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.