Sunday, December 31, 2017

Hello from the Future

It was a wonderful New Years Eve celebration last night in Melbourne.  I know Sydney gets all the attention, but this one gave them a run for the attention.  We are a block away from South Gate river walk which was a hub of activity. This is a picture that Brett took from a great position at the River.
 On the top of half a dozen buildings in the CBD (Central Business district) they fired off massive firework displays.  Being up high it was spectacular and easily seen from many different vantage points.  The coolest thing to me is that they were all coordinated.  The same type of mortar display would fire at exactly the same time on the top of each building blocks away from each other. The coordination was an added dimension to the show which was probably 20 minutes of non stop rockets and explosions.   

2018 is a great year so far. I am sure you will enjoy it.  Most things haven’t changed but my perspective has.  Now that I have had a couple of days off in Oz to see what it is like to live a day in the future, I like it.  Especially the news, it is actually news and not a continual comment on the state of US National politics.  45 is mentioned, occasionally, when relevant,  but no more than any fascist dictator of a foreign country.  His tweets are not news, and there are no pendants anticipating and predicting what his tweet will be on breaking current events.  
In the Unbelievables, our comic host Harrison Greenbaum mentions a famous story in Australian politics when the Prime Minister was lost at sea.  He went swimming in the ocean, was swept out to sea and his body never found.  Harrison says, “How can you just lose a Prime Minister?  Where was his security detail, and..... can we get them for our Guy.”  It gets a huge roar and ovation from the crowd. Harrison doesn’t even have to say his name. The difference is the people of Australia don’t hate Trump... they see him as a total fool like some Bannanna republic dictator.  I realize that most people who do not support Trump in America have a genuine hatred for him. Here he is mostly the punchline of a joke  until it comes to North Korea.  Sydney and Melbourne have a large number of Asians, both as citizens and tourists and they see Trump’s  stupidity taunting Kim Jung Il as extremely dangerous.  Some one said Trump is like a child driving a race car in a competitive race, one bad decision or inexperienced mistake will cause everyone to wreck. 
But enough about that.  Brett Loudermilk and I do a radio interview program today to promote the show.  Brett swallows swords and I am a ventriloquist.  Two talents that are definitely not enhanced nor showcased very well on radio.  It made us laugh when we thought about it.  However, this show is so visual I don’t know who else they could have gotten, except our incredible singer Emi, who could suscessfull showcase their talent on radio. The magician, the juggler, the hand balancers, knife thrower, sand artist and the acrobats would have the same issues.  
We have not seen the inside of Hammer Hall where we will be performing yet.  It is litterally across the street a block away from where we are staying. The crew is in the process of the “bump” in.  There is no such thing as a tech “load in” or “load out” they are “bump ins”. The stage manager does not call for “Places” there is the call for “Act One beginners on stage, please”. Stage left back stage is the “prompt side” and backstage left is “prompt other”.     I missed getting to see the Stage Manager’s museum at the Sydney Opera House, but those who did said it was fantastic.  It is not open to the public it exists in the office of the head of the theater on shelves around the wall.  They have items touched by famous people who have performed there.  Actually to be correct they have DNA tract evidence in clear jars and plastic bags. Things like, a lipstick stain on a water bottle from Audrey Hepburn.  A  cigarette butt from Lauren Becall.  A makeup stained wash cloth labeled Hugh Jackman.  On shelves that line the office are ordinary pieces of debris touched and used by the famous and infamous. The display is tame,  the things that aren’t on display I understand is not as PG rated.  
It will be hard to compete with the thrill of going to work every day in the legendary Sydney Opera house, but I am having a ball entertaining these audiences. It is still just as addictive and delightful as it was when I worked at Six Flags. Our opening night is Wednesday. More then.
As you were,

Thursday, December 28, 2017

So Long Sydney

Today will be our last two shows at the Sydney Opera House.  As is always true, every time you go on stage there is a chance to learn something. For me it has been a chance to learn how to grab large audiences who have a hard time with MY accent. Yes they speak English here, but their accent is almost a dialect.  As was the case when I first got here and didn’t understand that the hotel clerk was asking for my “mobile number”.  The audience is also struggling a little to understand me, and it is my nature to talk fast especially with my interaction with Bob. So I have to adjust and slow down a little and open up a lot.  Every show gets better and easier.  But slowing down adds a little time to the process. 
Unfortunately, those of us who talk to the audience are being pressured to keep the show from running over.  Since most of the acts are silent and timed to the music there is no flexibility for them.  The duty to stay on time falls to Harrison, the comic, Brett, the sword swallower, and me, the ventriloquist.  Unfortunately, we can not control laugh time, it can add minutes to a set without changing a word.  In my humble opinion we are not the reason the show runs over.  It doesn’t take a mathematician to add up the time of each act and realize the show was produced too long. In fact because of an injury one of the acts has been absent from the show for about a week, and the show still runs too long. For those who may not know what that means in show biz terms, if a show goes over a certain length of stage time, the local crew goes into over time pay.  It costs the producers money... which is ultimately all that matters to them.  
I am not being paid for my consultation nor my expertise but I think I could cut 10 minutes from the show and not touch a single act.  There is some production fat in the show which, although very pretty, is totally unnecessary, especially if the show is running long.  If it was my show that fat would be gone faster than a stage hand can claim golden time.  Instead of looking at the show fat, they come after the comedy acts to cut material.  They have no idea that comedy is all about timing, and timing is an element of time.  They seem to think that if we just cut to the punchlines we will still get the same laughs.  That will not solve the problem of length, and it will kill the audience enjoyment factor as well as our acts.  
There are rumors running around back stage about what they might do to get the show to run on time in Melbourne.  I kid you not, one idea was to start them show 10 minutes early.  Some one pointed out that starting early does not shorten the show. Duh?? The other suggestion was to have the opening comic start his set as the people are being seated. Again, pretending the show has not started when it really has started, is not a way to solve the problem.

I am one of only a couple of people who have two spots in the show.  That is what the producers contracted me to do and that is my job.  The question might come to this:  “Am I willing to cut one of my spots to keep the show from running over?” It is a loaded question. No one is anxious to cut their own creation, but this is not my show and I am not the star, the show is the star and everyone in it is a necessary part.  But even if I cut one of my spots the show would still run long, and there would be one less moment for comedy.  Until the producers realize that some of the unnecessary fluff is making the show long we comedy acts are unwilling to sacrific our art for their bottom line.  
At one point in the rehearsal process everyone lost their temper.  There was so much wasted time during the rehearsals it lead to the frustration of exhaustion if nothing else.  My turn came when there was a particularly long segment being over rehearsed as the concept kept changing over and over. 
I said, “This is the reason no one wants to hire us old guys, because we have worked in shows that know how to do it right.”   I am pretty sure that all anyone heard me say was, “You kids get off my lawn.”  
Even after all these realities of show business, the moment I am on stage, alone doing my own thing, everything else goes away. For about 13 minutes I even forget Trump is still in office.
As you were,

Monday, December 25, 2017

Settling In

We had our first scheduled day off from the show on Monday.  It was Christmas Day so Sydney was not about its usual business.  Lots of places were closed, but those open were swamped with tourist.  Sandi and I chose to see the first performance of  ‘The Greatest Showman” with Hugh Jackman. I am a huge fan of P.T. Barnum, Sandi is a big fan of musicals, and we were able to support an Australian home-boy’s career.  It cost $26 AU a ticket for the movie (that is about $20 US) even pricey for LA and we had to wait in line for a long time.  
This is not a review of the movie but I did relate to it in a different way because of my participation in “The Unbelievables”. They have sanitized the Barnum story but it is still about a group of misfit performers and freaks trying to buck the odds and reviews to draw a crowd.  I don’t know about misfits and freaks but  “The Unbelievables” is attempting to do the same thing with our show.  The movie depicts the inception of what we now know as Circus.  It was in some way hard for me to realize it was a day off. 
My goal in this series of blogs is to document what it is like to perform at the Sydney Opera House for the first time.  I can only write from the way it feels to me. Sometimes I channel my inner Spalding Gray. I feel like I am over analyzing but since this blog is actually for my own use to look back on some day and remember what was going on it is what it is. Perhaps it is being too honest for publication and best left to private journal. 

