You Had To Be There: Chasing Once In A Lifetime Moments in Comedy

I didn’t kill Zambertam! I wouldn’t do that. He’s my friend. He’s my space friend.” 

Those words were spoken by comedian Rory Scovel circa 2009 in Washington, DC. Those words mark the hardest I ever laughed at a comedy show. To you, it’s nonsense. Out of context it’s just a weird string of words and ideas that you would believe is quirky enough to be funny. But you don’t understand just how funny it was. You couldn’t understand. You had to be there.

‘You had to be there.’ Often used to describe a moment that was funny at the time but is objectively not that interesting. Like most stories I tell. The kinds of stories you tell after all of your first-date stories are used up. In stand-up comedy, ‘you had to be there’ is a whole new beast. It’s probably the same with most live performances—there are moments of honest to goodness brilliance that only those present get to witness. If you weren’t there, you’ll never fully know how great it was. That’s what I’m secretly hoping for every time I go to a show.  

I’m chasing that one thing that takes an experience from worth-the-ticket-price to unbe-f****n-lievable. That one thing that is simultaneously a collective experience and an exclusive moment.

Lots of people go St. Paul Saints baseball games in Minnesota. Some people go to the game and get their ticket taken by Bill Murray.

Lots of people go to comedy shows at Largo in LA. Some people go to Largo and see a raw Tig Notaro right off a cancer diagnosis.

You get to be a part of something special at live shows. And with comedy, the chances of something special happening are higher than anywhere else. Not always Tig Notaro “I have cancer” special, but “I didn’t kill Zambertam” special is never too far away. The numerous moment of improv, of riffing and of crowd work are the moments when Zambertams come to life.

We should be chasing those Zambertam moments in our lives every chance we get. You can take it as inspiration to be present in everything, enjoy the little things, and dwell in the collective experience known as life. But really, I just think we should all go catch more comedy shows.

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