Tuesday, January 19, 2016

"Osmosis Enthusiasm"

I always loved being in show business.

It was never my dream – it takes courage to have a dream.  But it was my “calling”, if the lofty concept of “calling” includes writing sitcoms for the masses.

My awestruck excitement of “being part of it” lay at the heart of my performances before the live studio audiences as a “Warm-up Man.”  (My boss called this my “Shit-kicker Routine”, but it was genuine to the core.)

As a “Warm-Up Man”, I offered the obligatory jokes, most of them generated on the spot, “Playing the moment” as they say, although I would sometimes have to “reprise” some of the jokes on the nights when the audience and/or myself were not entirely at our best

But jokes was not primarily what I was selling.

I was selling authenticity.

And I was hoping they’d be buyers.

There were a lot better “Warm-up Men” than I was.  (At that time, there were no “Warm-Up Women”.)  They were sharper, funnier, more consistent, more energetic and more professional.  Some of them actually knew what they were going to say.

I personally had no idea.

And I was not originally a “natural” at it.  If I ever ultimately became one.  Which is doubtful, as I am not a “natural” performer.  I am a writer who, on occasion, feels the inexplicable desire to “go up there.”

My performances evolved.  On one of my earliest outings, standing in front of an audience who had come to a see a filming of Taxi, I spontaneously launched into a medley of theme songs from old TV cowboy shows:  Wyatt Earp, Maverick, Rawhide, Bat Masterson, Yancey Derringer…

Feeling excruciatingly nervous belting out theme songs to strangers, I literally turned around, warbling nervously into the microphone, with my back facing the audience.

And you know what?

They ate it up!

And I think I know why.

Which speaks directly to my self-styled “Warm-Up Man” intention.

“You are not here to see a show,” I’d announce after a preliminary “Warm-Up Man” warm-up.

At that point, a few audience members appeared visibly confused, thinking they had mistakenly entered the wrong building. 

It was then that I delivered my punch line:

“You are here to watch us make a show.”

Which I explained to them was better.  (Although it would take considerably longer to complete.  Three hours, rather than twenty-two minutes.)

I assured the audience that they were getting the unique opportunity of peering “behind the curtain”.  They would become “insiders” on how network, half-hour comedies were produced. 

The director calling:  “Action!”  The cameras racing to their next position.  The actors, hitting their “marks”, delivering their memorized dialogue.  Occasionally, forgetting what it was.  (And sometimes swearing when they forgot.) 

The crowd of “Support Staff”, gathered on the periphery.  The team of writers, huddling on the sidelines, looking for a “replacement joke” for the joke that fell flat.  And finally, the director again:


And to everyone’s relief… 

“Moving on!”      

Being there in person, only that audience would be privy to the secrets behind the filming of that episode.  An experience – Lucky me! – I got to enjoy every day in my job.  (Was the unspoken implication.  Although I may have mentioned that I was a writer on the show, so you can forget about “unspoken.”  Linking me to the program gave me a legitimacy no “hired gun” comedian “Warm-Up Man” could ever come close to.)

(During the filming of pilots, I upped the ante, describing the situation.  For pilots, the audience was indeed watching us make a show.  But even more than that.  They were watching us create a show.)

That’s how I did it.

Lacking energizing one-liners, I used the only tool at my disposal:

Genuine excitement.

“Look where we are!

… I was saying to them.

And when the cameras rolled…

They were into it.


JED said...

This may have been asked and answered before and I could probably look this up but...

Were any of your warm-up performances recorded so that we could see them? You make it sound very exciting. I wish I could have been there to see them. Both the making of the shows and your warm-ups.

FFS said...

My wife and I went to LA for a vacation a few years ago. One of the things we did was go to a taping of Rules of Engagement. I was really interested in seeing how a sitcom was made but the warmup guy would not shut the fuck up. Every time a scene ended he would want to tell a story, have an enthusiasm contest and generally be annoying. And, when he ran out of his annoying patter and why he was "born again" (who cares) we were blasted with loud music. If you looked at the crew setting up the next scene he would give you a hard time for not paying attention to him. He ruined the experience. We had a second show booked the next day but cancelled and went to San Diego instead.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I went to a live taping in December, and the warm-up guy didn't tell anything I could identify as jokes. Instead, he ran a game show, promising prizes to the most energetic audience members. There was loud music at various times. The audience were mostly college students from the local area who were eager to win the free stuff. They came down and did silly dances, they shouted, they promised to date each other...whatever he wanted. And they handed out pizza and sodas.

Yeah, I can see why shows don't need to goose the laugh tracks.


Canda said...

When an insider, or someone working on the show does the warm-up, it is always more satisfying, since you can give them knowledge about the day-to-day running of the show. It also sounds like you conveyed the "gee whiz, isn't show business fun?" attitude the audience has.

Gert said...

I assume that there are warm-up women now?