I think my deepest insecurity comes from the fact that the show is called “The Unbelievables”. After watching the show, that is a very apt description of what is happening on stage.  There are people who are literally risking their lives doing things that seem physically impossible and Unbelievable. I think when it comes to my act... unbelievable is not the word that is normally used.  For a ventriloquist it is not so much a question of  how we do it as much as WHY.  My mistakes result in embarrassment not physical danger. I sometimes feel like I should be doing the act while riding a unicycle. (Which just for the record I can ride a unicycle. But Bob would never agree to do it)
In the second act I follow Alfredo, of Deadly Games, who shoots a crossbow, and throws knives and axes at his beautiful wife Anna.  Although I can not see all the faces in the back of the Opera house, I am sure that after Deadly Games is  done and I walk on, the observers mouths are wide open.  I have the task of closing their mouths and slowing down their heart rate.  In the act Bob says, “You aren’t Unbeleivable, you are just adaquet”.  Even with my clinical depression controlled, the darkness of my fears sometimes get expressed. I am reminded of what my first boss Charles R. Meeker, Jr. once told a singer in one of his theme park shows.  The singer did not think the song he was singing was exciting enough.  Mr. Meeker said, “At this point in the show we need a down moment.”  It was hard for the singer to hear that he was a “down moment” but Mr. Meeker was right.  A show should be a roller coaster ride not a rocket blast.  It was a concept I was able to use to my advantage in “The Two and Only”.  It is impossible and unwise to pace a show without a chance for the audience to catch their breath. Murphy, Paul and I were able to provide some tender moments to my show that let the audience recoup. I think that is what made it the theatrical piece it is.  

It is hard for me to remember this is not my show, I am just a cog in the wheel.  More like the clown who comes into the ring to spend some time while the dashing man on the flying trapeze gets ready.  It is much easier to go from the chorus to the lead, than it is to go from solo writer performer back to the ensemble.  It has required more adjustment than I was counting on. However, at this point in my career I need the time to catch MY breath. Besides Echart Tolle says it is healthy to let the ego be over taken by the simple actions of living now occasionally. It is not a matter of not feeling excited and blessed to be performing in Australia in their most famous venue. I am grateful, blessed and incredibly lucky to be here.  I just have a hard time with change and the world is nothing more than continual change. It is not a complaint,  just an observation.  As Edward Albee said, “I write to know what I am thinking about”.
As I remember it, at Astroworld my act was just long enough so the dancers could change clothes and get back on stage.  I wouldn’t let them go back on until I thought I had milked every moment out of my final applause.  I would hold the lead dancer and keep her from going on until I was sure my applause had crested. That lead dancer was Sandi Asbury and I have been holding her ever since.  So maybe there is an advantage to being the “break act” in the long run. 
As you were,

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Reviews....

Here is a selfie of me at 5:00am coming to the theater the morning after opening.  Several of us were “chosen” to be interviewed live on Australia’s Today Show from the theater and broadcast coast to coast.  It is the glamor of show business. We are trying to spread the word along with reviews.

I learned a long time ago not to read reviews of shows I am part of.  As they trickle in for the “Unbelievables”it becomes impossible to avoid them because everyone else is reading them and making comments backstage.  Even without reading them I can still tell you what the critics seem to like and what they didn’t like and why.  Unkind adjectives that reviewers have used get thrown around back stage in whispers and as the punchline of jokes.  As I told someone last night, “Reviews are not Directors notes, why do you care what they say?”  
I’m not saying this cast is any different from any other about trolling the reviews but as I am the oldest in the cast I know from experience that the opinion of some unknown writer absolutely does not matter. I believe my job and my responsibility is to the audience who paid to see the show, not a local writer who got a free ticket. And now we performers also have to endure the snipes of Facebook comments and illiterate opinions of bloggers. From personal experience of writing this blog for several years... just having a Word Press account or Blogger App doesn’t make me more qualified to have an opinion.  
It is for the same reason I don’t like America’s Got Talent.  Who cares what Howie Mandel thinks?  Why is it important to please Simon Cowel?  I was around when Howie was doing stand up in the clubs.  If I were his judge I would have Xed his act faster than a Japanese bullet train through a tunnel.   And I still don’t know what Simon Cowell does, what is his talent?  But obviously my opinion has not affected either one of them career wise. 
Most of the performers I know have a very fragile relationship with self esteem, myself included.  Getting up in front of people to speak much less to perform an act is a universal fear of most every person.  Some writer sitting in safety of a darken theater seat has no idea the courage it takes just to walk on a stage, not to mention the hours of practice it has taken to perfect their talent.  We do it basically because we want to please people.  We take their criticism harder than we let on.
By the same token we take their accolades which great joy.  The problem with reviews is  simple, if you love to hear the good ones, you have to also accept the bad ones, so why acknowledge them at all. Neither have any power nor control over the performer unless they are taken as anything other than an opinion.  It is impossible to please everyone every time but we performers try to do just that.  Pleasing the audience should be the goal, but sometimes we let the words of a single sniper change that goal. 
No one wants to get a tough review at the Sydney Opera house, But consider this.  When the Sydney Opera house itself was being designed and built the “critics” hated it. They thought it looked silly and did not have the dignity that an Opera House should display.  They thought it was a blight on Circular Quay. The architect and designer took a beating in the press.  He was so upset he walked away from the project and did not even come to the official opening. The Sydney Opera house is now an icon.  Everyday when I come to work there are literally thousands of people trying to pose a selfie with the Opera House in the back ground. Those critics who panned it are dead, gone and forgotten.  So ultimately the critics opinions don’t matter, it is the work that eventually speaks for itself.  
To the snipers who sit in the dark trolling our performances and to the sycophants who just want to hand out compliments so we will love what they have to write, Who cares.  Take your shot and go away.  We have work to do and thousands of people coming to see us who can make up their own opinions. And their opinions are more expressive than yours. 
I personally love this show and am proud to be a part of it no matter what a local news writes or some old lady with a twitter account posts.  To my cast from the old guy, it’s showtime. 
As you were,

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Not just another Opening

The song from “Kiss Me Kate” goes... “another opening, another show”. In most cases that is true.  However, I have had some very exciting moments, on stage,  in my life. Doing my show at the Helen Hayes Theater and accepting a Tony on stage at the Radio City Music Hall are two that come to mind immediately.  However, being part of a show opening at the  Sydney Opera House to a sold out crowd on the Concert Hall Stage is absolutely like no other experience.  There’s no sound like the one you get from a theater that was built to be as near acoustically perfect as possible. It makes the audience reaction seem so present and immediate it’s magical.  
I noticed it right away.  The dressing rooms have sound proof walls and doors for opera singers to warm up, so the hallways are sound studio quiet. And until you walk into the wings backstage you really don’t know that there is huge crowd waiting.  But the minute you get in the theater proper you hear this mumble of thousands of people quietly in conversation.  The same thing that makes it great to hear the performers also makes the rumble of the crowd rich and beautiful as well.  I love that sound in any theater but in this one it is particuarly wonderful. Someone said, it is like being on the inside of a guitar and that seems to be the right metaphor.  
In America we say “Break a Leg” on opening night.  That is not the tradition in every country, although every country has some superstition about the opening night of a show.  Because we have an international cast I found out that in Germany they say, “Toi Toi Toi” (that is my phonetic spelling) and in France they say “Merde” and in Australia they say “Chookas”. At the Opera House there is a wooden wall up the stage left corridor that gets kissed.  We went for it and performed all the rituals.
I had to throw Shin Lim out of the dressing room for whistling.  Tradition is if you whistle in the dressing room, especially on opening night it it very bad luck.  To avoid the penalties of a bad show you have to go outside the dressing room door, turn around three times, curse and spit.  He thought I was joking but I believe that theater is all make believe anyway and you have to live in that make believe world.  So he did it as he was leaving to get some coffee from the Green Room.  Five minutes later he walked back into the dressing room... whistling. You would think one of the worlds greatest magicians could remember a routine. 
I am working on a video tour of the route from my dressing room to the stage at the Opera House and will post it here when I get the time.  I am running out of adjectives to describe the night.  Sandi said it best when she said, “The show is Unbelievable.”  Whatever Unbelievable is on steroids that would be what it was like to perform a show called the Unbelievables.  I am posting a photo that Sandi took.  
You might think that being such a high ceiling it would not be good for comedy.  Not so here at the Sydney Opera House,  because the domed wooden roof is actually designed to enhance the sound you hear.  It is hard to explain how intimate this large house feels.  
Our stage manager told me something that even he didn’t  know about this incredible venue.  While we were doing the show inside there was a tremendous thunder storm outside.  Of course we never heard it, but Terrence was worried the power might go out while one of the acrobats was doing some dangerous stunt.  The operations man said it will never happen. He was so certain that Terrence questioned him on how he was so sure. Seems that the building was designed with it’s own generator that matches the feed from the city of Sydney.  If the entire city of Sydney loses power moments before there is a noticeable dip in the feed the generators kick in and the power stays on.  They have enough back up power to keep all  six theaters fully running at the same time for 6 hours.  There is no other theater in the world  that can do that. 
Now that we have some free time I will edit that back stage tour video and post it here.  The back stage passages are just as impressive as every other aspect of this amazing place.
As you were,

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

‘Twas the night before Opening

Tomorrow is the official opening of “The Unbelievables” at the Sydney Opera House.  There will be more stories about that.  But first let’s catch up.

 There is a natural herding instinct among the cast. The musicians group together, mostly because they are called in at the same time and work together as a team. The dancers are a group for the same reason and are always rehearsing either on stage or off.  The comic/Variety acts seem to hang together trying to top each other’s lines, and what they are calling the Circus acts form another clique. In the case of the acrobatic (circus acts)  it is a language issue. I think they speak four different languages between them. Portuguese seems to be the one that communicates with everyone. There is no clique for the older performers, like myself, so I mostly hang with Darwin and Bob. It is okay with me for the most part. I have done my share of hanging out until all hours and I’m past trying to keep up with 25 year old athletes.    

Some of us traveled together from Tamworth to Sydney on the same plane.  We were all one tribe for the flight.  The highlight of the trip was to gather around Brett (the sword swallower) to watch him go through security.  His swords were checked but in the violin case  he carries on the plane contains his other stage props including an 18 inch dildo  with a handle.    In a show that is not as family friendly as this one that prop gets a great laugh when he shows it as a joke.  
Security at Tamwoth did not react to the X ray picture of the large “tool” but Brett was immediately chosen for and additional “Random” screening.  The  fact that the Aussie TSA tried to maintain their professionalism while a circus... literally went through security made me giggle.  Of course, that tagged me for an additional random screening as well. Brett and I were the only ones chosen to be additionally screened.  In this case having heads in my carry on bag made me the most normal of the group.
Everyone was laughing and having a good time teasing each other. It was getting loud in the boarding lounge when someone said (in various languages.). “Hey they have free wifi”  Suddenly all talking stopped and everyone was on their smart phone. There was no more loud talking, only an occasional bell sound on everyone’s phone followed by laughter.  Alexandra,  a beautiful acrobat and winner of Poland’s Got Talent (no really, there is a PGT and she took home the big prize) asked me if I was on Facebook.  I think she was shocked when I said yes. (As I said, I am the oldest one in the cast). That’s when she looped me into a Facebook message group she created for the cast.  Suddenly I knew what all the laughter was about.  Roberto the juggler was making jokes about Artem the strong man. Everyone was adding their take on the thread and they were texting in English. It was the first time I understood what was going on.  I got it. this is the way they were all communicating.   I was wondering how they all showed up for a trip to the Marsupial Zoo in Tamworth and how they all seemed to wind up at the same bars and restuaurants. The secret communications between cast members was revealed to me.  
One of the stories that I would have missed if I wasn’t a part of this group was Arianny getting bitten by a snake at the petting zoo. 
Arianny  is the four year old girl who is traveling with the Unbelievables.  She is the daughter of Alfredo and Anna, who do a dare-devil knife throwing and cross bow act.  They are 6th generation circus performers which makes Arianny the 7th generation.  Arianny is as beautiful as her mother and very precocious. She is an amazing little girl.   I should get the rights to Arianny’s life story and make it into a movie one day.  
On an afternoon off from rehearsals Anna took Arianny to the petting zoo.  She was filming Arianny interacting to a snake the  zoo handler was showing to the kids.  Arianny was the only one of her peers who would  pet the snake.  When she did the snake struck and bit her on the webbing of her left hand.  It was a small constrictor so it was not poisonous but still Arianny is a four year old and it was totally unexpected.  The handler panicked and pulled the snake away quickly but the fangs were stuck firmly into Arianny’s hand.  The handler quickly disconnected the snake from the child’s hand and removed it from the area. Anna yelled to her daughter to see if she was okay. Arianny didn’t skip a beat nor do anything but take it in stride. She calmly said, “I’m okay.” 
Because of the Facebook feed the entire cast was horrified and worried about the the four year old mascot of the tour.  We were all concerned when Arianny showed up backstage that evening with a bandage on her hand.  The doctors and nurses had examined her and determined that she was okay.  I asked  Arianny  how she was doing and she said, “The snake didn’t bite me he was trying to kiss me.” 
One day I will write her story, the tale  of a seventh generation circus performer but until then I will just say... this whole experience is Unbelievable.
As you were,

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Good Bye to A Wonderful Lady

We spent our first day at the Sydney Opera House yesterday, and I intended to blog my knee jerk impression of what this iconic place is like.  It is as amazing as you might think.  But when I woke up this morning  I heard the news that Keely Smith has died. Rather than blog about Austrailia I want to take the time to remember my evening with Keely several years ago.

I am the old man in the cast of the Unbelievables. It is doubtful many of my cast members will  know who Keely was without a quick google. But a Google search will not tell them what an incredible talent the world has lost.  That doesn’t matter,  I remember and my heart is sad today. I was a fan, and quickly became a friend after an evening in New York I will never forget. 
Keely Smith was married to Louis Prima and they had a nightclub act that rocked the early days of Las Vegas Lounge shows.  They had hits with “Old Black Magic”, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “I ain’t Got Nobody”.  Sinatra went to see THEIR show an often re-recorded their hits.  In spite of all the million dollar production shows in Vegas, the Louis and Keely show was the one you couldn’t get into without a “connection”. 
Keely kept her deadpan look with the short black bobbed haircut and bangs all her life.  She was a jazz singer and there is a question whether Louis Prima would have been anymore than an Italian wedding singer if he had not met Keely Smith.  
Prima was a known womanizer and in Las Vegas he was a kid in a showgirl candy shop.  Infidelities to his relationship with wife Keely were well known.  They would eventually divorce and dissolve the act.
Three years ago a small Musical Called “Louis and Keely in Vegas” dramatized those Vegas days.  It featured Louis and Keely’s music and their tremulous relationship.  There was a story in the show that Keely had an affair with Frank Sinatra’s drummer while Louis was playing around.  Keely came to see the show and said that story was totally not true.  She insisted it be changed to reflect the truth.  She insisted that it was an affair with Sinatra not his drummer.  The script was changed.  
I met Keely Smith at Joe Allen’s in New York. She was a friend and client of Richard Hillman my publicist for “Jay Johnson: The Two and Only”.  I called him “Churd” but that is another story. We were at the iconic show biz restaurant to celebrate the Tony nomination of my show.  I was an exclusive table of me and Sandi, Paul and Murphy, Rick (head of the publicity firm) plus Churd and Keely.  We sat at a round table. Happiness, excitement and show biz stories flew.  If I was not currently half a globe away I would post a picture of us all taken that night.  It occupies a place of honor framed near my Tony. You don’t forget a night like that even if you are not sitting with a show biz Legend.
Keely had the best stories. She was in her early 80’s at the time living in Palm Springs.  For some reason we got to talking about dating.  She said that in Palm Springs she had a very active social life and there were lots of men to date.  I’m not sure who asked, but someone at the table said, “After all your experiences and all the famous men you have known, what do you look for in a date today.”  
She didn’t skip a beat to think. She said, “I’ll tell you. He has to be able to drive at night”. 
Keely was 89 when she passed away in Palm Springs yesterday.  I am only one of the millions who will miss her. 
Good bye Keely. 
 As you were,

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Down Under - Upside down

There is a YouTube post by a seemingly intelligent man who identifies himself as an educated lawyer. He is pleading the case that the Earth is actually a flat disk and not the round ball we have been told it is.  To prove his point he has a model airplane and two models of the Earth.  One Earth is a flat disk, sort of a round map on a table. The other is the traditional elementary school globe we all grew up with.  
With these visual aids he uses the example of an airplane trip from Los Angeles to Sydney Australia to prove the Earth is flat.  This is the part that originally caught my attention since it was my exact itinerary last week. 
Holding the plane over Los Angeles on the flat map he says, “Here is a trip to Austrailia.” He moves the plane across the map as if it was flying to Sydney.  When it arrives he says, “You will notice that the plane is still up right, it hasn’t changed its perspective. That is normal, that is the way planes fly.”
He then moves the model plane to the globe and holds it above Los Angeles, and says, “Now watch what happens when you assume the Earth is a ball” 
The man follows the curvature of the Earth with the plane until it reaches bottom of the globe and the continent of Austrailia. “Look at the plane.” He says with the excitement of turning lead into gold. “The plane is upside down.  It is no longer right side up.  Planes can’t fly like this... we don’t land upside down in Austrailia, therefore the Earth is flat.”  .....  You just can’t argue with logic like that.

