This is easily the best strategy for turning a bombed joke around. “Calling the moment” is a way of saving jokes that was popularized by Johnny Carson. The brilliance of Johnny Carson was that he could get just as many (if not more) laughs from a bombed joke than a good one. Calling the moment is about bringing the show back into the present moment. It’s about stopping the show for a second and saying “yes… that just happened.”
Novice comedians tend to plow through a bombed joke to get to the next one. On the surface, that makes sense. You need to “rush” to the next good joke to recover from the last bad one. But usually this is a recipe for disaster. When you rush a joke, your deliver changes. So not only are you working with low momentum, but you’re delivering lines in a forced, almost stressed out way.
Here’s a few great examples of calling the moment taken from 2 of my favorite comedians. Remember, all of these lines come directly after bombing the previous joke:
- (writing a fake note on hand) “nobody… knows… what… I’m… talking… about.”
- (writing a fake note on hand) “Should be funnier.”
- (while talking to an imaginary person about he audience) “they don’t seem to be going for it… … they’re obviously bastards”
- “Man, I hate it when a joke don’t kill. It’s like every joke I say is pre-approved as funny by me”
- “I don’t even know what I was trying there”
- “Bombing a joke sucks… It’s even harder when you’re high on stage.”
- I hate bombing jokes. As a comedian, you can’t be like pancakes. All fun and exciting at first, but by the end of it you’re f$&@*% sick of ’em.