Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Technical Overload

Between Bob's Vlogs, the FaceBook page, twitter, www. monkeyjoke.com,  www.thetwoandonly.com and actual duties for the up coming filming I'm in overload.  The blog is getting the short shrift of this involvement.
That is a shame as far as I am concerned.  The blog is where I get to think about more than just this performance. If I am not blogging about the show then there is a tug from the capitalist inside of me that says I need to spend the energy in promotion. The problem with all of this social media and Internet traffic is the microscopic attention span of the participants.  It seems if you don't post something most every day you get lost in the avalanche.  And although I think that pictures of cats doing funny things is entertaining, there are just so many that I can absorb in a day.  
The traditional ways of promoting a show or event have changed so radically in the last few years all solid templates are out of date.  It used to be if you could afford a big ad in the local news it was good as gold for attendance.  With print media struggling it is not as good of an investment as it once was.  
All this to say that I miss being able to write about anything that I want to in this blog. It just gets pushed to the back of the "to do list".  
So if there are any readers still checking this blog, it will soon return to normal.  There are only a few weeks before the shoot. 
Thanks for hanging in there, if  you are, keep checking the Jjtwoandonly facebook page for more up to the minute information.  It may be that I have to keep my ramblings to 140 characters and tweet rather than blog.  I'm not sure that I could ever be that succinct and economical with my words but if that becomes the attention span of the general public, I guess that is progress.
More later from these same venues of communication.
As you were,

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Older Voice...

Vaudevillians became so good at their act because... they were always doing the same act.  They perfected their act, their skill and their talents by repeating the act and changing audiences. It is the subject of a separate blog but the best piece of advice I ever got was from Ted Knight.  Before he played Ted Baxter on the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" he was a performing ventriloquist.  At age 13 or 14, I met him while he was doing his act at a trade show in Lubbock, Texas.  He said, "Perform for as many audiences as often you can."
Vaudeville was perfect for that training. You did multiple shows all over the country for different audiences all the time. Your act became a well timed piece of theatre with every nuance polished to perfection. You perfected the act by changing the audience. I found theme parks. It was perfect for me and what I wanted to do.  I my show  "Jay Johnson:The Two and Only"  I recall the time I did 918 shows one summer at Six Flags over Georgia.
But that was Vaudeville history. And probably theme park history now.  Today the concept is to perfect the audience by continually changing the act.
Recently I posted a routine with SQUEAKY and me from an early HBO special. Perhaps 10 years later I performed a version of that routine with Bob.   Ruth Buzzi jumps into the middle. The sound is not very good but here is another accidental find.

It is interesting to me to watch the routines brought together by the miracle of old tape collectors and YouTube. Sort of a weird time machine where I am more observer than participant.  Bob never has done the "Great Figaro Challenge" but it may be time to find an orchestra that will let him try.
As you were,

Friday, August 17, 2012

A Young Voice....

In the early days of SOAP HBO was just a cable station in New York but they were already trying to do original programing.  They produced a variety show called, "The Vent Event" with all the ventriloquist of the day.  Shari Lewis, Edgar Bergen, Jimmy Nelson and myself being the fresh face in the vent world at the time.
It was my second time to be around Edgar Bergen who was one of my idols.  He watched this routine and later came up to me and said something that I will never forget.  Mr. Bergen said to me, "That was very, very good. You have such great control. And your voice is... well... your voice is... Well damnit it's a YOUNG VOICE."  
Funny how those words come back when I accidentally found this clip on YouTube.  I watched this routine like I had never seen it before, much like Edgar Bergen might have experienced seeing it. This turned out to be the last  television show Mr. Bergen did before he passed away.   It has been a long time since I did "The great Figaro Challenge."  I never felt closer to Mr. Bergen than right now in my life.  It is an odd roll being one of the elder statesmen of ventriloquism. As I watched this routine I thought,  "that's a young voice." 
As you were,

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Viral Greatness...