I am here to tell you that the Earth is not flat.  Down-under is not upside down, but there are things that are reversed down here.  Of course they drive on the “other” of the road causing me to take my life in my hands everytime I cross the street.  The water does swirl down the drain in the opposite direction, and The Burger King chain is called Hungry Jack. (Some rule about using the word King for a burger joint).  
But nothing has affected me more than my sudden personal reversal. 
When I started doing my act I was most always the youngest person in a  show.  I usually performed with people older than myself, sometimes it was only a few years difference but the younger you are the greater the gap between age seems to be. 
I was cast in the Shazam Show when I was a junior in college. I replaced Sammy King for a week or two during my spring break from University of North Texas.  The show was John Daniels Magic show at the Carillon hotel in Miami Beach, Florida.  One of the dancers was my age but we were the babies of that cast. I grew up a little during the run, but the green had not turned yet.
Other than John’s Magic Illusions there was my act and a vaudeville act called Elza and Waldo.  They were seasoned pros, who did a silent adagio dance act that was hysterically funny. I am guessing they were in their late 50’s or early 60’s which seemed very old to me at the time. Of course this was almost 50 years ago and back then anything over 20 years of age was ancient to me.   Elza and Waldo were amazing to study.  Every stage moment had been polished to perfection and I watched them from the wings every night.   I remember thinking that this kind of skill and polish only comes with the perfection of time.  They just had done it for so long it was as natural as their heart beat.  Perhaps I was peering into the future. 

I am now rehearsing a show that is not that much different from the Shazam Show 50 years ago. It has dancers and singers, a great band, magic and novelty acts.  At the time of the Shazam show, Miami was as foreign to a Texas ventriloquist as Austrailia is to a California Ventriloquist today.  But here is the upside down reversal: I am older now than Elza and Waldo were when they did  the Shazam show. I am the oldest member of this cast and it is a role I am not familiar with.   In my mind I am still a college kid looking for a good audience to play with but that is not the reality.  I have been performing more than twice as long as this cast (and crew) has been alive.  To them I am Waldo and Bob is Elza. (Bob would probably reverse the metaphor).  Thanks to Elza and Waldo, I think I know what I am supposed to do.  Elza and Waldo just did their act, they didn’t try to tell us how to do ours, nor did they try to tout their massive years of experience.  They were nice people who just did the best act they could every night they got the chance.  While I was watching them from the stage right wings every night, I knew I was learning something.... I now know what that something was.  

There may be someone watching me from stage right at sometime during this run.  If there is, I will probably never know about it as I don’t plan to look. It is my job to silently pay it forward and, like Elza and Waldo, use every minute of my stage experience to do the best show I can. I have been learning this part in the Unbelievables all my life.  Perhaps a reversal is no more than a conscious rebirth.  More later,
As you were,

Saturday, December 09, 2017

What is a Tam-Worth?

I have been telling everyone for weeks that I was going to Australia to open a new show at the Sydney Opera House.  I am here in Australia now but only saw the Sydney Opera house several miles away from a bus window as we left the city to the  hinterlands of down under.  This is the first chance that I have had to reflect on the journey so far. 
After the fifteen hour flight from Los Angeles I met up with the six memebers of the band outside of customs.  It was two days later than when I left Los Angeles, it is summer time in Australia and I was jet lagged to the max. It is very odd to see snowy pictures of Santa and his reindeer in 75 degree temperature and 60% humidity.  
A driver with a sign led us to a small van in the parking structure and we loaded in.  I was the only one who didn’t know the rest of the this group. They introduced themselves to me.  A couple of the guys started in New York before a quick layover to  board the same plane I was on to Sydney.  They were jet lagged on steroids and still nice people.  We  settled in for ride to our accommodations. No one knew much more than I did about what was happening next. The British composer for the group asked the driver where we were headed.  The driver said, Tamworth.  The next question was how long is the drive to this place called Tamworth. 
I’m not sure if it was the giggle of surprised laughter or the gasp of total shock that reverberated through the van when the driver said, “It’s about a 5 and a half or six hour drive.”   There was silence that fell over the group as we realize this was not a joke.  Some one said, “I thought they said it was an hour and a half”.  We were about to spend the next 5 hours in this van.  Evidently the local plane connections did not work with our arrival time, complicated by the two hour delay we had taking off in LA.  
As we talked about it we realized that we were technically taking the show out of town to prep and rehearse rather than spend the high end money at the Sydney Opera house to work out the details.  Tamworth was the cheapest place that was also big enough to accommodate a show as large as this one.  The ride was every bit of 5 hours, on top of the 15 hours (in some cases the 20 hours for the New York guys) on a plane.  The country side was alternately the look of a coastal California trip with pastures of horses, sheep and the occasional wallaby siting  in the growth of Eucalyptus groves. But no one knew anything about this place called Tamworth.  
Time was passed with alternate sleeping, joking and talk about the adventure of putting together this new show.  The composer had written individual theme music for all the acts and the musicians had put words to all the melodies.  They sang the Jay Johnson theme to me several times.  It was much funnier to them than it was to me, but in context to the adventure I was honored.  
As we get closer to arrival in Tamworth the roadside billboards start to give us the flavor of where we are headed.  It seems that Tamworth is the “country music capital” of Austrailia. It looked like we were headed to Pigeon Forge, or Nashville lite.  Advertised on billboards was a rodeo,  stock show,  and several Aussies in cowboy hats, glittery costumes and guitars.  Although I was having trouble remembering the name of the town it suddenly made since to me.  Tamworth.... like Fort Worth. Worth being the operative subjective noun.  
We arrive at the Best Western Motel which is our destination.  We immediately see a group of older people gathered in a circle outside their motel room smoking cigarettes and drinking beer as if it were a southern front porch.  Their pick up truck is backed into the parking place in front of the room and serves as the buffet and beer bar.  This is a typical motel you would find at any touristy destination in America, but after 20 hours of travel even the Plaza Hotel would have been a let down.  No one says anything as the van finally stops.  There is no great rush to get out and grab our stuff.  Finally the only girl in this group on the bus says, “I see a white butterfly. It is all good”.  I confirm she said “white butterfly” and she said “That is very good luck”.  It was what everyone was waiting for... some good news for the day.  

As we check in,  a lady in the lobby  who identifies herself as the company manager,  gives us per diem cash and we check in.  I am a walking zombie as the very nice girl behind the counter is very chipper and very Australian. She says in an accent that does not translate in my groggy head. “Jez sien yer name, and giv a mobi nooba, in thu squah”. I sign my name and say, “What else?”
She repeats “jez yer mobi noomba”.  I am no closer to understanding the second time.  I look at her very intently and ask again.  She looks as intently back at me, like I was her aging grandfather and repeats two more times, slowly but no more distinctly.  As if my brain was looking for information off the web with a dial up modem it finally comes to me that she is asking for my “MOBILE NUMBER’.  As if I have solved a difficult puzzle I say, “Oh my Mobile Number.” The girl smiles and says “Thatz rit” as the entire band in unison says, “Your cell number you stupid American.” Most of us have a big laugh.
 I say, “I don’t know you all very well yet,  but this is a long tour and I don’t quickly forget things like this.”  They laughed again, but the truth is- they don’t know me at all.... nor the wooden  friends I hang out with.  This is not the last laugh by any means measurable.  More later,
As you were,

Friday, November 24, 2017

The other Side of the Picture

I don’t know Al Franken.  I have always enjoyed his writing and his comedy. I also agree with most of his politics.  And in my opinion we need him in the Senate as much as Alabama believes they need Roy Moore, and for the same political reasons. I am not drawing the Presidential distinction of who admitted it and who didn’t and pairing that with guilt. However,  all allegations being equal between the two of them, Franken has not been accused by women who were under age at the time.  

