If you’re going to fail, it’s best to fail fast, get it over with, and move on. Here’s one of my failures, the Floating Watermelon …Of Death. Join me in the way back machine kiddos, over 30 years ago.
At the end of this tale from 30 years ago, I’ll do my best to share a moral to the story.
So I get a sheet of pink foam insulation, right? I cut it up into small sheets and stack these so they form a block that is eighteen inches by twelve inches by nine inches, right? I glue these sheets together so they are now a solid block. Are you with me so far?
Then I carve this block into the shape of a half watermelon. I feel I have just lost some of you. I get a dowel rod about eighteen inches long. I duct tape a jumbo thumb tip to one end of it. Hello? Is this thing on? Several rubber bands hold a turkey baster along the length of the rod. Bueller? Bueller?
I take a length of clear aquarium tubing and run it from the tip of the turkey baster, through the “rind” of the watermelon and out the middle of the “pink flesh.” Why are you going to another website now!!?? The tubing is attached to the baster with, you guessed it, duct tape.
I am the Jim Steinmeyer of duct tape. I now have a spitting zombie gimmick watermelon thingy.
I then paint the foam watermelon pink and green. Being a stickler for detail, I even put a set of googly eyes on the front of it. I am also the Jim Steinmeyer of googly eyes.
Around 1992 I debuted (and closed) this creation in a little comedy club in Maryland. Before the show I filled the turkey baster with water. It sat it alongside a large black foulard (sheet to the laity) in my prop case. If memory serves me correctly, which I hope it doesn’t because I have spent thousands of dollars on therapy …fight those engrams …get to clear …just to erase this memory …rewatch Top Gun for the 100th time …the introduction of the piece went something like this:
“And now, ladies and gentlemen, the floating watermelon of death.”
Brilliant writing, bordering on patter!
Then Also Sprach Zarathustra kicks in over the sound system. This tune is better known as the 2001: A Space Odyssey melody and is in fact, always known by the latter title for writers without immediate access to Google. I reach inside my prop case. I stick my right thumb in the thumb tip, grabbing a corner of the cloth in the same hand. My left hand grabs an adjacent corner of the foulard. I lift the cloth up, holding it in the preparatory Zombie position. It bounces underneath the cloth a few times. The watermelon makes its appearance. I squeeze the bulb of the baster. The watermelon spits. The audience gives a big laugh. Gallagher (RIP) rushes on stage and hits ME with a sledgehammer. I put the prop away.
Except for the part about Gallagher, the story is all embarrassingly true. The bit got solid laughs, but the whole oddness of the thing … well …it was the first and last time I ever performed it. I confess, about a third of the way through it I felt the weird shame of the stupidity of it all.
So what’s the moral of this story? IS THERE A MORAL?!? In fact, the story is almost immoral.
But there is this minor inspirational point: a big part of being funny (or successful) is working QUICKLY through a collection of small failures and occasionally some pretty bigger, watermelon-sized, goofy failures. The key is quickly. Remember the apocryphal story about Thomas Edison and the light bulb failures?
The story goes, Edison failed to refine the light bulb so many times it took him 10,000 attempts to perfect. However rather than accepting failure 9,999 times he is quoted as answering questions on his failures as rather: ‘I have not failed. I have just found 9,999 ways that do not work’.
And these failures, regardless of the exact number, happened over a period of only a few years. He just banged out the work, didn’t dwell on failures, and finally achieved success.
Here’s the magic takeaway from this:
You don’t really know if a new routine will score until you finally get it in front of an audience.
So pick your spots to show the watermelon. Float your watermelon in front of a small comedy club in Baltimore, not national TV.
Don’t close with your watermelon. Put it in a middle slot between two sure fire routines.
Don’t insist your watermelon be 100% at first. Borrow proven bits from your other routines (like the 2001 score) to give it some support and a fighting chance.
Analyze your watermelons. Your watermelon, while being 98% bad, might have a little good you could extract for future routines.
Limit your watermelon’s stage time. Two minutes of bad watermelon is passable. Ten minutes and the audience will throw tomatoes.
And if your watermelon shows no possibility for betterment after the first tryout, leave the watermelon. Take the cannoli. Don’t dwell on it, other than for a funny story to share with buds and to illustrate a blog post. At the end of the day, not letting go of failures is often a sign of hubris. The trick tanked. So? The audience has already forgotten about it on the drive home.
Instead of floating a watermelon, next time ____ a ____. In other words, once you have put the watermelon in your rearview mirror, fill in the next blanks by moving on to the next project without hesitation.
Until next time,
The Jim Steinmeyer of Duct Tape
*There’s not a part two. This part was painful enough to write.