By "Sunday Morning" producer Jay Kernis
Place the words "dying" and "comedy" into a search engine and Tony Bock's July 2010 stand-up performance at Caroline's on Broadway in New York City figures prominently on the list. It has since been immortalized on YouTube, where you can see Bock's set start badly and then get worse.
Before his act thoroughly falls apart, he tells the audience that he will visit each table individually to find out why he did so badly. He also says, encouragingly, "I'm not this bad." Later he asks, "Is this getting any better?" and the audience replied, "No." At the very end, he even says, "Sorry." It's painful, if not ghastly.
Here's the story behind that fateful night.
Bock, now 35 and living in Los Angeles, grew up in Omaha and attended the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, majoring in broadcasting. He first tried stand-up at the age of 19 at an Omaha club called the Funny Bone.
After graduation, Bock interned at "The Late Show With David Letterman" during the summer of 2000, and was in the CBS Page Program for a few years. He later worked as a production assistant at the Discovery Channel, the History Channel and Biography. All the while, he was performing stand-up once a week at every open mike night in town.
Bock thinks his comedy death at Caroline was probably on a New Talent night. He remembers that 10 other comics were booked, and he appeared in the middle of the list, probably going on at 9:15 pm.
"It was bad right from the beginning, but the set had worked before and after that," he said. "But on that show, I still really don't understand [what went wrong]. It was an organism of people that really did not like me."
Bock continued: "It was probably my worst show ever. I feel that I'd rather have people express dislike than ignore me, but it was a couple of stone faces. It was scary."
"And a girl that I liked was in the audience," he added.
After he came off stage, Judah Friedlander (later a "30 Rock" star) grabbed him, gave him a bear hug, and asked him if he had done that intentionally, in the way Andy Kaufman would taunt and dare his audiences.
Bock said, "I think I did a show the next night to expunge those demons. Over the course of time, it's never been that bad. But some shows don't go the way you hope. It's important to get back on the horse, absolutely."
His set was taped, and a week later he received a copy in the mail: "Your memory is one thing, [but] it was worse watching it. And then hiding in from my roommate, and then showing it."
And now it's forever on YouTube, where it's received more than 90,000 views to date: "It's almost like you are forever bombing."
He's also annotated every moment on his blog: a log of cringe-worthy footnotes.
"To this day, I get emails and people re-post it," Bock said. "Yet, I kind of laugh at it, and I have gotten positive feedback. It generates a lot of discussion. Some people thought I was doing it on purpose. There are over 500 comments. Some days I don't want to read the comments, other days I laugh at it."
So, did dying make him stronger? "I think so," Bock said. "Every comic has bombed, even big names, and some of the comics admire that I made something of it."
Bock is still performing, and getting paid to do it on occasion. He's also a freelance copywriter.
He says, "I still think it's funny material. I'm a die-hard 'me' fan at the end of the day. I still don't know why it was rejected. It was the worst response I ever got. I had never started a dialogue with an audience [about] why I sucked."
Also from "Sunday Morning": Stop, you're killing me!
In the world of standup comedy, dying in front of a live audience is no laughing matter.
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