 I am certainly not here to defend Franken’s female encounters, especially since  I was not present at the time nor know anything except what has been in the news.  I take him at his word and take the accusers at their word and believe his apologies are sincere.  His first accuser stated that the apology was satisfactory to her. But another woman has come forward saying he “copped a feel” during the taking of a picture.

Today Al Franken released this statement.
"I'm a warm person; I hug people. I've learned from recent stories that in some of those encounters, I crossed a line for some women -- and I know that any number is too many."

The truth is, I am also a warm person;  and I hug people male and female. Often I kiss friends during that hug, male and female.  Although I have never consciously been aware of crossing a line, there is no doubt that I have put myself in that position.  Add that personality trait to the fact that I am a celebrity, to some,  and I am often asked to take pictures with people I have never met before.  I have never refused an autograph or denied a picture to anyone if it was safe and friendly to do so. In the 30 years I have been trying to accommodate the pictures and selfies of fans, I have been grabbed on the butt, squeezed a little to closely and kissed on the cheek numerous times as the camera clicks.   I assumed it was all in good fun, and part of the job description of the profession I have chosen.  
But perhaps I have a case against some of those fans.  In retrospect I can get my feelings hurt years later and claim all kinds of abuse.  Take this picture for example.  I barely remember this encounter,  and don’t remember her name if she even told it to me. I was just trying to be nice and pose in a picture her friend took.   I have litterally taken thousands of such pictures.  By evidence of the name tags and the background I can date the picture to July of 2009. I have not obscured her face since she is the one who published it on Facebook even tagging my name.  

I wasn’t aware she was making fun of me with an insulting hand gesture as the camera flashed. It was probably one of several pictures taken with others at that same spot on that same day.   Had I never seen it I would never have known. However:
Did I feel insulted and taken advantage of when I saw it posted on Facebook? You bet.  Did it hurt my feelings a little that I had agreed to pose in good faith only to be made fun of in a photo, you bet. Was I demeaned by the fact that I was the only one not in on the joke? Absolutely!  Will it go any further than this blog, Absolutely Not.  In the words of Hyman Roth from Godfather II, 
“It is part of the profession we have chosen.”
I doubt she intended to insult me, to objectify me in a joke, it was just a funny idea, perhaps.  I know for sure I have had a joke go wrong, an action misinterpreted and probably crossed a line I did not know existed.  
I once caught hell from a woman when I held the door open for her.  Didn’t mean it to be insulting, it was the way I was raised, like saying, Yes Ma’am and No Sir. It was something a polite “gentleman” did.  I am now aware this action might offend some,  but in my defense, I don’t want to get yelled at for slamming the door in a lady’s face or pushing past her to get in a building first. It is called being human, and learning from your mistakes.

I am not saying to all the accusers who were abused, “get over it”. I am not saying to abusers “how were you supposed to know”.   I am saying to everyone who takes a “holier than thou attitude” on this matter, look in the mirror, we are all guilty.  We are all unsure of the line, male and female and it is only a matter of severity as to how far we go across. 

If we had a different Political leader we might be able to have a constructive discussion on the subject.  But stuborn denial of facts is his MO. This is coupled with his belief that “if you don’t admit it- it did not happen” .  We can all heal from this and become a better society but not while there is a large orange Elephant in the room that we pretend isn’t there.  
 As you were,

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Repost from the 50th Anniversary

Kennedy Connection

I am not an avid reader but I have read almost every book on the subject of the Kennedy Assassination. (I can even spell assassination without looking it up). There have been some completely loony theories, some creative theories and some compelling theories on the subject. I have my own opinion based upon the local coverage from WFAA in Dallas immediately after the shooting.  
I am not a "lone gunman" believer.  I will never be sure exactly how Oswald was involved, but think he was more of a patsy than anything else. Once you open up the possibility that it was a planned operation it gets difficult to follow. It is not so important if the secret service driver of the limo pulled a hand gun and shot the President, or if it was E. Howard Hunt who shot the President from a storm drain below Elm Street. Obviously those are crucial details in the murder but what group is responsible for the plot to kill the President. Three groups are usually thought of as suspects.  They are:

1) The CIA. It is true that Kennedy didn't like the CIA and they didn't like him.  He was supposed to support the CIA Bay of Pigs invasion with air support but he didn't and the operation was a disaster.  Kennedy was quoted as saying he was going to "splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it into the winds". 
Side note: Allen Dulles, head of the CIA was fired by Kennedy over the Bay of Pigs incident. Several of his staff resigned in protest including deputy director Charles Cabell.  Allen Dulles was later appointed to the Warren Commission by Lyndon Johnson.

2)The Mafia.  It is believe that the Mob helped Kennedy get elected in a very close race with Nixon.  There were voting districts in the Chicago area that seem to have been as tainted as any in Florida during the 2000 election.  Sam Giancana, the Chicago boss, was said to have "influenced" the ballot boxes in several districts.  However, once in office JFK unleashes his brother as Attorney General who began to crack down on organized crime with a manic passion.  Carlos Marcello, New Orleans mob boss was dogged by Robert Kennedy and is quoted as saying, "Take the stone from my shoe" meaning get Bobby Kennedy off his back.  Santos Trafficante the Miami/Cuba mob boss said, "If you cut the dogs tail off the head will still bite. If you cut the dogs head off the tail no longer wags." The Traficante idea was, kill the president and his brother will no longer be the Attorney General. After he heard that President Kennedy had been killed, Jimmy Hoffa is quoted as saying "Well, that makes Bobby Kennedy just another lawyer, doesn't it?" (Five years later Bobby was assassinated when it looked like he might become president) 

3)Wealthy Texas Right Wing Radicals.  Dallas hated Kennedy and the day he arrived for the visit there was a full page ad in the Dallas Morning News accusing him of treason and calling for his impeachment.  Months before Adli Stevenson was physically assaulted by a protester when he was visiting Dallas, Texas. Dallas in particular, was a hot bed of hatred toward the Kennedys. Earl Cabell was mayor of Dallas at the time of the assassination. He was the third generation of a Cabell as mayor of Dallas. His Father and Grandfather had both been mayor of Dallas. More importantly Earl Cabell is the brother of Charles Cabell ousted deputy director of the CIA.  The fact that the route of the motorcade through Dallas needed the Mayor's approval has always been a curious connection to the tragedy. 

It is possible to make a case that any one of these three "groups" could have motive to plan and execute the assassination. They were all one in reality.  Here is how they connect.
It is easy to connect the Mafia and the CIA. They were both working together to take Cuba back from Castro. For the CIA it was strategic and for the Mob it was business since all their casinos had been nationalized and then closed by Castro. Frank Angelo Fiorini was in several branches of the United States military, aided Fidel Castro in the Cuban revolution of 1958, and worked as an undercover operative for the CIA. When Castro won the revolution he appointed Frank Fiorini as "head of national gaming" for Cuba. Fiorini was the contact between Castro and the Mafia operations of the casinos for a year after the revolution.  Fiorini left Cuba when Castro closed the mafia hotels. It is obvious he continued in the employ of the CIA. Frank Fiorini later changed his name to Frank Sturgis and was arrested in the Watergate Break in. He alone proves the link between the CIA, Cuba and the Mafia. 
It is also easy to connect rich Texas Right Wing radicals with the CIA at the time.  In the early late 50's early 60's George H.W. Bush owned the Zapata Offshore Company, a subsidiary which specialized in offshore drilling in Houston Texas. Although Mr. Bush would later become head of the CIA, Vice-President and eventually President there is no proof that he was CIA during his oil company days. However, two of the ships used in the Bay of Pigs invasion (provided by a wealthy un-named Texas oil man) were named the "Zapata" and the "Barbara" two names closely associated with George H.W. Bush. In the Warren commission it states that private citizen George H. W. Bush was "briefed" on the assassination investigation by the government the day after the event.  This was before Mr. Bush was part of the official government. He was one of the only private citizens to receive an official briefing.  I am not implying that "George the first" had anything to so with the assassination of John Kennedy. I simply point out that the over lap between the prime suspects in this case is more than coincidental. 
So there you have it 50 years later and it is still a mystery.  I suggest it will always be.  There is no smoking gun proof of anything including the theory that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I am pretty sure the Warren Commission got it wrong, but it will be the only story that will survive ultimately.  Twenty-five years from now we will find an empty file that will lead to more mystery.
As you were,

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Peacock Theater, Frisco, TX

In a world  dominated by artificial intelligence/ alternate  reality and streaming video I am happy to say,  Variety Arts/ Stage performance is alive and very active at the Peacock Theatere in Frisco, Texas.

