MEET THESE JUGGLERS --- AND MANY MORE --- AT THE JUGGGLE SESSION, I.B.M. CONVENTION, PITTSBURGH, PA. --- JUNE 17th ,194?JACK GREENE
DR. A.L. BALDWIN
How many times have you seen or heard of a bit of business or gag that was just about tops in comedy and yet didn't get a snicker when you or someone other than it's originator presented it? Have you wondered why? Or have you wondered or given any thought as to why some gags are sure fire and others are not? In this article I am going to endeavor to present ideas on how to plan your comedy and what makes comedy. If you get anything out of it, swell; if you don't, well---
No two comedians get their laughs in the same manner unless one is copying the other. You have no doubt noticed the great difference in the comedy technique of such comedians as Bob Hope, Fred Allen, Jack Benny, the immortal W. C. Fields or between Joe Cook and Ed Wynn. You know that frequently a gag or bit of business that is tops in the mid-west goes flat in Boston and vice versa. It is the purpose of this article to help the neophite comic set up a system for originating his own style of comedy.
Just as math, magic or any art or science can be boiled down to certain basic elements, it is my belief that the same can be done with comedy. Let us divide comedy into three parts, just as "All Gaul is divided into three parts--". Namely, 1. Trouble or discomfort, 2. Surprise or shock, 3. What I shall call for want of a better name, Incongruence. Subdivide each of these into three parts- Props, Patter, Pantomime.
In every human there is just enough of the sadist to cause us to laugh at another's trouble or discomfort. The never fail laugh provokers in show business are based on this point. I am referring to being hit in the face with a pie or losing ones pants. You can think of many many more examples of this. The early move comics were always getting into trouble and as you recall the more trouble they had the more you laughed. The biggest laughs in the Red Skelton show today are the troubles of his characters. Fibber McGee never fails when the cupboard pours out the mess. You have probably noticed that you usually get a laugh when you miss a trick, if you ever do. Naturally if you miss too much it isn't funny but the miss that causes you embarrassment is funny to the audience. W. C. Fields used to get a howl of merriment when his pile of cigar boxes fell. In my own act this principle is used successfully when I have difficulty removing my hand from my pocket and when I get fouled up in the chewing gum.
In talking acts you can use this principle by making yourself the butt of your gags. Try when using talking gags to strike a mutual note. Place yourself in such a position that the members of the audience can appreciate your discomfort by remembering a similar situation that caused them trouble or discomfort.
Props lend themselves to this principle very readily. Do you remember the difficulty Fields had with the crooked cue? The breaking tennis racquet mentioned in Joe Marsh's series recently in the Bulletin is a prop of this type. Joe Jackson Jr.'s present act abounds in this type of comedy. His bicycle falls apart, he gets his hand caught in the horn, his shirt cuff gets in the way, he sits down on the sprocket, and the more his discomfort, the more the customers are delighted.
Joe Marsh's tennis racquet also has the element of surprise. In this category could be placed all the gags and bits of business where the objects do not follow the established pattern. The catching of the ball by the ties of the fingers when the audience expected it to fall, the delayed club catch, the ball on the string mentioned a few months ago are some more of the same. The putty ball that fails to bounce when all the other balls have been bouncing rarely fails to get a laugh because the audience's mind is literally jolted back to the floor. Any bits of business that establishes a mental pattern for the customers and then suddenly disrupts that pattern is sure to evoke a laugh.
The surprise ending gag has become one of the most popular with many of today's top flight talking comics because people are, it is said, quick on the up take. They are trying to reach the point of the gag at the same time as the comedian and are jolted into the laugh when he suddenly changes the picture. A crude example of this type of gag is the oldie where the bell hop says, "Carry your bag, Mister?" And the man replies, "No, let her walk" There are many better examples but you can use the principle to gags that will fit your own style of presentation.
