  • John,

    Thanks for calling it “Independence Day” instead of cheapening it by calling it the “Fourth of July” — something that really irritates me. Calling it by any other name draws attention away from the reason for the holiday (which is what some may want — but it isn’t what we want, is it?).

    You can celebrate the Fourth of July anywhere in the world if you really want to, but there’s only one place you can celebrate Independence Day. Let’s not be afraid to call it what it really is.

    Best regards,

    • Jeff Smith says:

      Even if I never write a word that sells, this blog is invaluable. There is almost too much intelligence here. Thank you for your comment Tom. I have a brick and mortar business that is closed on July 4th. I am changing my voicemail to reflect that we are closed for Independence Day! If that nail had a head, you hit it so hard it was obliterated. Your thoughts literally brought a tear to my eye. THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

  • ken says:

    Bombing onstage is great experience; failing many times, in a small way, builds strength (I remember being in a reggae band once, I bombed on a live radio show trying to do a keyboard solo for “3 little birds”… forgive me Bob Marley)… now on to the next act….

    From comedy, been also studying that a lot lately; thx Kev re earlier posts awhile back… (Judy Carter’s video workshop/books are the best stuff I’ve found for standup/improv coaching)… I see the need to do the “set up” and the turn, and acting out, and the payoff, how to write comedy, the rest of the elements of it… and there’s a lot that can be applied to copywriting as well, eg the setup/payoff is like John’s two-punch bullets; drawing parallels, looking for ways to combine it. Comedy’s tough to do right, like copywriting for sales… they’re both well worth mastering though. The price is bombing often, bombing fast, getting better, then achieving mastery after years of hard work.

    ok now I’m off to watch more of Dean Martin’s variety show, lots of great comedy sketches in that to learn from…. (and George Carlin and the other greats).


    • Kevin Rogers says:

      Hey Ken,

      So true about the parallels between writing copy and performing comedy. I just taped a call with Jmo and he came up with a interesting suggestion. I told him I learned comedy from randomly performing hunks of famous comedy albums at high school parties. He took it a step further with the idea of learning the cadence of certain comics — take Carlin for example — and then interjecting your own jokes into his pattern.

      Sort of like joke Karaoke with your own words.

      The result should probably never leave the house, but it would be a great way to practice timing and delivering jokes.

      Man, those Dean Martin specials were among the best. Entertainers used to really know how to have fun.


  • hey there Kevin…
    Evelyne and me are just completing the biggest bomb of our lives here in the land of….

    Allow me to explain as this is also pertinent to independence and free speech.

    Where we live..( you know our location from SWS…) cannot even be mentioned as the censorship is brutal. The penalties are draconian as in up to TEN YEARS in jail plus a fine of up to 2.000,000. That’s not bucks but it’s relative to the cost of living, here.

    So our big epiphany moment came when we realised we had…were and are bombing due to lack of first amendment rights.

    Next stop is down under. Come Tuesday night.
    It’ll be great to have the ability to rant, whine and complain without fear… as well as laud and praise too.

    Freedom of speech is taken for granted. Never…. ever…. let the bastards take it from you because once they do… you are screwed…

    Love the post Kevin..

    PS it’s all a great learning curve as long as you remember there is no failure …only feedback

    • Kevin Rogers says:

      Well put, Mike. That attitude served you well in the SWS and will no doubt lead you down the road to even greater success in your biz.

      Congrats on the new locale. Trading spy bugs for gnarly bugs is a wise choice!

  • Vin Montello says:

    Great job again Kev.

    Okay… worst bombing story…

    I know you’re talking marketing, Kev. But since we share a past, I’ll have to go back to comedy for my worst bombing. Not Shit Kickerz but I’m pretty sure it had an equally cliche’d name…

    To keep it short I’ll just say… Mid-80’s… I was a 21 year old punk comic. The audience was made up entirely of blue hairs from the local trailer park… and it was a noon show.

    It went so bad a local reporter was summoned to the lobby to speak with the audience on the way out. I shoulda known better. I mean, come on… a freaking noon show? That’s got death written all over it.

    Okay… time for a loose connection to marketing before John just admins. my ass off his blog. Kids… sometimes it’s okay to turn down a gig when it sounds like hell up front. That goes for comedy… and copywriting.

    • Kevin Rogers says:

      Ahhh, the nooner. I somehow escaped that awful fate, but did my share of senior audiences being here in Fla. From stage, the audience looks like a jar of Q-tips.

      After years of equating those audiences with childhood memories of the Lawrence Welk Show and tip-toeing through my act — I finally figured out that the fogies like smut just like anyone else. After that, the gigs were fun.

      But, wow. When the news comes out to cover it — that’s a BOMB!

