Vaguely remembered… except for what matters.
(Note: This post is a replacement for an idea I came up with and then forgot. Please judge it accordingly. “What is he talking about?” “It’s okay. He’s just warming up.”)
It’s “Show Night.” I am standing next to the bleachers, the audience assembled to see a filmed episode of I do not recall what.
Between scenes, they are interviewing a visitor to the show, the legendary Abe Burrows, renowned and respected for writing (among other things) the memorable Broadway musicals, Guys & Dolls and How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
Abe Burrows is telling the show’s warm-up man that he’d been a warm-up man on some of the series he had worked on in radio. And then he says,
“The warm-up man is the most important component of the entire ‘Show Night’ apparatus.”
He probably did not say “apparatus.” But at that point, I was too excited to recall what he did say. Why? Because, though I wasn’t that night, I had been, and would be on many occasions in the future, a warm-up man, and therefore, according to renowned and respected show business legend Abe Burrows
“… the most important component of the entire ‘Show Night’ apparatus.”
(Thinking back, he probably also did not say “component” either. But he should have – “component’s” the right word. And don’t think it doesn’t feel cool rewriting a renowned and respected show business legend.)
Recalling the words of the Chief Dan George character in Little Big Man, Abe Burrows’ description of the warm-up man’s indispensible value made my heart soar like a hawk. (To my knowledge, Chief Dan George had never won high praise as a warm-up man himself but in a Native American context he apparently knew exactly how it felt.) From Abe Burrow’s perspective, it was almost as if the warm-up man was the stealth star of the entire production. Which, of course, is what I was secretly hoping for.
The warm-up man is the stealth star of the entire production.
Earlo Pomerantz is a warm-up man.
Earlo Pomerantz is the stealth star of the entire production.
What an exhilarating “up” it was to hear that.
Unfortunately, the man was not finished.
Paraphrasing Abe Burrows – whose son Jim, by the way, is is the renowned and respected director of half-hour comedies – he said,
“The assignment of the warm-up man is so important that, when I did it, I did the exact same act every time, never changing a word or a joke in my entire routine. I knew It was up to me to deliver a sizzling “hot” audience for the actors to perform in front of. It would be “Warm-up Man Malpractice” to take any risks with unproven material that might not work and then you’re dead.”
That – paraphrasingly – is what he said.
It was a thunderous comedown. (Strange. I had been so happy just moments before.)
A man of glittering achievements and unquestionable expertise was saying that the warm-up man must do the exact same act, every single time.
The troubling concern was, as a warm-up man,
I did exactly the opposite.
As a warm-up man, I, in fact, had no act. I just talked – whatever came to my mind – whatever arose through audience questions – I played off whatever event of interest was occurring at the moment. No prepared jokes. (Where would I get them? Certainly not from my head.) And little to no repetition. Unless the same situation came up and I reprised my original reaction.
According to renowned and respected show business legend Abe Burrows,
I was doing the job of warm-up man
Exactly the wrong way.
Well, hmph. Now what?
What choice did I have? An acknowledged icon had articulated the unalterable template for being the ideal warm-up man. My inevitable reaction?
I changed nothing, continuing to do “warm-up” exactly the same way.
Sorry, Abe. It was the only way I felt comfortable doing it – I just talked to the audience. Oh, and I communicated my genuine excitement, amazement and enthusiasm at finding myself part of a network television show in Hollywood. Sometimes, I’d sing the theme songs from old cowboy shows. Which was not mentioned in the template but it worked.
I guess that’s the bottom line: If my idiosyncratic approach had not generated the desired effect – I may have not provided a sizzling “hot” audience for the actors to perform in front of, but I did make them relax and feeling happy to be there – I would have… not changed my approach because I couldn’t – but I would stopped being a warm-up man.
I did what I did, which was counterintuitive to the traditional protocol. (Think: A brain surgeon going in through the foot.) But it worked out okay, so I stuck with it. (Not suggesting that any brain surgeon go in through the foot. My advice here is to… just do it the way they tell you to.)
Abe Burrows was right. There is only one right way to do something. But that “right way” is your way. Meaning there are an infinite number of “right ways” to do something.
Wait. Did I just contradict myself?
Well, so be it. That’s my way.
It seems a stupid way.
But who ever thought strangers would like when I sang “Rawhide”?