Dropping a Bomb, Laying an Egg, and Doing the Work
Are there any words of encouragement that you can give to a beginning comedien?
Bob Hope: Yeah. Forget it. We’ve got enough. And stay out of our racquet.
I can’t get enough of old classic radio—especially comedy. I laugh at Bob Hope’s jokes about as hard as his Pepsodent and Swann audiences did over 50 years ago.
His material works just as well today as it did then.
This is Bob “Washington, D.C.” Hope. I’ve been here two days and nearly starved to death. I went to a chicken dinner last night and didn’t even get a wing. I sat next to a senator and he refused to pass anything.
He tapped into topics we’re still grappling with today:
Lots of people are using substitutes for gas. One of the musicians for Al Newman’s band filled his tank with whiskey and it worked swell—only that was the first time in history a Pontiac ever sang Sweet Adeleine, staggered up Vine St., flirted with a Buick and spit in a traffic cop’s eye.
He made the small things funny.
What a trip, our plane made a perfect four-point landing. It’s the last time I put my head out of the window on the way down.
And when asked how he perfected his craft—or advice he’d give to young comediens, he’d give you the same classic answer.
Work for a comedian is important. That you go on . . . I learned an awful lot after I was a hit in Chicago, where I was doing sort of a brash type of fast act, and working very fast, and making it the audience’s problem whether they got the jokes or not.
I went down to Fort Worth and I worked the same way and laid the biggest bomb in the world.
The manager of the circuit, Bob O’Donnell, told me, “Look slow down. These people are nice people. They’re not rushing around. I don’t know where you’re going. You’re in such a hurry.”
And I said, well that’s the way I work. I’ve been telling jokes that way and if they don’t like ’em they don’t have to.
So he said “Try it a little slower.”
So I did for the next few shows and I started getting laughs, which I liked—and it kind of woke me up a little bit. . . .
The greatest thing is trying to come up with a fresh approach—to anything. And there are kids who came out, like for instance Mort Sahl came in with a fresh approach for a while. And that’s the thing that will get immediate attention. Get someone like Jonathan Winters, you know . . . . It’s just coming up with something different. That’s what’ll grab the attention.
I’m drawn to comedians for the same reason I’m drawn to athletes in sports like basketball and baseball. When they lay an egg, they have to keep playing – in front of everyone. Without a break—no time to figure out how to do it—they have to nail the next play and win the crowds back.
And they do it through their work.
What’s the point of all of this?
Since the release of Turning Pro and the Black Irish book store, we’ve been learning on the go. I know more about online stores, customer service, and methods for shipping than I did last month, and I know I’ll know even more within the next month.
In the end, one of the goals is to create classic books that have a long life, like Bob Hope and his humor. And part of getting there is doing the work, learning on the way, and sorting out how to anticipate and neutralize, rather than wait to clean up, any bombs that are dropped or eggs that are laid.
So true! It always, always comes back to the work. As I log off my social media site, and get back to work.
What are you working on Sonja?
Keep working on it, Callie. Thanks for posting.
Thanks again, Steve as I start my work-day…
Yep, keep playing. That’s the game. 🙂
A fresh approach is very important.And it has to be something unique but good, otherwise it’ll be just rubbish.
So I guess it must be based on something true.
I can’t remember the exact quote, but Hemingway talked about fakes – people who could do something once, but couldn’t keep it up. And that “once” could be a whole book, or just one good conversation. They weren’t consistent. “Fresh” came along once.
I always think about that quote (need to dig it out) because it’s hard to come up with something fresh over and over again. Hemingway did it with his books. Babe Didrikson did it as an athlete. There are serial entrepreneurs who do it, starting one company after another – and some who create one company, and are creative within it for decades.
So is it one fresh idea that is recreated/redefined through the years or a series of fresh ideas? And how do you tap into fresh and know you have it? I don’t have answer.
End of day, though, one thing I know for certain is that all the ideas in the world don’t matter if they aren’t implemented.
None of this is funny. The inimitable Christopher Hitchens artfully dissected Bob Hope’s pitiful, unfresh, low-brow “humor”; see his piece in Slate:
“The sexlessness of Hope’s routines, however, was just another clue to their essential conformism and cowardice. Eye-rolling and wolf-whistling are among the weakest forms of crowd pleasing that we possess. And Hope never stretched or challenged an audience in his life. For him, the safe and antique moves were the best, if not the only. The smirk was principally one of risk-free self-congratulation.” (from “Hopeless”)
Lauding somebody as an essential artist, favored by the hallowed and elusive Muse, a champion of beating the Resistance, or whatever other mystical attainments one may strive for in doing the work — recognizing all that ought to be informed by basic good taste. Bob Hope was a commercial success; he was not an artist.
I actually wonder sometimes where you draw the line: are highly successful pornographers artists? Propagandists running Faux political news organizations? Activists for overblown, false causes?
And likewise, is a man who, in Hitchens’s words, “was to the comedy of the [Vietnam] war what Nixon was to its negotiation and what Billy Graham was to its husky religiosity?”
Bob Hope can get slammed like that? When my work comes out and I’m slammed like this, I’ll know I’m in excellent company. Like it or not, Bob Hope is a classic and has been enjoyed by so many with aching bellyies and tears streaming. He’s an artist. Dissection could be art, if it’s done on meat. My2cents.
Dissection could be art, but Hitchens gave his whole life for more than that.
My art gets slammed too. But getting slammed is not a sufficient condition for making art.
Bob Hope is not above criticism. The man was not funny. And buried in my response is an unanswered rebuttal to Steven Pressfield and his acolytes: what, qualitatively, is art? Plenty of people turn a dime on less worthy pursuits than that huckster. Are they artists?
Steven Pressfield assumes his writing applies beyond the rareified and clubby world of screenplays. But does it?
Thanks for your reply, Regina. I agree with you r.e. dissection as art. Art is a personal term, and it exists in different forms. We’d be pressed to find an artist whom everyone in the world loves, but we could probably all agree that “doing the work” is something they all share.
His antagonism toward Hope may be what makes Hitchens inimitable.
Thank you for your reply.
The goal for the post was to show another individual who, end of day, offers the same advice for advancing within his career: Do the work. Whether you are a writer, a painter, an athlete, an entrepreneur or a comedian, the common theme is: Do the work.
As to whether Hope is an artist, it’s all about personal preference.
When I was a kid, if someone mentioned the word artist, I assumed it referred to a painter. As I grew, it expanded to musicians and writers. Now, I look at scientists, mathematicians, and teachers as artists, too. For me, it defines people who stand out for their unique, consistent, approaches and non-stop perseverance. I understand that others have different definitions. This is mine.
Hope did fall back on the traditional. But if you gave someone else his material, they might not receive the same laugh. So there’s an art to the presentation, too. Best ever? Not necessarily. An artist? Yes.
Do I hold him as high as I do Hemingway and Picasso? No. Do I recognize the art in his work? Yes.
Nothing better to do than criticize Bob Hope? I’d guess it doesn’t take an artist to be a critic either… I’m no fan of Bob Hope, but geez — that’s taking things (and yourself) a bit too seriously.