Tuesday, December 08, 2015
And then one night – death.
From the very start – silence. Jokes that usually got howls got a few titters. And those were charitable. As we comedy writers say – it was so quiet you could hear crickets. I fully expected to see tumbleweeds blow by during the scene.
It just so happened we were videotaping that night. I said to the cameraman it’s like he captured the Zapruder film.
So what happened? The actors gave their same sterling performance. There was no air conditioning problem or technical malfunction.
It was just a terrible audience. The cast of the WALKING DEAD. You needed a mirror to see if they were still breathing.
But here’s the reality: It’s going to happen. That’s just the way it is. I don’t think there’s a successful stand-up comedian in the world who hasn’t absolutely bombed – probably multiple times.
It happens frequently on multi-camera sitcoms – even with a warm up man. You just get a dull audience. When Jay Tarses, a showrunner for MTM during the glory years, used to handle the warm up duties on THE BOB NEWHART SHOW and THE TONY RANDALL SHOW, if he got a bad house he turned on them. He’d say things like “Hey, your hearse is waiting.”
The thing to do is just shake it off. A bad audience is completely out of your control. You can try to analyze it. They were too old, the acoustics were bad, the show started late and they were tired, the weather was inclement, Mercury was in retrograde, one of the actors said Macbeth in the theater, etc. But it’s all bullshit. Just like parking tickets and common colds, you’re going to experience them once in awhile. No sense beating yourself up over it.
Truly, the hardest part is having friends lie and tell you the show was wonderful when it wasn’t. When you hear things like “Very enjoyable” “Really good work” and “We love you anyway” you know. When the theatre employees tell you that no one left in intermission – as if that means it’s a smash – again, you know.
But it’s all part of the beauty of live theater, which is a phrase only used by theater people when things are going badly. The trick is to just keep going. You’re not alone. I guarantee you there were performances where the great Shakespeare himself said, “I wonder if I can get into the plumbers’ union.”
Just keep going. Next week will be better. Or they can start lining up those Moscow Mules right now.
By the way, the following week -- HUGE laughs. Thank God.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM