Friday, August 15, 2008

I was writing today's blog when this comment was posted to "The World's A Stage" in response to yesterday's blog. 
Question from TYLER
Does this blog take requests? 
How about your first time on stage....or your most embarrassing moment during a performance? Now we are getting somewhere! :) 
My first time on stage was like the first time I made love... I was very frightened, inexperienced and alone. (Tyler you deserve more than an old joke, so here goes.)  

Other than my experience with "Il Tiempo del Postino"  (which I wrote about extensively at the time... check out this blog 7/10/07 through 7/15/07),  I have a weird top ten list. Perhaps my most frightening time on stage is what I now call "The Clown Incident".

I knew going in it was going to be a tough show.  My agent booked me on a Sunday night corporate show in Cancun, Mexico, and a Monday night show (the next night) in Maui.  I remember saying at the time, "Can I do that?" He said, "Sure, the time change works in your favor, you're flying west." The Maui show was for a drug company that was paying us lots of money.

The fact that I would spend 12 hours on a plane to fly a quarter of the globe and perform the same night seemed very doable to the agent.  And yes it is a logistical possibility.  Tyler, if you are still reading, don't believe everything your agent tells you no matter how much money is involved.

Well, flights were not cancelled which would have screwed the pooch, but they were late.  I was a little late getting to Honolulu, but the last flight to Maui was late by several hours.  I finally arrived at the hotel thirty minutes before I was supposed to be on stage, and I was exhausted. 

 I could have corrected most of the bad staging before hand, had I been there earlier. I didn't get to see the show room or have a sound check before the performance. I only had enough time to change clothes, fast, get to the ballroom, toss my music cues at the sound man and go on stage.  

It was not a set up I am comfortable performing in.  I was on an 8x10 three foot high riser in the middle of a large dance floor with audience all around.  The nearest table was probably 20 feet from my little stage. It was marooned on a lonely island in a dark banquet sea.  

The only light for my show was coming from two very large spot lights at the back of the room,  which was lit only by candles on the tables.   If you have never been on stage you can't know how blinding it is. Although the audience can see the performer just fine, in a darkened room with only two spotlights, there is nothing the performer can see but an occasional shadow, if that.  I like to watch the crowd and work them. This was a case of flying on instruments, and doing the show from experience only. 

At some point in the act I became aware of a silhouette darting around the dance floor. It was someone walking between me and the audience in the black "no mans land".  At first I thought it was a waiter or service person.  That's when the shadow walked past the stage a few feet behind the me. The spot light caught him and I could actually see who it was.  I saw a slim man in a loud checkered print suit wearing a red "bozo the clown wig" on his head.  I think he also wore a red clown nose, I wasn't sure.

As any performer would do in a situation when someone is trying to upstage them, I made a few "heckler stopper" jokes that seemed to put me back in control. But not for long.  The clown kept walking around the room.  I would hear him talking to people at the tables, it was extremely distracting.  Finally I said something, or Bob did,  that let him know he was disturbing the performance.

In a flash he was facing me directly in front of the stage.  His bozo wig blocked the light in my eyes and I could see him very clearly.  He was dressed as a bad clown.  Very childish makeup and except for the wig, he had obviously thrown together some old, out of style clothes as a costume .  I am trying to save the show using every heckler line I know, when I see him reach into his pocket.  He pulls out a gun, and quickly aims it at my head. As I instinctively turned away, I am hit in the face by a blast of water.  I am still alive today because it was only a water gun.  

The rule of comedy is "never let them see you sweat".  Here I am at this moment standing in front of an audience dripping wet. Everything stops. 

I put Bob in his case, and someone tosses me a napkin to wipe my face.  The audience is stunned, but no more than me.  My heart is racing and I have lost all focus trying to figure out what has just happened.  To be honest, I'm not sure what came next. I am not sure if he was grabbed and taken away or his just left, but I was suddenly there in the light alone, scared and confused. I made some lame comment to try and get my composure back. I got Bob and attempted to continue with the rest of my show.  It was a thankless, useless task but I have always had that "show must go on" work ethic.

I walked off stage and gathered my stuff.  The producer for the show happened to be the first one I saw.  I was way to exhausted to control my emotions. My fear turned to explosive anger and I let him have it in several voices.  He was as humiliated and embarrassed as I was.

I went to my hotel room to calm down.  A few minutes later the CEO of the drug company was knocking on my door.  He was practically on his knees with apologies.  He had already torn the "clown" a new ass hole and band him from the rest of the evenings festivities.  

Calmer now I tried to explain the fear I felt seeing a gun pointed at my head in the middle of my show, not to mention the humiliation of having water thrown in my face.   The CEO said the guy was really sorry,  and had been ordered to come to me and apologize.  I said I did not want to meet the guy, see the guy or be in the same room with this guy, ever. 

 I kept asking him "Why?" Why would you pay me all this money to perform and then let some employee jerk walk around and try and upstage? Why was he not in his seat watching the show? Why was he dressed as a clown at a business dinner to begin with? The CEO had no real explanations. He said the guy was one of their top salesmen, a huge earner for the company. Finally I asked the real question, "Why did he shoot me?"  He had only one final explanation. For him this explained it all.  The head of the company looked me in the eye and very seriously said, "He's French."

Because of  "The Clown Incident" there is a specific section in my contract rider dealing with the production of my show. It includes lawyer language that says I will perform ONLY under these conditions:  No dance floor, no clowns, no weapons and definitely no FRENCH.

Thanks for asking, Tyler. I hadn't thought about it in many years.

As you were,

1 comment:

Tyler said...

"He's French" Ha! That explains his retreat after the show. (Sorry...bad joke)

Thank you for sharing that. But I must say I feel a little bad making you remember that horrible occasion. My blood pressure was pretty high just from reading it.

Maybe I don't want to go into show biz after all!

Tyler Ellis

P.S. I really like the bit you did with Squeaky on the "Vent Event"