There is a new Schwabs Drug store in the world of show business.  If that reference is vague it is easy to explain.  Schwabs Drug Store used to be a landmark establishment on the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights Bld in Hollywood. Long gone now but legend has it that Lana Turner was discovered while she was sitting at the lunch counter in Schwabs Drug Store. It is the fabric of the stereo-typical Hollywood dream, which goes something like this: You are sitting having lunch when a cigar smoking power broker walks in,  sees you at the lunch counter and says, "Come with me I'm going to make you a star." The rest is Academy Awards history.
I don't know how may times that actually happened or how many times it was used as a pick-up line. And there is no way to know if it really happened or if it was not just some publicity agent's fertile imagination. Either way the rumor made Schwabs lunch counter the place to be in the early days of Hollywood.  
Later the idea of instant fame and discovery became associated with the Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson.  This was the belief that you only had to do one great shot on the Tonight Show. If you were called over to the couch by Johnny on your first appearance, the next day you could be in development for a sitcom. Of course getting a shot on the Tonight Show was not easy.  It was certainly harder than having lunch at the right Drug Store Counter, but the actual odds of getting that "one big break" were just as staggering.  I often thought that instead of a couch on the Tonight Show set they should have had a lunch counter. But I am old fashion in a lot of ways.
Now there is a new route to stardom.  It is a modern day path to that ultimate Hollywood dream of being discovered.  The part of Schwabs Drugstore is now played by YouTube and the cigar smoking agent has been replaced by the number of hits a video receives.  Being called over to Johnny's couch is now referred to as "going viral".
Viral greatness is what I call it.  Someone uploads their video to Youtube. It is seen by people who email it to other people that recommend it to friends who like it on FaceBook.  The Internet being a mathematical creature counts the the number of these hits and records it for all to see. It is the ethernet equivalent of drawing a large crowd.
Since this is Capitalistic America, where there is a large crowd gathering, "vendors" appear ready to sell their wares to the gathering masses. It was ever so. In the days of public hangings the local storekeepers would flock to the gallows to sell to their goods and services to the throngs.  I'm sure these local storekeepers, who sold more of their inventory to the crowds, referred to that as a "good day". Maybe for the merchants, but what about the Hangee? 
Fame, money, stardom and popularity are all mixed together in one Show Biz dream.  In reality they are four separate paths that are not bundled together.  It is easy to separate them when you think about it. One can be famous without being popular. One can be rich and not have stardom. One can be popular but poor and unknown.  Do you want to be famous, rich, popular or a media star?  Well, pick one, you have a better shot at attaining one of those dreams if you are willing to sacrifice everything else for it. Sacrificing everything means giving up the desire for the other three to gain the one, if that is what it takes. It is a crap shoot and the odds double exponentially with every adjective you add to the dream. 
I know this sounds like a guy who would start this discussion with, "Why back in my day."  And there could be some of that influence on my attitude this morning.  It is a little late for me to be "discovered". Some might even say that I have been to the show and had my turn.  However, I am stuck in the Johnny Carson era of seeking fame.  I like the idea of working really hard to get the best act you can so it is good enough to be on the Tonight Show with the hopes that the hard work will pay off. I might be invited to the couch where I am auctioned off to the power brokers. It is hard for me to think of YouTubing myself riding a unicycle down a water slide with the hopes that either my incredible skill or humiliating fall will go viral. If it gets enough attention I can repeat the stunt on Jimmy Kimmel.  It is not the path to popularity/fame/riches/stardom I am familiar with.  
Wait... I know I will video myself sitting at the counter of Schwabs drug store waiting to be discovered.  I better shine up the unicycle and find a really tall water slide.  Jimmy might invite me over to the couch if I can still walk after the stunt.
As you were,
Vendor selling to the crowd....

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Judge Judy

I worked for Stu Billett and Ralph Edwards when they produced "The People's Court".  They were also producing "So You Think You Got Troubles." It was my show.  It didn't take off like "Peoples Court" but....That is a different much longer blog than time for today.  
"The Peoples Court" was a ground breaker, spawning so many other court shows it is hard to remember when television programing wasn't crammed with knock-offs. 
"People's Court" with Judge Wopner maintained an air of civil obedience closer to an actual court room than most  court shows try to recreate today.  The genera of court show has been "Springerized" into a public spanking and character lynching. 
It is the modern day equal of stocks and pillories in the public square. The public gathers round to mock the misbehavers and occasionally toss a vegetable at them. Only now the humiliation is witnessed by millions. 
Television voyeurs observe what it is like to be publicly humiliated and harshly judged by authority figures, while not suffering from the experience.  In fact it may give the viewer a rush, feeling the satisfaction of, at least, not being the person judged.  
Currently my favorite show to watch with my jaw hanging open, is Judge Judy.  Judge Judy has become less of a judge while becoming more judgmental, which sounds like an oxymoron.  She is no longer a Judge applying law to a dispute but your worst school teacher scolding you in front of the class.  Obviously the meaner Judge Judy is the better it works. The tipping point is when the cases no longer matter we just want to see the teacher go off on somebody, meaning somebody else. Why not just skip the court part of the show and go right to Judge Judy scolding someone. Just herd people on, Judy tells them how wasted their lives have been, then you bring on the next ones to be scolded. That's your show. 
I suggest that the shark jumping tipping point has already taken place. Judge Judy is now doing just that.  As the Internet is proof of all things here is the very moment it happened:

Change the title.  Just call it "Judy Judges"; it's now a show about  Judy condemning and looking down on people in public. Why confuse it with the trappings of a court show?  Why pretend that the show has anything left of the Wopner class other than ripping off the set?  Why watch people behaving their worst, which most often is Judy herself? Why am I drawn to watch it like a bug to the zapper?  I would not say it is like a fly being drawn to shit, because a fly is benefited by the shit. I think the harm done by this attraction is more like the zapper. This magnification of bad behavior has to be detrimental. Why did I write a blog talking about it? If you have the answers let me know.
That is all,
As you were,