If you think Frisco, Texas,  sounds like an odd place for jugglers, ventriloquists, magicians, sword swallowers, mimes and performance artists to gather and display their talents.... Well,  it’s “other worldly”  to a former Texan  like myself.  

When I was living in Richardson, Texas, during high school,  the small town of Frisco was only 21 miles north, but  there was absolutely no reason to ever go there.  It was ranch and farm land of little use to a budding ventriloquist, future Los Angelan, actor and Tony Award winner, like myself.
Well times have changed. Dallas and Fort Worth have become a metroplex which rivals Southern California for its massive urban foot print. Frisco is ranch land no longer, rather it is the very cutting edge of  the DFW juggernaut. When Randy Pitchford was looking for a place to expand his Computer software company, Gearbox, the prairies of Frisco were available
If the name Randy Pitchford, Gearbox or the computer game Borderland is not familiar, then the rest of this blog may not make logical sense to you. But,  if you Google the unfamiliar and connect the dots it makes complete sense.

 The Peacock Theater,  Mecca for  Variety performance, is located in the mind and at the home of Randy Pitchford.
SO, the question is:  Why would a computer game mogul care about the world of variety artists?  Much less build a place for performance artists to  perform? 

I am here to try and explain.
Of all of Randy’s credits I did not realize until this last week-end that he worked as a Magician for Wizards on Universial’s CityWalk.  This is the Rosetta Stone of the entire story.  It is crucial to understanding The Peacock Theater.  

Randy Pitchford is a magician. 
As Randy was building his company headquarters in Frisco, he was also building his new North Texas home.  With the same attention to detail, needed to program a computer game, Randy build his new house.  The fact that the Peacock Theater is located at the Pitchford house, is lost in the labyrinth of hidden rooms, secret passages, and built in magical effects that define the home itself.  But this is not an architectual review of the property it is about the meta-concept of the Peacock Theater.
Although extremely successful in the digital world, Randy is at heart a  magician.  As a ventriloquist I am allowed admittance to the world of magic so I can comment objectively. Randy loves magic and can trace his lineage to one of the most celebrated magicians in history, Cardini. ( Magicians will not have to Google Cardini, but laymen are encouraged to do so) . Randy understands LIVE performance, and is now using his good fortune to encourage and promote it. The Pichford Plan is to prove that modern day vaudeville is viable.  I have been waiting all of my life and my career for Vaudeville Theater to return to America.

This is only the context for the story I want to tell. In an example of “Variety Arts meets High Tech”, here is how the show down happened.

I am sitting at the kitchen/bar of the Pitchford estate when one of the other invited guests notices I am wearing my Mickey Mouse wrist watch. He says, “I like your watch”
He then proudly shows me that his Apple Watch is displaying a Mickey Mouse Watch face with an  animated Mickey Mouse tapping his foot with the seconds.  
My analogue watch does  not do that.  
The owner of the Apple Watch then says...
“And mine will do this”.
He taps the face of the Apple Watch and the animated Mickey Mouse  says, “It’s 12:40.” 
My analogue watch does  not do that.   
However, since I am a ventriloquist, and not to be out done by a techno geek,  I simply tapped my own watch and it said, “It’s 12:41 - Fuck you”
Fortunately the small audience at the Pickford kitchen bar appreciated skill and understood the context of my come back. 

I hope someday to play the Pitchford Circut. 

As you were,

Friday, October 27, 2017

How I met JoAnne Worley.

My Friend JoAnne
Great stories always have an unexpected twist.  I have told this one before but another chapter was added just last Saturday evening.
I’ll start there.  
As the MC of an Anniversary Show last Saturday night for CSL-LA, I got the honor of introducing my friend Joanne Worley to those gathered. This is perhaps the easiest job any master of  ceremonies could have.  Everyone knows Joanne Worley, especially this audience. It happens to be the congregation of the church we both attend.  Although I will claim to have known JoAnne several decades others have known her much longer than me.  So I decide to tell the story of how Joanne and I met as part of her introduction.
I have told it many times since it happened in 1978 but I have never told it from stage before.  I did write about it in this blog 7 years ago, here is a link to that story. My introductory version at the Anniversary Show was somewhat abbreviated.

You never forget a story when there is a foreign militiaman holding an automatic weapon on you and has taken possession of your passport.  It was also the first time I had ever been on a cruise ship, and the first time I was cast in an actual film.  I don’t remember much about the plot of the movie, nor much of the cruise itself, and I don’t think I even read the entire script.  I was playing the part of a ship entertainer with a few scenes that connected my act to the mystery plot of the film.  I have never seen it, if it was ever indeed released - even for television. There is a reference to the movie on my IMDB but it also says it was an animated feature with other actors that I have never met.

It was a somewhat hap hazzard production.  They had not taken into account the electrical needs of all the lights and cameras which put a big strain on the aging ship.  There was always the fear that the next take would blow up the ships generator.  It was comforting to hear the director yell “cut” instead of hearing a loud explosion from the engine room.  
All of that is really irrelevant to my meeting JoAnne that morning.  She got the cruise director who eventually got me on the boat and released from dockside detainment.  If I had never seen JoAnne again after that she would still be my nautical heroine forever.
So, I tell this story to introduce JoAnne and was pleased it got some laughs.  JoAnne of course was her charming, bubbly self on stage, the night of out church show, singing parodies and yes even doing ventriloquism with a puppet chicken during her act.  JoAnne can command a stage and control an audience in a way that only comes from her incredible talent and years of experience.

Ah, but every great story has an unexpected twist. Some twists take 40 years in the reveal.

At this show was the wife of a church member.   She said she was a fan of JoAnne and me and had been for a very long time. She always wanted to tell us her story.  This is what she said.

At 12 years old her parents wanted to take her on vacation.  They chose to join the passengers of the Marconi with an ocean cruise from New York to Santo Domingo and back.  It just happened that this was the very cruise I would join mid way through to shoot the movie with JoAnne.  She vaguely remembers a scuffle at the dock in Santo Domingo but didn’t realize I was the instigation of that affair.
 When she figured out a movie was being made on the ship, she became fascinated by the process of film production.  She followed the crew from set up to set up and watched every take.  She lost interest in all the official ship board activities and preferred to spend the days at sea watching grips and electricians make movie magic.  It was a turning point in her life.  She said, “That is the moment I realized I wanted to be in that business.”  She is now a successful union card holding movie crew member.
She said, “When I heard you and JoAnne were going to be here together, I wanted to tell you how much you changed my life.”  Then she said, “I can’t believe you told that very story tonight.”   To be perfectly honest, I can’t believe I told that particular story either.  We took a picture of the three of us to commemorate the evening.
The legendary Marconi cruise proves:
Life is an Adventure and the definition of and Adventure is: An experience for which the outcome is unknown.  We never know exactly what will happen at the next moment of our lives nor how it might change us forever.  The moral here is, make every moment count.
As you were,

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

My First day without a Mother

It was difficult to get Mom to smile for a picture.
This is one of her smiles I like the most.
It is a grainy still frame from a video I took
at her 90th birthday before she realize I was
Although my Mom has been leaving us for some time now, yesterday she moved on physically. Her last few years were like the journey of many elderly people. We have come to a point where medical technology can keep the old alive, but not necessarily living.   The ultimate irony is that we keep a body alive only to lose the mind inside.

I was last with her two weeks ago when my brother, sister and I went to see her in Dallas.  All three kids together with her, the four of us alone.  There was enough Pampy inside to let us have moments of genuine eye contact and maybe a sentence or two.  Her stories were mostly nonsense to us.  She seemed to follow them quite well for a moment or two.  
At one point she said very clearly, “The Boys are telling me it’s about time to shut this thing down.” Since that is a very Toler family expression and she always referred to her brothers as THE boys we kids assumed she was referring to her brothers who have all passed, two within the last year.  Clearly she was in communication with them and they were getting anxious to have her join Dad and the family.  

