Take a Bow For Failure


(By Jeff McHugh) If you are a reader of our newsletter, you may recall my adventure trying improvisational theater. Despite how terrible I was, I grew a lot from the experience. I signed up again and after two classes I am still terrible.

I learned about a wonderful improv tradition that radio and podcast hosts might benefit from. The failure bow.

Improvisation does not come with a script (much like your show, or life…) so you react in the best way that you can. Sometimes you react well, sometimes not so well and sometimes it is a catastrophe.

When disaster strikes, you do a failure bow:

  1. Extend your arms to the sky.
  2. Bow completely forward, like a circus performer after a somersault.
  3. Rise and grin like you won an Oscar.
  4. Say “thank you, thank you very much!”
  5. Audience applauds.

I take so many failure bows that my back aches, but here is what I appreciate about the idea:

  • Takes credit. You are brave to have tried. Be proud!
  • Vulnerability. You are not flawless. Own it.
  • Learning. Celebrate that real growth only comes from foul-ups.
  • Mindset. Shifts you from thinking “failure” to “just part of the show.”
  • Gratitude. Expresses thanks to the audience for sticking with you.
  • Support. The applause expresses that experimenting and failing are ok.

All great broadcasters eventually do something worthy of a failure bow. Early in their morning show run, the Kevin and Bean Show KROQ Los Angeles was caught faking an on-air murder confession. They paid several thousand dollars in fines out of their own pockets and performed 149 hours of community service.

I don’t know if anyone will actually do it, but I love the idea of on-air presenters taking a huge failure bow to in-studio applause after finishing a shitshow segment.

Jeff McHugh is known for developing remarkable talent for both morning and afternoon drive. He brings an uncommon mix of positivity, creativity, and strategy to the shows that he coaches. He is a member of the team at the Randy Lane Company. Reach Jeff at [email protected]


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