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Marvin Hamlish

Back when daytime television was filled with talk shows like the Mike Douglas show, I was a semi-regular on their rosters.  I think I did around 30 spots on the Douglas show alone.
Before it was a network syndication phenom,  The Mike Douglas show filmed in Philadelphia.  It was a very small studio in the middle of downtown and had a local show feel to it.  The audience was no more than 50 people. When they moved the show to Hollywood, the feeling changed at the Television City Studios.
Back in the Philadelphia days I did the show with another guest, Marvin Hamlish. He was red hot after winning a Tony for "A Chorus Line" but very much down to earth and funny.  The Douglas staff decided that we should do something together as a spot on the show.  It was obvious that Bob and I would sing and Marvin play the piano.  Rehearsal was more like a talk through during a commercial, and it went live to tape right after.  I remember working out a "quick change" song with Marvin.  It was Supercalifragilisticexpallidoshis" that Bob and I would sing alternating syllables.  It was a challenge to see who could go the fastest.  We set a key determined the tempo of the first and second times and the third time I said to Marvin, "Just go as fast as you can play it."  To that point I had never lagged behind any piano player to ever attempt the bit. 
As the camera's rolled Bob was sitting on Marvin's grand piano.  We sang the song the first time and Bob said, "Faster, Marvin.... ".  The second time was about as fast as we could go but that is when the bit actually started.  Bob said "Faster, Jay the song needs to be faster. Bet you can't do it." I said, "I can sing it just as fast as you Bob."  
For some reason in an unrehearsed moment Bob looked at Marvin and said, "Yeah well, I can sing it as fast as Mr. Tony here can play it."  I will never forget the twinkle in Marvin's eye.  He played a measure of pick up intro and off we went.  It was the fastest I have ever tried to sing that song before or since.  I had no idea a man could move his fingers across a keyboard that fast.  We ended in a dead heat and both of us... if not all three.. burst into laughter.  I'm not even sure the audience liked it as much as we did.  It was magical.
Forever there after I told everyone that Marvin Hamlish once played for me and Bob.  I am still proud of that, and now I have a chance to tell it again.
I didn't know Marvin very well. We did some corporate shows together after that and he continued to be the clever, talented and funny man he always was.  He will be missed.
As you were,

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Twinkle in a Glass Eye...

This is a quick 2:00  mini doc for people who have seen "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only".  I talk about Art Sieving and show pictures of his work. It will just be the study of an artist's work if you don't know my show.  Either way I hope like it.

For those who haven't seen the show we are running a contest for tickets to Thalian Hall on September 15, 2012.  If you are in the area or will be in that part of the country, give the contest a tumble.  You have to be a "liker" of  the Two and Only FaceBook Page but nothing else is required.

I personally can't wait and I hope to see you all there.
As you were,

Monday, August 06, 2012

Starbuck Rider...

It was an early morning changing of the guard at Starbucks. The morning crowd arrived to remind the "all nighters" that a new day was here. At first it is hard to tell who has been up all night and who just threw on clothes to stumble in for their first cup of coffee. The recently awakened and the overly tired look very much alike. Eventually business attire outweighs the sweats and casual clothes of the people waiting in line and morning has officially replaced the night. Some patrons continue on to work and others return to their homes for rest. But a select group of others arrive to start their day and make Starbucks their personal office space. They are the Starbuck writers. There are no stats on the number of Starbuck writers who are living and working in the Los Angeles area. My theory is that Starbucks limits their number to three or four per store, but has opened so many stores to accommodate their number.
They come with backpacks and satchels containing all they might need for a field office. I have seen some set their make shift desk with two phones and a stapler. One of the first SW's to arrive gets his pick of the best mobile office position. It is a table for two across from the door and the counter. With his back to the wall his position gives him a perspective on everything that is going on, while at the same time insuring that no one can get behind him to actually see what he is writing on his lap top. This is the prize location, because for the SW it is more important that they be seen writing than actually write something someone can read.
I find it very difficult to write under such conditions and theorize that the SW is not defending their public office space to write but has come for inspiration. They are hoping that the next reality show will walk through the door, they will write it and live on residuals for the rest of their life. Los Angeles is a boom town. You are always just one project and one power meeting away from a deal that will change your life, your career and your neighborhood. It doesn't matter if you have ever written before, the minute you get to Hollywood you see pure crap being sold and aired daily. Surely it did not even take the dedication of showing up at a Starbucks to write that trash... anyone could do it, it is just a matter of timing. That right idea or that right agent or manager could walk through that door any second. You just have to be ready, and most importanly you have to be there. And if opportunity does walk in, it is best that you look busy working on the idea that will make everyone involved a millionaire. At least that is what I see as I am typing away here at Starbucks.
But wait, how about a reality show with the SW's spending their days waiting on that break. The break that will smell of caffine and pastries. Here is hoping that the right agent walks through that door so I can pitch. I need to be a millionaire by 1:00 or I'll have to find some work.
As you were,