Today was my first London show . . . as an assistant for escape artist, Tony Roberts!
When I first arrived in London, I was drawn to Covent Garden; its atmosphere, its performers and lively crowds, and the fact it was near to where I was staying and free. (The last two facts were big contributors. But so was the atmosphere! Honestly though, the close and free part was a big part of it. But the atmosphere! It’s also free. Free is nice.)
I went there most days for the first week, and I watched many performers. Rather than going to big tourist attractions and waiting in lines, it makes so much more sense to get out £15 – 20 and watch pro performers for a day. If they’re good, I give them a note, if they’re ok, a few gold coins – as long as I’m supporting the show I’m watching, I’m ok. There are jugglers (almost everyone there juggles), balancing acts, gymnastics, escape artists, mimes, impersonators. Almost everyone combines their act with jokes, so there are comedians in the mix too. It’s an amazing place. (And free too, if you’re a cheapskate and don’t pay people – did you know that?)
Doing shows like my stand up, or de Sade, where I mercilessly pick on people, I forget what it’s like to be involved as a volunteer (‘volunteer’). Even being called on by a comedian is terrifying – Dan Nightingale (an English comic who regularly comes to New Zealand for the Comedy Festival) ripped on me for being served a blueberry meringue in the front row during the intro of his show. I ordered it 20 minutes before showtime and sat in the front row next to Mike and Ellie – the owner and barmaid at Cavern Club . . . where Dan had his 2013 Comedy Fest show.
10 minutes till showtime, no meringue. Five minutes and I’m sweating a bit. His voice over intro starts; no dessert, palms sweaty. He walks onstage, starts show. Nothing. Ten minutes into the show he’s hitting his groove and up the centre aisle walks the waitress with my food. Dan asks me what it is and I’m stunned into silence.
This is the worst thing ever.
The waitress yells, “It’s a blueberry meringue,” and I offer him some.
“I don’t want any of your bloody blueberry meringue – I’m doing a show!”
He called me pudding boy for the rest of the night.
Tony (the escape artist I didn’t kill) is Australian, saw me in the crowd and pulled me up in front of his crowd of hundreds at Covent Garden. For a performer, no problem. For a volunteer, minor problem. For a volunteer then told to chain up a man with the assistance of a German dude from the audience with no sense of humour. . . potentially a big problem.
With clear instructions, Tony told me how to tie him up, and I learned two things.
1. Being personable, and very precise with instructions makes audience participation very easy to manage – or at least it appears that way.
2. Chaining up a nearly naked dude in the middle of a public place with the help of a huge German guy with no social skills isn’t as gay as it sounds. (In this scenario, anyway.)
After watching several street performers, I found there are several things that get repeated:
1. Always include juggling.
2. Including a kid makes the crowd happy.
3. Giving the kid money makes the crowd want to give you money.
4. When asking for money, always say “When you’ve got your money out, fold it neatly . . .”
5. Then say, “You’re not laughing now, are you?”
6. Ask people to pay you after the show before your finale.
Once you’ve seen these same things again and again, you wonder why people don’t pick up on it – and it’s because street performers are meant to be watched for 5 – 30 minutes, not one after another for a day at a time. It means they can get away with using each others’ jokes, and the same show structure – in some cases almost the exact same show. This means anyone that watches it regularly will really notice when a performer of any time goes beyond expectations. Tony did this with his incredible escape from chains, and Dan Nightingale does it with his super fast reactions to the environment he’s in. Those names stand out to me and I won’t forget them.
I need a name that won’t be forgotten.
How about Pudding Boy?