When the Hobo in a very tattered and worn coat removes it carefully and lovingly folds it as you would a ten grand mink you laugh in spite of yourself. If a man immaculately attired in evening clothes should stop, bend over and pick up a cigarette butt and place it in his pocket, the utter lack of congruence or conformity to pattern would tickle your funny bone. The things that we call ridiculous are things that are contrary to natural behavior. The secret of Vera Vague's comedy is the idea of an attractive woman throwing herself at all kinds of men with no takers. Going back to Joe Marsh's racquet, if you were to hold it as a base ball bat or as a golf club and do it with an expression that would indicate that you thought that was the proper way to hold it, you would undoubtedly get a laugh. Your action was not in accordance with the normal expected pattern of behavior. No doubt you have already thought of a lot more examples of this principle.
Pack up your Jug kit and head for the I.B.M. Convention, Pittsburgh, Pa., June 16-19th. Jug Session morning of June 17th.
If it is your desire to do comedy, you must give it serious ????. Being funny is all too often a difficult thing. Those of you who have made an entrance and felt an ????'s "Go ahead, make me laugh if you can" attitude realize that all too well. However, if you can quickly pick out one outstanding sour-puss and concentrate on getting a laugh out of him your success will spread over the crowd. Here is where you can use your knowledge of human nature. After you have analyzed a few of your favorite gags or bits of business so that you know why they are funny it becomes a simple matter to apply these principles to the situations at hand to create a laugh.
Now let us consider the most important factor in being funny. Timing. Timing is often the difference between success and failure, and unfortunately there is no way to give you the key to it. Bob Hope is perhaps the outstanding example of timing technique among the talking comedians. If you take his gags down in short hand as they come over the radio and then read them over, most of them are not particularly funny. It is his ability to time his delivery to the split second. It is interesting to note that he cannot work without an audience and that fact may give you a valuable clue. You may have your pet definition of timing, here is mine. "Timing is the ability to synchronize your mental processes with those of your audience." If your delivery is too slow they reach the culmination of the gag before it is presented. If your delivery is too fast they miss the punch. This holds true in pantomime even more than in talking. Since audiences are not alike all over the country nor are all age groups alike it is not difficult to understand why some comics are flat I in one spot but terrific in others. But it is the comic who can quickly find the proper pace to suit the audience at hand who is the real success. The G. I. audiences were so wonderful to work for because they were a more homologous group than the usual audience and consequently it was easier to set the pace. For the most part they were able to take the fastest pace you could handle.
After all the reading or studying possible, the only way to perfect timing is to get out in front of people and practice. I do not mean practice juggling, we have too many jugglers doing that now for the good of the art, practice feeling the pulse of that audience. If you recall when Trixie first came to this country, her juggling was, as it is now; almost perfect and her tricks were out of this world but she might just as well have been a machine. She did her routines just as though there was no audience and as a result she got applause but it was not the thunderous type that she gets now since she has learned to pace her act with her audience. Trixie does not attempt to be a comedian but I use her to show that even flawless technique needs audience timing.
If you can, while working up new bits for your act, find ones that incorporate two or more of these principles and then learn to present them with the proper timing. Try to remember, corn is popular today and sometimes the urge comes to throw out the tough tricks. However, if you are a juggler and expect to be billed as such you and your manager or agent like to hear that applause that only comes to reward a display of ability.
Seymour, Ind.: Close season here. Hugh Shepley discharged after only six months as they're chousing draftees. Prints Hugh, "Pic of Eric Johnson's handstand interested me very much and I'm enclosing a photo of myself doing a little hand balancing on our house in Essex, Mass." How's about some guy doing a 1-handstand on top of a flag pole? Hugh's suggestion of the month, "Why not more acts built around a central theme? Examples of this are the Agoust Family with their act in a restaurant scene, The Kratons' 'Hoops Are People' act and Charles Carrer's cocktail motif. A bar-room scene would be easy with clubs shaped like bottles and plates, oranges, etc. Also a tennis act including routines with 2 balls and racquet, tennis balls, 3 and 4 racquets, also showering 3 balls thru the stringless head of racquet balanced on chin." I like the idea. in fact, been doing "Fun in a Lunch Room" for several years. "Fun in a Kitchen" offers good Possibilities what with the chef juggling the orders as he gets 'em. Good one for this is a hotcake "on a flat griddle with flips under leg, behind back and over shoulder. Also tricks with pie, pie tin and big knife and an eating trick such as 3 cup-cakes. Some dope on Joe Marsh. He's married, gals! His daughter, 10, juggles, spins, balances and does a spot of tap-dancing. Joe's a semi-pro and has had a dabble at many branches of juggling. Send him your photo for his collection. Address: 13, Ashville Terrace, Moston, Manchester, 10, England. Keep those sketches goin', Joe. Adios.