  • John Carlton says:

    My favorite line: “Enjoy Foghat.”
    My stomach hurts from laughing so hard at that.
    So, somebody tell me: Why is it so freaking funny? Foghat did that long mid-70s stoner song with the lyrics “… bay-bee…” repeated over a thudding bass line for 20 minutes, right? Made it into the “Dazed & Confused” soundtrack, I believe.
    I can’t even begin to imagine what those guys must look like now. In Reno — being at the bottom of the entertainment world food chain — we get what I call the “I Thought He Was Dead” tour: Acts you were pretty confident had passed on long ago.
    If Foghat shows up at the Nugget Celebrity Showroom before December, I’m gonna freak out…

    • Vin Montello says:


      As years go on I wonder if Foghat and bands like them will ever get to the surreal land bands like the Platters and the Drifters live in. Broken up long ago each member finds 4 others to fill in for his missing bandmates…

      The result: Four bands traveling the country pulling the wool over our eyes at Indian casinos and small halls for $15 a ticket.

      Not too long ago the Platters were performing in Tampa… and Sarasota on the same night. Not the logistics nightmare you’d think it was since both bands were on stage at the very same moment. In that lawsuit I believe one of the bands actually had no surviving members of the original band.

      • John Carlton says:

        Quick side story: I was visiting an old buddy in Santa Maria, CA around ’84… a town stuck in the 1950s, which is cool if you enjoy bars where people actually dress up to get drunk, and the newest tune on the jukebox is “Mack The Knife”.
        Actually, I dug it. Like drinking in a time capsule.
        Anyway, the hotel bar was pretty fancy, and they had a live act: Three guys who had been singing together since they used to open for Sinatra in NY in the forties. They JUST MISSED making it big when their cover of “Constantinople” ran into Chuck Berry’s rock n roll blitzkreig on the radio and the world changed on ’em.
        But they stayed together, doing Vegas, cruise ships, the old Tahoe triangle, the Andirondacks… I know this, because I forced them to get drunk and tell me their story during breaks. These three guys — cocktail drum kit, bass and guitar/alto sax, doing WWII-era standards in 3-part harmony — were in their seventies, still using the same flirting techniques during shows to score with women that they’d used since going after their first bobby-soxer.
        They just adjusted upward on the age of the women they targeted.
        Anyway… (okay, so it’s not a short story)… I started urging them to play all the songs I remember from that era, which I actually love. Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, Blue Moon, Heartaches, all the great swing tunes my Pop used to listen to.
        Suddenly, around midnight, I realized that all the songs I’d insisted they perform were really fast numbers. No slow ballads in the bunch.
        And these poor geezers — desperate not to disappoint the gray-haired ladies in the audience cooing over this astonishing display of manly singing — were all about to suffer strokes. They were sweating, winded, their toupees crooked, their dentures starting to click in the mic…
        … I really thought these guys were all gonna finish the last chorus of Choo-Choo-Choo-Booogie and collapse in a funeral pyre right there on the floor of the bar.
        They made it through the set, though, and told me (between deep wheezes, supporting themselves on a chair) they appreciated my appreciation, but they needed to all go take a nap and find some energy if they were gonna be able to screw their fan club over there.
        I saluted them, and never saw them again. Those guys had lived their entire lives together, on permanent tour, watching the world change from small stages and dingy Green Rooms. What a ride that must have been.
        And they never “made it”. My bet: They were, ultimately, happier for not having made it, than Foghat was for having one hit single and then fading into obscurity.
        Fame sucks, as anyone who’s had a taste of it will tell you.
        But mid-range success in show biz, I’m guessing, can still be fulfilling. That old-guy band never broke up, never changed their set list, and just rode their talent through the decades.
        There’s a lesson there for all of us…
        … maybe about not letting young drunks harsh your mellow with demands for fast tunes.
        Stay in your target cardio zone.

  • Kevin Rogers says:

    That scene at the end of “Dazed & Confused” when the opening strains of “Slow Ride” boom onto the screen as the wild all-nighter turns to dawn’s ride home in the backseat of a Firebird…

    …if your teen years were spent correctly, that moment is etched deep into your psyche. Powerful stuff.

