Monday, May 20, 2013

How A Clown Made Me A Better Speaker !

                                          T.C. Hatter and Marcianne              

I have been a stand-up comedian my entire adult life. I have been fortunate to have had a variety of experiences with respect to the most effective ways to entertain and communicate with an audience. I have worked with many of the biggest names in show business and on occasion been fortunate to receive advice from them. However, most surprising to me was what I learned many years ago from an ex circus clown.

His name was TC Hatter and his wife, Marcianne, accompanied him as part of his show. To be honest, I wasn't exactly crazy about working with a clown. I actually thought that as a comedian working with a clown was beneath me. I certainly did not expect to get advice that I could use to improve my craft and advance my career. What was I going to be able to use from a guy who used to work in a Circus? I thought that observing him would be a waste of my time. I couldn't have been more wrong.

The first time I worked with TC I really had no idea what to expect. Before the show I had met with him and his wife who were both very friendly. Marcianne was warming up her clarinet and TC, half dressed, was stretching and loosening up. As we got closer to show time, I saw TC on stage arranging his props. He had everything from bowling balls to fishnet stockings to crazy gadgets I had never seen before. There was also a trunk which was yet to be opened that piqued my interest. I actually found myself wondering what was in the trunk and just how was he planning to use those props!
I finished my set and headed towards the bar to grab something to eat and watch the show. TC and Marcianne hit the stage to applause and never looked back. Marcianne sat on a stool and played the background music for TC's madcap antics. He was in full makeup and costume and was very animated in his presentation. He jumped around the stage and mimicked audience members, did magic tricks and juggled various, sometimes mismatched objects. He included audience members who were reluctant by grabbing their hand and leading them to the stage. His facial expressions were priceless along with the well coordinated clarinet playing of Marcianne. He told various stories including one of a great fishing trip. I sat in the back of the room in awe. He was killing. Everything he did was working. He had complete control of the room! I looked at my watch and noticed that he had been up there for 45 minutes and it suddenly occurred to me, like a ton of bricks, he never spoke....he never said a word....his whole act was pantomime! What? Are you kidding? I was in shock because comedians and speakers are primarily judged on their spoken words. This is the basis for connecting with their audience. I just saw a guy tell stories, relate jokes, do magic tricks and interact with the audience without speaking a word. What an incredible revelation it was to me and it still is today.

When I speak or consult with people today on effective ways to relate to their audience, I always mention TC Hatter and Marcianne to demonstrate the importance of facial expression and body movement as powerful tools that can be utilized to communicate your message.

Years later, I had the opportunity to meet Red Skelton, one of the best, all time Comedians. He was accepting an award and was quite ill at the time and confined to a wheelchair. I asked him one question, “Red, I mean sir, I am a comedian from Pittsburgh and would like to know what advice you would have for a young man in comedy.” He looked at me, tipped his hat down low over his eyes and raised it by leaning back on his chair and then took his tie and fiddled it with both hands and tossed it slightly into the air and it gently let it drop to his chest and said, “PROPS! “. And then he smiled and was whisked away. From that day on I realized there are many ways to communicate with an audience even if you never say a word!


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