The Worst Bomb Of My Career

It was one of the worst shows of my career.

It just happened. Just within the past few weeks.

I bombed onstage so hard that you might have thought I’d never done this before. It was ROUGH.

I should have known that it was going to be a disaster from the moment I arrived at the venue. The sound system was broken, so there would be no microphone. The room originally planned for the show had a double booking, so my act was moved elsewhere. The organizers of the event seemed busy and distracted. All signs pointed to a horrible outcome.

The new room was full of distractions. Smoothies being made loudly opposite my performance area, multiple people coming in and out of the room, and large windows behind me with no blinds to shield the sun pouring in from outside.

But, the show must go on. So with no mic and no other choice, I started the show.

Fifteen minutes in and everything was going off the rails. No one was paying attention. People couldn’t hear me or they had an obstructed view. Try as I might, my theatrically trained voice just wasn’t loud enough to command the attention I so desperately needed. I was dying a slow and painful death in front of a room of strangers and still had 45 minutes to go.

I went through my set list in my mind, quietly crossing pieces out that just wouldn’t work in this scenario. “Nope, can’t do that one. Or that one. That won’t work. Oh man, this isn’t good…” I thought to myself, as I realized that I was very nearly out of options.

I looked up at the room. A handful of people were scattered around the area, none of them paying me any mind. And I thought to myself: “Wow, I’m bombing.

Suddenly, everything changed. The second I thought those words to myself: “Wow, I’m bombing” I knew that it was all okay.

Ask any professional entertainer and they’ll tell you they’ve bombed dozens (maybe hundreds) of times. It happens to the best of us. You don’t want it to happen, but it’s inevitable. It’s going to happen eventually and forcing myself to acknowledge it made me realize that everything was going to be all right.

In that moment, I decided to lean into it and “take the L”. I didn’t have another option, so I figured I would just make the most of it. So I started heckling myself…

“Well, this is going about as well as I thought it would!” I shouted into the void, hoping one of the 12 people in the room might respond. One guy snickered from the back, so I called out to him.

“This is the only guy laughing at my jokes…what’s your name, sir?”

“I’m Mike, but shouldn’t you know that since I’m your agent?” he joked.

Without missing a beat, I responded, “Mike, you need to get me some better gigs.”

Two other students laughed from the other corner. One of them yelled out, “Tough crowd!”

“Tough crowd?” I yelled back, “I don’t see a crowd anywhere.”

In that moment, I started to feel in control of the situation. I was still bombing, it was still embarrassing and painful to go through, but I was owning it. I was so aware of the moment that I was able to laugh at my predicament and not let it bother me.

“I’m glad to see my agent agreed to my demands to be here today. I said the only way I would do a show here was if it was in the middle of the day, on a Monday, with no microphone, and that at least 80% of the students had to be facing away from me and on their laptops.”

I almost lost my voice yelling that joke, but it was worth it. Over half the room looked up and laughed in unison. They could see that I was aware of what was happening and we were all in on the joke together.

I made a few more jokes, improvised some different material to finish my hour, then called it a day. I turned to pack up my gear and couldn’t stop laughing. I had bombed but I was still alive. I felt invincible.

As I turned back to grab some props, a student asked to take a picture. I agreed. Then I noticed a small line had formed. People wanted a photo or a poster or had a question for me. All things considered, they had actually enjoyed the show and wanted to let me know. Somehow, I had made a positive out of a negative.

If that show had happened ten years ago I would have spiraled into a deep depression for weeks, regretting my life choices and questioning my abilities as an entertainer. I wouldn’t have been able to laugh it off or find any positive things about it. It might have ended my career.

But now, one decade and hundreds of shows later, I’m glad it happened. I’m glad I bombed gracefully and it didn’t keep me up at night. In fact, once I drove away from that show I wasn’t even thinking about it. It was just another gig on the road to my final destination.

Twenty-four hours later, I was back in Chicago waiting to go onstage. I wasn’t thinking about bombing the day before or questioning my life choices. I was just there, lost in the moment, concentrating on my script and hoping to really connect with that night’s audience.

It was one of the best shows of my career.

Other Thoughts:

  • I love this story of the worst time Bill Burr ever bombed. I couldn’t help but think of it as I was going through it myself.

  • Starting tonight you can catch me at the Chicago Magic Lounge all weekend! Get your tickets here.

  • I’m thinking about starting a podcast. More info on that soon!

  • I spent two miles on my run last weekend wondering how mirrors are made. If you can make it through this stupid video intro, it’s actually pretty interesting.

  • Here’s a clip from a recent show at The Second City in Chicago. Check it out:

Magic Words That Really Work

As a performer I use certain words and phrases to get people to cooperate and make me look good onstage. When used correctly these words work wonders.

The best part? You can use most of these special phrases in your everyday life to be a better conversationalist, remember people’s names, and put people at ease.

They may not be as cool as “wingardium leviosa” but these are real-life magic words that really work.

"Good To See You": Use this phrase every time you greet someone. If it’s the first time you’ve met them they’ll think you’re just being nice. Or, if you’ve met them before they’ll be convinced you remember them…even if you completely forgot! 