If the appearance of the Bulletin becomes somewhat erratic for the next issue or two it will either be 'cause we are just getting ready for a convention or just getting over one.
Just in case any of you came in late and haven't yet heard of the big doings coming off in June we hasten to review the facts: The convention of the International Brotherhood of Magicians is being held in Pittsburgh, Pa., June 16-19th and as an added feature there will be a Juggling Session scheduled for the morning of June 17th in the Ballroom of the Wm. Penn Hotel, convention headquarters. If you are a member of the I.B.M. the registration is $9.00, BUT you do not have to be a member to attend the convention. Non member registration fee is $10.00. This entitles you to attend all the shows and banquets scheduled as well as the special juggling session.
If you are strictly a juggler not doing any magic at all you will still find the entire convention of interest and value. You will get many ideas that you can adapt to juggling at the many shows and lectures and a trip thru the dealer's booths will further add ideas. The shows almost invariably features a juggler or two. If, however your time is limited, we still urge you to make every effort to attend the Jug Session on the morning of June 17th.
Stick a few Juggling props, your trading stock of pics, bills and collector's items, and your tallest Jug stories and come prepared for the juggling time of your life.
This Bulletin is going to press much earlier than usual so we can take off with a clear conscience for the Chicago doings and since Joe Marsh's writings have not come in yet we feel quite lost. Joe's ideas have meant much to the Bulletin pages and we can but wish that he could be with us at the Jug Session.
Bernard Joyce catches ye ed with face crimson. Says Joyce, "The 'child' on Life cover balancing soap bubble is none other than Jeanne Craine" (see Loyal-Repensky pic on page 124) All we can say is 'She must have been a beautiful baby-- Oh baby!'
We have Juggling Jewelers, Doctors, and Engineers but the above pic is of Steve Cyanchuk (Steve Santik), the Juggling Barber of Winnipeg, Canada, doing a nifty balance on a broom while spinning 5 hoops.
Dear Roger. Carnies has some awful so called jokes and they tell them over and over and laugh theirselves but nobody else does. Their mainest one is Are you wid it or half witted and another one is to send a punk around the midway for a sky hook to fasten up the side show top. Getting hot here now. Hottest I've hit since playing Tucson in the summer with a mud show. Did I tell you this here is a gilly outfit. They hire trucks to gilly stuff to baggage car which carries the whole carnival to next spot. Got talking with a local yokle and he said he'd been up north and didn't like it. I ast him where he went to and he said North Carolina. Ha, Ha. You know Roger, it wasn't so bad in Kelly's Celar. I sure miss them mixed cold drinks. Lucky if I can get a bottle of beer now once in a while. Minnepls is a swell town. Trouble with the south is all they know is turnip greens, side meat and grits. Was kidding with the magician whose name is Scott and I told him he should tack on a Great before his name. Get it? Great Scott. Ha, ha. The free act on this gillipin outfit is a high diver whose been diving for years but always has to take a couple shots of rye before his act. He goes off backwards and does a back somersault hitting the water feet first and what a splash. Supposed to be 120 foot dive but it's only 90 feet, too high for me. I'll stay on the ground pal. Wrote to Plug Kelly and he sent on my convict wardrobe so I have a change now. The talker which everybody calls a barker which he aint, likes my milk bottle juggling routine for bally so every few minutes he yealls, Bally, juggler so between running out to the bally platform and doing my act inside I'm busy as the devil. Getting a little better dough now, sure got sick of them hamburgers. Tried out the apple, plate and napkin trick, eating the apple while I juggle and wiping off my mouth with napkin but had to cut it out as the hungry actors ate all my apples up. So long, pal. Jug.