Accentuate the Positive
BY MIKE FICHER
In 1945, Dean Martin met a young comic named Jerry Lewis at the Glass Hat Club in New York, where both men were performing. The duo connected and decided to form an act. Martin and Lewis’s official debut, though, at Atlantic City’s 500 Club on July 24, 1946, was, to be generous, a bomb.
The owner, one Skinny D’Amato, warned them that if they didn’t come up with a better act for their second show later that same night, they would be fired. Huddling in the alley behind the club, Lewis and Martin agreed to abandon their poorly-received, scripted gags and improvise their way through the act. Martin sang some songs, and Lewis dressed as a busboy, dropping plates and more or less making a shambles of both Martin’s performance and the club’s sense of decorum. The combination of slapstick, old vaudeville jokes, and whatever else popped into their heads at the moment struck a chord, sending the audience into fits of laughter. A legendary comedy duo was born.
RIDERS ON THE STORM
What do you do when the bit, song or game does not generate energy or a positive response? Do you panic? Do you have “go-to” songs and bits? Do you maintain a composed, confident presence?
It’s been said that the true test of a captain’s mettle and acumen is not when the seas are calm and the skies friendly, but when the water is ferocious, the air turbulent and the equipment faulty. Therefore, shouldn’t the real test of a mobile entertainer’s abilities be when the floor is empty, the guests are listless, and the general energy of the party at low ebb?
Martin & Lewis provide just one interesting example of entertainers who have demonstrated that often the first step toward success comes through adversity calling them to respond creatively. What do you do when handed lemons?
A NEW ATTITUDE
One of the most positive ways to deal with negative performance situations is attitude. Often, from the ashes of discontent rises the phoenix of memories.
“I see ‘bombing’ as an opportunity for greatness,” says Matt Bixby, owner/operator of Matt’s Entertainment, serving the Willamette Valley in northern Oregon and southern Washington. “I’ve tried to embody Johnny Carson’s ‘I’m even funnier when the jokes are terrible’ mindset. Oh, how I loved the gleam he’d get in his eye when the show was not proceeding according to plan.”
Can you laugh at yourself if a bit or song does not work and quickly recover with another better song, bit or game? If the audience senses your panic or overt concern, they may reflect that in their response. If the audience sees and hears a light-hearted, pragmatic response, they may be more willing and able to revive the event’s energy. Usually the audience will take their cue for the mood of the event from the entertainer’s tone—so don’t panic, do not dwell, and move forward.
PEOPLE GET READY
Preparation is an excellent servant when negative performance issues arise.
Do you have other bits in your arsenal? If a game does not work, do you have another that might generate more success? Or, are you prepared to accept the even more drastic possibility that games will not work that night and that another entertainment vehicle is needed?
Entertainers with numerous vehicles in their performance fleet have a better chance for adjusting to situations than one-trick ponies. Gaining comfort with numerous activities—raffles, dance instruction, games, storytelling, comic bits—will increase the chance that you will have something attractive for your audience. Become a more versatile, polished entertainer through education, study and rehearsal.
If a crowd is reluctant to journey to the dance floor, do you have gimmicks or persuasive ideas that might entice them? An assistant, particularly one of the opposite sex, is helpful to encourage the crowd to journey to the floor.
Or, if they are tapping their toes and engaged in conversation, is your ego comfortable shifting to a more supportive, background music palette? Maybe the situation is not negative, just different than you or the organizer expected. What entertainer has not encountered an event where the expectations were high for dancing, but the floor remained tranquil…and yet guests shared that they had a great time afterward and enjoyed the music?
An association meeting is a supportive environment in which to share war stories about successes and struggles. Take a cue from your comrades in arms and adopt any of their ideas that might help you add to your arsenal of entertainment weaponry. Seize every opportunity to be better prepared to generate guest satisfaction at your next event, no matter what circumstances bombard you with.
Mobile entertainers are not alone facing challenging performance situations. The greatest of entertainers, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, turned one into ong, prosperous, fruitful careers. What will you do with your next difficult situation?
Filed Under: Issues from 2010
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