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 25 years ago.
At the end of this tale from 25 years ago, I’ll take us to what we’re dealing with in the present.
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. I debuted 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 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 a solid laugh, 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 success) is working QUICKLY through a collection of small failures and occasionally some pretty bigger, watermelon-sized, goofy failures.
And now to the present …
Welcome to the Rona, folks.
Self-quarantining, stay at home, etcetera, etcetera.
To stream performances or not to stream performances, that is the question.
But before the question, why are we asking? Because live, reach out and touch the audience shows just ain’t happening. When will they start up again? I don’t know. You don’t know. We both have our guesses, but let’s look at what we can guess with a fair amount of certainty.
🎩Not all venues are the same, but our normal live venues won’t be up and running until …September? 2021? Fill-in-the-blank?
🎩In the months until they open, you and your family will probably want the luxuries of life, you know, like food, clothing and shelter. (See: 3 hots & cot)
And here’s a saving grace: Your clients and prospects are in the same world you are. Many of the things they needed from you before — a entertainingly conveyed product message, the attention of their clients, an experience that will bring people together, or the simple experience of laughter and amazement — can still be delivered online.
Bonus saving grace: this venue of online performance is here to stay. Now that many of have realized that “a face to face meeting really wasn’t that necessary,” don’t expect them to forget it.
“But …but …it’s not the same. The audience isn’t there in front of me. And the tech parts?!?” Stop it. Show business is a history of one venue dying and other venues rising. Vaudeville. Silent movies. Radio serials. Night clubs. Etcetera. Etcetera.
Let’s go back to the first line of this post:
If you’re going to fail, it’s best to fail fast, get it over with, and move on.
🎩The old show will need to be adjusted. Maybe a little. Maybe a lot.
🎩The tech needs will need to be figured out.
🎩The first shows will look like, well, first shows.
🎩Start in smaller, lower risk venues. Do shorter shows. You notice I performed the Floating Watermelon of Death in a small club in Baltimore. I didn’t try to get it on national TV.
So dive in. Fail fast. Fail in small venues with limited exposure. Learn. Grow.
And finally, get good advice:
Barry Friedman is half of the Raspyni Brothers, a show biz veteran of the highest order, a great advisor, and a trusted friend. He’s owns and runs Show Biz Blueprint, a very worthwhile yearly online course in the business of show business. On April 22, 2020 he will be addressing the very issue the last few paragraphs have been discussing. He’s calling it the Entertainer’s State of the Union. You can sign up for the free presentation here. I’m not sure exactly what Barry will have to say, but I am sure it will be worth your time to hear. I’ll be watching, too.