  • Al Romas says:

    NYC, 1992. Booked for a corporate party in the financial district. I had no business being booked for a corp. Somehow, some guy saw me and thought I could do it. “Show” was suppose to start at 8PM. It was in an old style saloon. Guys got there around 4PM and started boozing. I “went on” (no stage, just on the floor in the middle of drunk stock brokers) around 9:30PM. Did my first joke, someone threw a paper airplane my way. Did my next joke, another plane flies by. Another joke, another plane. Then a couple of morons start laughing. I say, “Really? A 40 year old asshole throwing a plane is funny?” Dumb drunk answers, “He’s the boss. If he says it’s funny, it’s funny!” Airplanes, start flying all over the place. I am standing there in the middle of it like an idiot. I slowly backstep away and head for the staircase leading out to the street. As I do, no one notices! They just keep drinking and throwing planes.
    The next day I get a call telling me I am not a professional. I go off! The boss calls me later. He has no memory of me or the night but said he will mail me a check, which he did. I’m sure I have worse bombing stories but this hell gig sticks in my craw.

    • Vin Montello says:

      Just reminded me of one that might be worse that one I mentioned! Damn my middle aged memory!

      Full week at a comedy club in downtown St. Pete. Sunday comes and no one shows up. I mean zero. Owner makes us do a show for the staff in order to get paid.

      So, with Jose… and Maria… and Carl the bartender… the owner… his family (including toddlers), me and the other two guys watch our watches while reciting material by rote.

      Contracted time completed we go to get paid and he doesn’t want to pay us. I had to throw the guy through a cigarette machine and reach in his pocket to make sure I was paid.

      Aah… good times. Good times.

  • Kevin Rogers says:

    Great story, Al!

    I had a similar experience where a guy saw my show at the Improv (see photo above post) and thought somehow me and my pot jokes would be perfect to entertain his Tennis Club.

    I tried to talk him out of it, but then he said “something, something… a thousand dollars!”

    “Yeah, Joe, that does kinda sound like fun.”

    So, I agree to whore myself out and I’m dreading this for weeks. The guy paid half up front and THAT was long gone, so there was no backing out.

    He calls me a week before the gig and says, “Here’s the deal. We’re nominating new members into our tennis club that night… and there’s been some controversy over “colored folks” not being admitted.”

    Say what?! Did he just say “colored folks?” What friggin’ year is this?

    He goes on to explain this brilliant idea he has to “lighten the mood.”

    We’re going to pretend that I (dangerous looking long-haired guy) am HIS nominee to the club. And I’ll go along with it for the first couple minutes to get everyone nervous and tense, then say: Just kidding… I’m really a comedian Joe hired to stand under this tent at sunset and tell you jokes that belong in a dark, smokey nightclub!

    So, I get there. It’s August in Illinois, I have hair past my shoulders, I’m wearing jeans and a corduroy jacket (style over sense) and now it’s time to participate in a “hilarious” gag on rich tennis assholes.

    I’ve never wanted to run so bad in my life.

    After watching 2 other yuppie couples nominee their Tommy Hilfiger model friends to the ranks of tennis club snob — I felt that odd twitch that happens when you no longer control what you’ll say when you hit the mic. (The road comics know the one I mean.)

    So, Joe introduces me, stifling a giggle, and I say: “Thanks Joe! I’m really honored to be here at this beautiful club, with all you beautiful people.

    “And to think it was only 3 weeks ago that Joe and I hooked up at that highway rest area for what should have been totally random bathroom sex… and now to be welcomed into your world like this. Well, it’s overwhelming for me.

    “I really feel like this is the new beginning I needed but never thought could happen to me.

    “I know we’re all going to get along famously. And I can’t wait to see the locker room.”

    In the back of the tent I could see Joe turning a whiter shade of pale. I should of stopped there and walked away. That would be the better ending.

    But Joe had another 5 bills tucked into that Izod shirt pocket with my name on them. I stumbled through a sweaty 20 minutes, collected and got out of there.

  • Mark L says:

    Hi John and Kev,
    Wonderful post amigos…
    Great jokes and wicked-good ridicule have toppled governments and brought down the mighty.
    In our U.S. history, Ben Franklin was a fabled jokster and dazzled the decadent French aristocrats with his genius wit. He was also a major influence during the drafting of the U.S Constitution.

    On the fear and loathing of “bombing”. I’ve been a professional musician for 35 years. I’ve played gigs that could be described as perilous.

    I decided it would be cool to be part of the “house band” for a notorious CA biker club. Afterall, they paid well and always had the best grub.

    I played tons of Southern Rock and of course, “Born to be Wild” to keep them happy.
    It was all good until I strolled up to the stage to tweak our PA during one of their live auctions. They had a lot of goodies on stage and crowd numbered close to 1200 dudes and ladies in leather and club colors.

    I “thought” I was part of the pack… well, I reconsidered that when two sumo wrestler-sized bikers picked me up under both arms and dragged me off the stage.

    I was being taken outside to be stomped.

    My “gun to the head” marketer’s mouth kicked in and said “Hey, I’m part of the great music you have for YOUR party. You don’t want to bust me up so I can’t play, do you? The ladies will be really mad if they can’t dance after the auction…”

    They grinned, gently dropped me in the dust and apologized – sort of. “Gee, glad you told us ’cause we were gonna mess you up real bad!”.

    Lesson learned: Know your audience, scope out their boundaries… and pay attention…

    …plus stay away from the custom Harley chrome handle bars.

    Mark L –

  • […] Read it here […]

  • Dan Carlson says:

    The toughest gig I had was following “Bonkers the Clown”.

  • Rezbi says:

    “In fact, I don’t trust anyone who hasn’t crashed and burned a few times. I want my experts wearing scars, don’t you?”

    In that case you can give me your bank account number, house keys and, hey, throw in the car while you’re at it, coz you can trust me more than anyone else on earth.

    • John Carlton says:

      Trust is over-rated.
      Take the cash and keys…

    • Josh says:

      You stole my line… and it still made me laugh!
      Not being a comedian, my bomb was the launch of a local chapter for Dan Kennedy’s Independent Business Advisor model. I knew enough to be dangerous and bluff my way into being an IBA, but not enough at that point to get a herd of small business owners to line up and follow my lead.
      The first meeting had about 35 professionals and business owners from my network there and it actually went really well. Then to wrap up the meeting, I got my notes to pitch the mastermind group I was going to head up at $400/mo. I turned around, got a lump in my throat and started stuttering as I gave the pitch on the it without any lead in or build up. Then came the fee and everyone just looked at me with the same expression your dog does when it catches you in full karaoke, dance moves and all, and wishes he had elbows so he could put his paws over his ears and be saved from the misery.
      It was bad. Everyone thought I was charging $400/mo just to show up to the marketing meeting they had just experienced for free. Confusion was everywhere. My friends whose savvy and success I respected (and still do) just hung their heads in disbelief.
      Needless to say, the next meeting took a lot of phone calls and emails to clear up the misunderstanding and get the 20 desperate souls to show up to.
      Great post Kevin and glad to be surrounded by guys equally as battered as me!
      My best,

  • David Sinick says:

    I remember hearing Chris Rock talking about bombing, and how it made him that much of a better comedian – he got off stage after bombing at the apollo, and realized “well, this is the worst it’s ever going to be.”

    That mindset allowed him to be fearless – and look where he is now.

    David Sinick

  • Kevin Rogers says:

    David, you should become a comic for your last name alone. Too perfect.

  • Earnst says:

    Hecklers at the Cains……never.
    The Cains in the late 70’s and 80’s. 423 N Main.
    My seeing eye dog drove me home every Sunday morning. Foghat…that band will sure rattle the AC Delco 6×9’s. It’s the ringing in the ears that won’t go away. Humble Pie…Johnny Winter… Steppenwolf …better tighten up your wig.

  • Rezbi says:

    @ Roon

    You’re a prick and I’d have a good laugh with a flag pole up your backside.

    But then, you’d probably enjoy it.

  • Cliff says:

    Kevin Rogers is about as funny as a tick on your balls.

  • Roon says:

    You have just proven my point made on July 15 at 5:15 am which was “See I’ve been around chronically violent people and they do have their own kind of humor, its just f’n brutal and violent”

    In your twisted culture, what you posted would pass for brilliant wit. In your twisted mind you are getting a hard on with that sick fantasy. Please include someone other than me in your homoerotic fantasy”

  • Tom Vo says:

    Great answer, thanks for this quiz. I enjoyed thinking about the question and reading the comments. Needless to say that I learnt a lot from this.

    What I learnt about myself is to be more persistant and thorough. I got the part with the lighthouse and the conversation down because I know nothing about lighthouses. And I would`ve continued the conversation in some way.

    And I got the part with the void (I used the word vacuum) that has to be filled and saw that as the reason for people believing in urban myths. The same reason why people believe in scenes filled with bs by Hollywood.

    And for some reason I forgot to “close” the answer. I realized that the day after. I desperately wanted to go to sleep and didn`t realize that the answer was not complete. Another glitch I guess.

    Congratulations to Bob and Sergy. They said with a few words what I couldn`t do with hundreds of words.

    Thinking and clarity of thought is a skill to train. Thanks for this exercise. I`m looking forward to the next quiz.

    Tom Vo

  • tutusdfsd says:

    realize that the answer was not complete. Another glitch I guess.

    Congratulations to Bob and Sergy. They said with a few words what I couldn`t do with hundreds of words.

    Thinking and clarity of thought is a skill to train. Thanks for this exercise. I`m looking forward to the next quiz.

    Tom Vosdf

  • […] I’ve also written about the inherent crossover between comedy and copy for John Carlton’s Rebel Rant, but this is the first time I’ve broken down the “hidden formula” behind joke […]

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