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Topic: Funny is as funny does
Message: Posted by: Chance (Jan 17, 2005 03:01PM)
With David Williamson just here, it got me to thinking...

Over the past ten years of busking some 25 countries, I have met A LOT of street jugglers. I would say that easily 75% of all busking involves juggling of some type; and if you were to limit the test to just circle shows, the percentage rate could easily reach 90%.

I, on the other hand, am not one.

Many of the jugglers I have seen go to great lengths to make their act go in humorous and absurd directions -- e.g., wearing tutu's or other women's clothing, juggling toilet plungers, dressing their volunteers in tutu's and sticking sanitary napkins on their shoulders... you get the idea. And, I gotta admit, many of these routines are side busters.

I, on the other hand, do not.

And EVERY juggler I have seen -- whether busking or working from a stage -- executes multiple tricks of varying degrees in the course of their show. Sometimes 20 or more!

I, on the other hand, am a One Trick Pony.

And finally, show length. Most street jugglers can get on and off in 45 minutes easily. With their fire and knives, or 35-foot tall unicycles, their crowd build goes pretty quickly, and so they can get off quickly, too.

Unfortunately, with my dumpy old props, the crowd build usually takes a little longer, and thus my show, overall. Jugglers, waiting in the wings, stab their little Chance dolls every minute I go over 45.

Here's the thing. Having performed countless street shows in 25 countries in the past 8 years alone, I can tell you honestly that I have had thousands of wonderful compliments and comments from my public. And don't even get me started on my hat stories. Wow!! Left only with these wonderful memories, I could die tomorrow sincerely believing that I have done well with my time here. Except for those #+*~% jugglers.

I would be a far richer man by now, if I had a nickel for every mean spirited comment I had received from the jugglers I meet every day. I'm not funny; I'm a One Trick Pony (so I'm boring to watch, of course); a 60-minute show ruins the whole day for everyone... etc., etc., etc.

What they don't understand most of all, is that -- don't blink now or you'll miss it jugglers of the world -- I have never tried to make my show funny to watch. I am an escape artist, and I have been one since my teens. This is not something I cooked up because I wanted to invent some kind of unique show for the street when I started out 11 summers ago -- I already WAS unique. With 15 years' stage & corporate work already safely under my belt, Thank You Very Much.

And so far, as near as I can recall, Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields, Peter Sellers -- or even Mr Bean, was never one of us.

Which brings my rant to this closing point: Has anyone here intentionally designed their escape presentations with this style of humor? Not just a cute/funny moment here or there (even I have those), but complete David Williamson-esque routines from start to finish?

I would also open this discussion to mixing humor with escapes in general.

Can anyone besides me relate?....
Message: Posted by: KerryJK (Jan 17, 2005 04:52PM)
[quote]And EVERY juggler I have seen -- whether busking or working from a stage -- executes multiple tricks of varying degrees in the course of their show. Sometimes 20 or more! [/quote]

Not my experience, I've known loads of street acts (in festivals mostly) who spent 30 minutes building up to one trick (for example juggling torches on a unicycle), though after seeing a lot of these and hearing the same lines over and over I did start wishing they'd just get on with it. I think about 3's the right number (including smaller "gag" stunts), enough to keep things moving without everything flitting by.

Jugglers can be a pernickity bunch, though, I know because I've been one.

Anyway, back to your question;

I use humour a lot in my act; I mean, how could I play it seriously? It's not all panto dame slapstick, though, I think it's much more interesting when you give these things more depth than people expect. I annoy a lot of other transvestites and drag queens in that I don't do sissy or slutty (well, not much, anyway), and instead play Helen more as a malevolent tomboy (a tranny in Manchester called me a "tomboy transvestite" in an effort to insult me, and I liked it so much I've used the label ever since). Many TVs and drag queens ape Shirley Bassey, Marilyn Monroe or similar glamour queens onstage; me, I'd rather be Beryl The Peril or Minnie The Minx. To be honest, I think one of the reasons I for the moment have this gimmick to myself is that it's too butch for most drag queens and too effemenate for most escape artists. Which is cool, I like to throw people.