"Remind Me Of Your Name": This is my go-to phrase anytime I forget someone’s name. By asking someone to remind you they’ll wonder if they weren’t memorable enough the first time you were introduced, or maybe they just never told you their name in the first place! You’re subtlety placing the blame on them, without making them feel bad. Sneaky, huh?

"Yes, and…": I was having a conversation recently and the other person said “Not only that but…” in response to a point I made. Even though they were being positive about what I had told them, I couldn’t stop thinking about the negative words they had used like “not” and “but”. Instead, try saying “Yes, and…” to build on someone’s thoughts in a positive manner. It will make them feel good about their ideas and they’ll be more likely to agree with you, too. (Plus, if you ever move to Chicago you’ll fit right in.)

"Tell Me More": When you’re having a conversation, pay attention for the best moment to ask the other person to “tell you more”. By doing so, you’re searching for the conversation they want to be having. You really have to pay attention to use this phrase, which means you’ll get bonus points for actually being a great listener. When used correctly, “tell me more” will lead to some of the most fascinating conversations you’ve ever had.

"No Worse Than Me": Sometimes I need to have volunteers help with a strange task during the show, such as shuffling cards or drawing a picture. Usually people are a little hesitant, saying something like “Oh, I’m a terrible artist!” or something similar. I quickly say “Don’t worry, you’re no worse than me!” to put them at ease. For a split second, it makes us equals and takes the pressure off. I’ve just started using this one in the past month but it really works!

So there you go…some new magic words to go along with “please” and “thank you”. Try them out and let me know if they work for you!

Other Thoughts:

  • I’m headlining at the Chicago Magic Lounge next weekend, September 19-22. Get tickets here.

  • Never miss a post! Click the button above or go here to Join The Mystery!

  • Within the past week I had one of the worst shows of my life and one of the best in the same 24 hour span. I’ll write about it in greater detail for a future Thursday Thoughts post, but it just goes to show that there are always new things to learn, you can always get better, and nothing is ever that big of a deal.


Do you ever find yourself waiting for someone else to give you permission to get started on something?

I know I do. All the freakin’ time. Or at least I did - I’ve been trying to get better at it…

See, what I used to do was see how someone I admired was doing something and think that there couldn’t possibly be any other route to get there. I just assumed that this person I looked up to had found the secret formula and had all the answers. So I waited for things to fall into place so I could do it just like they did.

And while I was waiting, I’d get other ideas. “Oh, what about this?” or “What if I did it this way?” I’d say to myself. But I never pursued those options because I couldn’t find anyone else doing them, too. Days, weeks, or even months would pass, then out of the blue I’d hear someone suggest one of my ideas and think “Oh, it will work! Let’s do it!”

All it took to get started was for someone else to give me permission. I just needed their permission to believe in my own idea.

Does that make sense?

This is a weird thought that’s been spinning around in my head this week. It’s one of those ideas that makes sense when I’m thinking about it, but the more I try to write it the more esoteric it becomes.

I promise it’s not that complicated. Let me give you a more concrete example:

My friend is a brilliant artist. She’s smart and talented and creative and hard working. Not to mention, her work is incredible. But, she’s a bit of an introvert. So when she reads business books or takes workshops, she gets depressed when she realizes how bad she is at marketing her products. Everything she studies tells her she needs to be outgoing nonstop so she can make connections and build her business.

We were having lunch once day and I said, “You’re looking for answers in the wrong places. You need to find ways to promote yourself that match your personality.”

She said that I was probably right but I knew that she didn’t believe me. I wasn’t in her industry; I wasn’t one of her role models. What did I know?

Then, last weekend, she let me know that she had met one of those role models and she explained to me their advice. It was practically identical to what I had told her.

“I’m going to find ways to promote this as an introvert. There are plenty of options out there - I just didn’t look hard enough.”

“That’s what I said months ago!” I told her. It took her a moment to remember.

“Oh yeah. You did.”

She didn’t rely on her own strengths to carve her own path. She had to wait for someone else to give her permission. It was someone she admired, so once they did she started to believe it.

The truth is, you don’t need to wait. You have everything you need already. You don’t need another business book or an online course. You don’t need to mimic everyone else.

The comedian Pete Holmes has a great joke about Burger King. His observation is that Burger King only opens a restaurant somewhere after McDonald’s has opened one in that location first. It’s like they didn’t know that they could do it until McDonald’s showed them the way. Holmes talks about his early comedy path and how he would “Burger King it” by seeing other comedians doing something different and realizing he could do it, too.

I never thought I would say this on Thursday Thoughts, but be McDonald’s not Burger King.

Chances are you’ve probably already had many ideas that can get you from where you are now to where you want to be, so stop waiting for someone to tell you it’s okay and start giving those ideas a shot. You don’t need anyone’s permission except your own.

Other Thoughts:

  • I’ll be performing at The Magic Penthouse in Chicago this weekend. Use code “laborday” for 50% off tickets.

  • Are you on the mailing list? Join The Mystery to get tour dates, special announcements and new posts.

  • Just did a show at Ramapo College in Mahwah, NJ a few days ago. Obsessed with my 360 camera, so here’s a behind-the-scenes view: