Thursday, September 13, 2012

"Ben Kubelsky's Question"

Not long ago, Ben Kubelski wrote:

So let’s hear some of the exchanges you remember from your days doing warm-ups?  And which show(s) seemed to attract the most difficult-to-warm-up audiences?

Thanks for the question, Ben.  By the way, is that an “internet” name, or do you just happen to have the same name as the original name of my favorite comedian of all time?  (Who would, post-Ellis Island, become Jack Benny.  Maybe this Ben picked up the name, because the comedian wasn’t using it anymore.  Not because he died.  Because he switched to Jack Benny.)


On August the 14th, I wrote a post called “Good Evening, And Welcome”, about over the years being a warm-up man on several TV shows.  This led to Ben’s question about first, exchanges I remember, and second, about which shows had the hardest audiences to warm up.

Let’s tackle the second issue first.  The hardest audience to warm up is the one which has been rounded up – often by professional audience rounder-uppers – to watch the filming (or taping) of a show they had no connection with, that being either a failing series nobody watched, or a new series that had yet to hit the airwaves.

This type of audience bears some similarity to landlubbers who were hit over the head and wound in the navy.  Realizing where they are, these folks are0 in a conspicuously ungenerous frame of mind, irritated that they couldn’t get into a better show, “better” meaning a show they had at least heard of, or, had Providence smiled more beneficently in their direction, a show they watch and enjoy, and is extremely popular and may have even won some awards. 

I have on occasion experienced “Hit Show Mania” in Broadway theaters.  When at the audience settles in to enjoy an enthusiastically reviewed, “Sold Out” production, there is a palpable sense of anticipation, triggering a tsunami-like buzz of excitement and bonhomie. 

If it’s a comedy, the lights start to dim, and they’re already laughing.  If it’s a musical, they are humming the curtain.  You can’t miss with these shows.  It’s like a big party.  The wild applause, to some degree, reflects an audience applauding themselves for being there.

It was extremely helpful to be associated with a hit TV show, not just as a result of my warm-up responsibilities, but because I also wrote scripts for those shows.  (They may recognize my name from the credits.  And if not, I tell them about it.)  This identification gave me cachet and credibility, an advantage not accorded to some hired gun comic, brought in to loosen up the crowd. 

Equally important, since as I mentioned in “Good Evening, And Welcome”, I had no prepared material but simply played off the energy of the audience – the more revved up the audience – in this case, from being present at a “Top Ten” show – the greater the likelihood of a “killer” warm-up. 

Call it a symbiotic relationship.  An “up” audience stimulated my “funny place”, which allowed me come up with stuff that made them laugh, which energized the audience even more, bringing them primed and ready to respond to the show.  “Mission Accomplished” – everybody’s happy.  
Here’s where things get a little disappointing.  For Ben Kubelsky, and most likely, the rest of you as well. 

In regards to Ben’s first question, regarding warm-up “exchanges”,

For the most part, I do no remember anything I said. 

I think it’s a biological thing.  It is not possible for a person to watch themselves being spontaneous.  There is nothing left to watch with.  You’re in the middle of it, making it happen right then and there.  Your brain is engulfed in an improvisatory frenzy.  You are, as they say in poker, “all in.” 

The “remembering” part of your brain says, “Can I have some blood up here, please?” and the “Control Center” of your body says, “Sorry.  Spontaneous comedy takes everything we’ve got!”

And therein lies the problem.  Whatever I came up with “in the moment” was there. And then,

It was gone.

I could offer some scraps involving my riffing on a bespectacled, middle-aged Second Assistant Director, whom I affectionate dubbed “Ed, the Stick Man”, whose entire job seemed to be to stand in front of the camera while the film was rolling, and hit two sticks together at the beginning of every scene.  About how his lifelong dream was to, someday, grow up and hit sticks together for a living.  How, as a toddler still in diapers, he showed signs of future greatness, sitting in his high chair, banging together two little, wooden spoons – now prominently on display in the venerated “Stick” Hall of Fame.  And how, as a child, Ed would suddenly blurt out, entirely out of context, “‘C’ Sequence – Take Two.”   

I could easily do that.  But something would definitely be missing.

What I think is, you had to be there.

Fortunately for me,

I was.  


I have now on consecutive days responded to questions asked by readers.  If you have a question, and would like to see your name or at least screen name displayed prominently in the title of my post, I encourage you to send it along.  For those who have asked questions in the past and have received no published answers, nor seen your name or at least screen name displayed prominently in the title, it's because I could not think of anything to say.  That happens sometimes.  But sometimes, as has happened the last two days, it doesn't.  

You just never know.  


Zaraya said...

Dear Mr. Pomerantz; the charm of your blog is we never know what we're going to get.


Anonymous said...

Huh? Ellis Island? Benny was born Benjamin Kubelsky in Chicago and didn't change his name until around 1920.

Chuvalo said...

Got any Tony Danza stories? He seems like the kind of guy we'd want to share a soda pop with. Just saw him on the Today Show...pushing his book. He taught high school for a year in 2010, that's quite a change for a boxer/actor!

Ben Kubelsky said...

Thanks, sir! I'm blog-famous. :) btw How do you know my birth name isn't "Jack Benny" and I changed it to Kubelsky for business reasons?