The biggest problem with presenting escapes is escaping the image of being a sad, desperate individual getting chained up and escaping again for no good reason, with no reason for the audience to care whether he gets out or not. Ruth Brandon described such a man in "The Life And Deaths Of Harry Houdini", who she remebered seeing as a child;

[quote]He stood in an empty space struggling with chains. The performance seemed rather pointless... even the child I was then recognised that the escapologist <on Tower Hill> was not an eviable figure. He struggled on, isolated on his bleak hill. No triumphal future beckoned. It just seemed a rather odd way to make a living.[/quote]

So how so avoid coming across as such a sad case? The most obvious way is to play up the danger aspect to increase the tension in the most direct way possible. Better artists than me though have been doing this for a century and it would be preferable to be able to keep an audience's attention without having to increase the peril level to infinity with every single performance. Besides, there are times when such danger aspects just look out of place; I remember thinking this last year at a magic convention where someone performed Russian Roulette to zero tension.
The more subtle route that most aim for and the best bring across is the image of the Man Who Will Not Be Restrained, who accepts and defeats challenges from any who would try to hold him. This is a heroic figure without the need to be suspended from a burning bungee cord above a tank of mutant piranha fish with laser eye implants. Yet again, though, it's been done, a lot. And if people don't buy you as hero material, you're stuffed.

And then there is the route to a sympathetic character that we're discussing here, using humour. Pete McCahon played the humour side well, he created a larger than life jolly figure (not a buffoon), creating a surreal but fun experience. I've seen a few giraffe unicycle SJ escapes presented as madcap street stunts, though now I think about it never in a fallabout clowning way (at least not in anything beyond a comedy chain release and dynamite gag). Maybe the act of submitting to an escape challenge in the first place is a defiant act to begin with (it's certainly how I like to play it), maybe EA's as a breed are just reluctant to play idiots, but certainly humour has a place in escapology, if in a brash, confident sort of way.
Message: Posted by: Dr_Stephen_Midnight (Jan 17, 2005 09:16PM)
Murray played his canvas cabinet for a slick laugh.
As the spectator was knotting the rope that held the door to the cabinet shut, Murray would appear and advise him to "make sure it's tight."

Message: Posted by: The Donster (Jan 18, 2005 12:54AM)
What kind of canvas cabinet Dr. Stephen ? sounds interesting and funny.
Message: Posted by: Wolflock (Jan 18, 2005 01:34AM)
Uh Chance! Who is watching your shows? The spectators? Or the Jugglers? Tell them to go stick whatever the juggle where the sun don't shine and keep dancing in their tutus. You don't want your show like theirs. Keep it how it works for you. Just add a bit more every now and again to change things so that there is a bit of variety. But don't let them run your show for you. If that is the case. Rather take up juggling. Let them be the sheep that follow eachother. If they complain. Tell them that ther is more than enough comedy and you would rather create suspense, action and thrills. If every actor was a comedian, we would hate comedies.

Message: Posted by: critic (Jan 18, 2005 02:00AM)
You are whom you are. Be satisfied and rejoice in that. Leave marbles on the sidewalk for the jugglers. Or just be nice and let them be whom they are too.
Message: Posted by: Wolflock (Jan 18, 2005 06:44AM)
LOL Marbles! I like that one.
Message: Posted by: The Donster (Jan 18, 2005 08:12AM)
Oh yes can't forget the marbles. and then you can say let the good times roll.
Message: Posted by: Dr_Stephen_Midnight (Jan 18, 2005 08:15AM)
>>What kind of canvas cabinet Dr. Stephen? sounds interesting and funny.

It was a simple upright cabinet of light wood frame with canvas walls tacked on, and with a hinged front door.

It is explained in the biography "Murray," which may or may not still be in print.

Message: Posted by: The Donster (Jan 18, 2005 08:17AM)
Dr. Stephen Thank You. I'll check the Book stores for it.

http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/results.asp?TTL=autobiography%20of%20murray&userid=ZYw121wf07 any idea who wrote the book other wise one would get this http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/results.asp?WRD=murray&userid=ZYw121wf07