I have communicated more with Pampy though my heart than actual conversation over the last year.  As the “middle child” I claim a relation with Pampy that is different from my only younger sister and my only older brother.  Since I left the house at 21 years old most of my relationship with Pampy has been by phone, and more recently by email.  In fact for a long time I wrote this blog for her enjoyment alone. She told me once she felt like she knew what I was doing when I wrote the blog stories. Her exact words were, “I can keep up with you.”  There were a couple of times she took my comedy seriously and I had to explain it was a joke. I suspect that she is able to read it with more clarity now.

I could always call Mom and talk to her, particularly in lonely times on the road.  I would feel better by just telling her where I was.
This is what I remember at this moment about Mom/Pampy.

I arrived in Pittsburgh for a corporate show and a couple of my bags did not make the connection.  I was trying to put together an act from what I carried on.  One of the producers was looking to rent a suit for me... all he could find was a tuxedo. It was a long time at the airport waiting for no bags,  now I was pushing it to be ready for showtime. It was April 1st and this all could be some cosmic prank but April 1st is also Pampy’s birthday. In a moment to take a deep breath I called my Mommie. 
I am sure Dad was also on the line so we talked about the kind of cake he got her and what they were doing to celebrate her birthday.  They asked about me, where was I today. I tried to make this corporate show from hell sound as glamorous as I could, but Pampy, in her intuitive way, is not buying it.  She gets the truth out of me.
Pampy was a spiritual woman and what ever way she prayed worked... in mysterious ways.  Her spiritual growth continued all her life and she knew it all from the basics to the metaphysics. My siblings will agree that she had some connection to the mystic and spiritual side.  However, she could make it work more for others than for herself.  She never thought she was good enough to be good enough at something good. If that is a riddle then that could be a perfect metaphor for Pampy. 
She said something like, “Those cases will show up.  God sent you there with everything you need to do your show. I know it, Honey.”  I felt a lot better but,  I had called Pampy to wish her a happy birthday and she ended up giving me a spiritual mind treatment.  We said goodbye, happy birthday, April Fools etc. and I hang up.  I have just enough time to pull whatever I can do together and tell the producer to get the Tux.  The hotel phone rings, I think it might be Pampy calling back but it is Front Desk.  
“Your bags were just delivered do you want us to send them up to your room?”
The bags arrived in 5 minutes. From that moment on it was like every other hotel ballroom show I have ever done before or since.  Everything was there right where it should be at that moment. I had not really needed those cases or what was inside until that exact moment.  
Some might say that Pampy had nothing to do with it and coincidences happen sometimes. Well,  if you think so, you didn’t know Pampy. If only chance is involved once in a while the things that Pampy prayed for would not come to be.  Not to say they all did.  But they happened with greater frequency than any odds maker would ever give.  

There are more stories. They will come to mind again with the spark of some unrelated stimulus in times to come.  We all agree our Moms are magical, creative, imaginative, artistic loving Angels.  No need for me to present more proof here now.  If you had known her for as long as I knew her you would agree with this statement. There is absolutely nothing in her life she has done that would disqualify her from an executive suite at whatever concept of heaven she wants to live in.  The idea of where she would spend eternity was something she thought about a lot.  She loved to contemplate such things on walks.  She was walking the property until she was neither physically nor mentally able to so.  She told me once, “I’m not sure I like this idea of a Heaven with streets paved in gold like they talk about.” She paused and laughed through the next part, “Can you imagine how hot those streets would get. Paved in gold is ridiculous, I’m not walking those streets.” 
It’s been a year since Pampy could call me on speed dial, and that long since I could call her.  Most of our last calls involved me trying to remind her “God sent YOU with everything you need to do your show”.   There is a direct line to my heart that is on Pampy's celestial speed dial now.
As you were,

Friday, September 29, 2017

Breaking News

I just realized what the term Breaking News means.  I used to think that a breaking story was one that was “new”, then it came to me that a new story is just the “news”. CNN has something called a “developing story”, this seems to be something different from a “breaking story”.  Here is an example: When a man attacks a bunch of people with an axe, that is a breaking story.  A “developing story” means CNN has a reporter following a man with an axe.  When they get the film of the man swinging the axe at people, that would be “breaking news”.  
In reality here is what happens.  A policy or problem develops, usually involving politics because that seems to be the only information (aside from disasters) the cable news covers.  They call this a breaking story, but since the implications have not been determined it then becomes a “developing story”. The anchor then assembles a group of people on either side of the issue and they discuss “what if”.  They pontificate on all sorts of scenarios some of which could be disaterous.  Nothing is resolved because it isn’t really news, it is gossip at this point. 
Yesterday the breaking news was a press conference with Gary Cohn (a Goldman Saks profiteer turned Director of the Economic Council to the President) and Steve Mnunchin (also a Gold Saks gold brick turned Secretary of the Treasury) who were touting the new Tax Reform scheme.  These men are billionaires.  Cohn said that under the new tax plan a middle income family would get a tax savings of $1000 which would REALLY stimulate the economy.  He said:
                             “If you allow a family to keep another thousand dollars of their income, what does that mean? They can renovate their kitchen. They can buy a new car.“

Now my car is a couple of years old. But we are looking to remodel the kitchen.  The last time we got a quote,  a new refrigerator alone was about $1200.  And if I recall correctly the sunroof accessory on my car cost $1500 extra at the time.  How can an investment banker worth $100 billion dollars not know what the cost of goods really is.  Gary David Cohn probably spends a grand on dinner when he picks up the government reimbursed evening.   Mnuchin of course used a government plane for his honeymoon, and to take his new bride to see the eclipse.  Again, the last time I checked a charter aircraft costs about 10k an hour.  Supposedly if you distributed that $10,000 he spent in an hour to the middle class, 5 new cars and 5 new kitchens would be the result.  It was the great white revisionist poster boy for the Right - Ronald Regan who referred to such calculations as Voo Doo Economics.  

I am all for a tax revision.  The code now is too complicated and the rules need to be interpreted by a CPA at $200 an hour. There is a way to make it easier, quicker and more equitable, but letting a bunch of billionaires tell the middle class to “just eat cake”, is not a solution.  Is this stupid idea even a developing story? Much less is it a breaking story. 
So I guess I now know what a “breaking story” is after careful observation. A breaking story is some information that will break your heart.  It will break your heart because we have a cabinet of the richest men in the USA trying to make themselves richer by riding the backs of working Americans.  It will break your heart because everything this administration does digs the gap between the rich and poor deeper and the cultural divide more contentious. The news will break your heart because with every tweet from the POS that makes news, I feel a little of my American pride drain from my body.    

And all this NFL crap is just that. Peaceful protest is the core of  the American heart, and that heart is breaking for sure.  Colin Kaepernick began a peaceful protest over the epidemic of white police shooting unarmed black men with impunity.  Colin was trying to “Make America Great” not again but “Greater” than it is.  It seems like the Trump supporters would be on board with someone who says America needs to change for the better.  But I forgot, Colin is not a white man.  How quickly a peaceful protest on the scale of Dr. Kings, non-violent disobedience, became “disrespect of the flag, the country and our military”.  President 45 may stand for the national anthem but his disrespect for the country (“The Constitution is archaic and bad for the country”) and the military (“I like hero’s that weren’t captured”) is evident and vocal.  He wants America Great Again but only for the white, Christian, billionaires.  

So that is my breaking news story for the day. Heart breaking because of the person that should be leading the country during a time of International tension is more concerned about black men taking a knee than Puerto Rico.  
As you were,

Sunday, September 24, 2017

End of the World?

I waited for most of yesterday for the "rapture" to come and the world to end. It was a prediction that cherry picked the Bible and Astrology charts to claim that a unique celestial alignment was to occur.  This would bring us into the orbit of a  Planet X which would cause our doom.  This was supposed to take place yesterday, Sept. 23.  The date was sealed into my brain since it is the birthday of my youngest son.  We joked about what kind of celebration he should have for such an occasion as an "end of the world" birthday party.  He chose to spend his last hours at the beach with some friends.  
I am so glad I did not sell my act and move to the top of a mountain based on this story that circulated the internet.  However, there were moments when I thought I might have turned a deaf ear to my future.  
The first time I heard about this "doomsday prediction" was around August 21st while everyone was celebrating the United States Total eclipse.  There was a YouTube posting by  a young lady explaining the future of the world in the next month.  She said, the eclipse would throw off the orbit of the Earth to a degree that we would put us in the path of Planet X.  To make this work one has to assume that the constellation Virgo is symbolic of the Virgin Mary and Taurus the bull with the addition of the planet Mars represents her crown of 12 stars.  
This eclipse "sign" would be followed by others.  There would be two major hurricanes and two major earthquakes.  I was not immediately persuaded by her prediction.  I have also seen a middle age man on YouTube explain why the earth is flat, so YouTube "informational" videos have not been extremely accurate in my tally.  But even at that I thought, the next "signs" she predicted would be easily enough to verify. 
Almost immediately the news started covering the strongest hurricane in history heading for the United States.  The name was Harvey. It was a monster and eventually struck the Houston gulf coast with a fury.  Before we could grasp the destruction of Harvey, Maria became a cat 5 hurricane  heading for the East coast.  I thought Maria could be the the "second" hurricane talked about by the doomsday lady's video. However, hurricanes happen every year and of late they have been stronger due to man made climate change.  Of course there is a YouTube video of another person claiming that global warming is a hoax.  You can see how confused I was about preparing for my doom on Sept 23.  
Then there was the 8 point something earthquake that hit near Mexico City.  Hurricanes do not get my attention as much as the thought of an earthquake. The day before that Mexico earthquake a small tumbler hit Westwood, just over the hill from us. It was small, quick but strong enough to remind us SoCal dwellers, we live on top of a bunch of geological Jinga Blocks.  And a day after that Mexico quake there was a 6.1 off the coast of Japan. That quake did not cause the damage of the Mexico quake so there was not much coverage of the event. But for me the alarm bell went off. That would make two hurricanes and two earthquakes in the span of a month since the Biblical Astrologer predicted the Sept 23 doom.  
Now I will admit to being a superstitious person. I am almost pagan in my attention to physical talismans.  I always carry a special coin in my pocket especially when I am on stage.  I have certain specs that the "talisman" token should have. There is one special coin that is in my pocket every time I do "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only." It stays with the TAO props and is utilized for only that show, and those performance.   I will stay with a  good luck charm until it vanishes.  That is how it happens with magical trinkets, they arrive and leave in mysterious ways.  But when one vanishes I start the hunt for the next.  That stated I am one who pays attention to "signs".  I was really waiting to see what.... if anything would happen on Sept. 23rd.  Not because I believe in the Biblical rapture or Armageddon, it is just that sometimes events can be self fulfilling prophesy.  When large numbers of the population focus their attention on some tragic prediction it more often than not causes something to happen in reality.  
Take Y2K.  For a year before the millennial we were told that because of a programming glitch in C code computer language the world, run by computers which is now most everything nowadays,  would completely stop.  At the stoke of midnight New Year's Eve of 2000, planes would fall from the air, utilities would stop working, telephones would stop ringing and we would really be in a mess.  They continually referred to it as the Y2K "Bug".  In fact I know a vent who created a "bug" puppet and called it Y2K who played on the fears of the nation for that year.  (I'll sell you  that puppet at a really good price. PM me.) 
Here is the point about mass hysteria.  There was no disaster caused by this ubiquitous bug. However, if you look at the stats you will find that the US had a huge outbreak of a strain of the Flu that sent thousands to bed for New Year's Eve.  To me those events were not mutually exclusive.  There was so much talk about the bug that would hit the US on Jan 1st that a massive bug did infect a large part of the population. I can't prove that logic, but then again, what has a hurricane got to do with Planet X.  
I do wish that Bible scholars would stop trying to interpret the doom of the world and the people in it.  Fear is the strong hold of organized religion these days, my belief is that Love should be the strongest motivating Principle in religion not fear.  To convert someone to a religion just because they are scared not to, does not make very good partitioners.  Religion should deal with how we live right now, not how we live so we can avoid Planet X destruction.  Controlling by fear does not work, people must come together out of Love not fear. 
So nothing happened on Saturday, Sept. 23rd. The fear of converting and "getting right with the Lord before you are destroyed" is over for this week.  The seat belt sign has been turned off and you are free to go about your normal non loving life.  The organizers of churches who make millions of dollars out of fear will have to come up with another future event to scare followers.  They are missing the point that life is a series of "Nows" not preparation for future misfortune.  If one is living the best they can NOW then the next and future NOW will come without fear.  
I truly believe that my end will come before there is an end to the world.  It is therefore a waste of my time to consider what might happen on any given Saturday.  The best thing I can do is live in a way that prepares me for my own end, which will not come with a prediction posted YouTube. 
Glad we all made it though together.  It must mean something that we are all still here.  Make today the best you can make it.
As you were,

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Congratulations Darci Lynne Farmer - Winner

I remember in college there was a producer from Vegas who contacted me to be in one of his review shows.  He described ventriloquism as a "Dying art".  We didn't come to an agreement for me to do that show.  As it turned out his style of show was the dying art. His empire of what we called the 'tits and feathers' show was soon to be surplaned by Cirque du Sole shows.  
It seems that most of my career people have been looking at what I do as a relic from the corpse of vaudeville.  My response to the idea that ventriloquism was a "dying art" has always been:  Art never dies as long as there are artists around to perform/produce it.  Hopefully the AGT win (third ventriloquist in the shows history to come in first) for Darci Farmer will put to rest the idea that ventriloquism is going anywhere but up.  
It is not that Darci is just a wonderfully talented girl, nor that her ventriloquism technique is near perfect, and her singing chops could stand alone with out the puppet assistance; it is that Darci seems to understand the long history and tradition that she has now become a part of.  Her dedication to the art and her young spirit will influence a generation of belly talkers to come. And the fact that Darci's  win was not overshadowed by others claiming intellectual property "borrowing" makes the win all that more exciting for us vents.  
While Darci recovers from her Cinderella moment they are unveiling Jeff Dunham's star on Hollywood Blvd. this very morning, and Terry Fator continues his record breaking run at the Mirage.   
The unseen part of this universal interest in ventriloquism is the fact that Darci accomplished her win in a somewhat old fashion way.  Besides the hard works that Darci put in (only another vent knows exactly how many hours it takes to do what she did) but more traditionally, Darci was mentored one on one by another master ventriloquist.  Gary Owen was the maven in this case with help from others especially Dan Horn. (Both Members of the Vent Haven Museum Advisory Board).  In Darci's opening routine "Summertime" there was a moment where Petunia covered Darci's mouth when she tried to highjack the song.  In that moment I saw the inspiration of Dan Horn.  I think every artist knows the defining stokes of other artists they admire.  
So what does all this mean for the art of ventriloquism? Well, there is no doubt that it will continue to "trend" for awhile.  Any verntriloquist who performs will be asked if he/she has seen or knows Darci. Darci will continue to grow as a performer and artist and if she wants a life in the business we call "show", she certainly will have more interesting choices.  Based on the number of votes she got there are many people who will be interested in seeing what she does next.  
Now, here is my pitch to all who have interest in this ventriloquist blog conversation.  I'm talking to all you voters who voted up to ten times after three separate performances to put Darci over the top.  Share some of that energy,  help preserve this Art of Ventriloquism.  Donate to the Vent Haven Museum building fund.  It is obvious Vent Haven needs a new wing to accommodate Darci's legacy, but more than that; the museum that houses the worlds most complete history and knowledge of ventriloquism,  should be world class.  As wonderful as our virtual world can be for us vents there is no web tour, video or picture that can tell the story of ventriloquism.  Ventriloquism is a live, oral art which is tangible and tactical. It needs to be experienced live. A Museum is the place to keep such treasures to be protected, preserved and presented.  Let's invest in the future of kids like Darci who see the world through their own imagination and not through the device of a hand held screen.  If everyone sent a dollar to the Vent Haven Building Fund for every vote they cast for every AGT Ventriloquist (all three winners and a finalist) then Vent Haven would be ready to construct its historical space.
I've never been very good at soliciting money.  I've also never had an over abundance of money to give to the causes I want to support.  But maybe someone reading this knows that game better than me.  
While people are talking about ventriloquism, continue that conversation and tell people about Vent Haven, and ask them to donate.  Do it quickly before the conversation turns unavoidably back to politics.  I think we all need something more interesting to direct our attention.  I'm sayin' there should be bipartisan support for preserving these "silent partners" at Vent Haven.
Way to go Darci, and high fives to the Team Darci as well.
As you were,