While this may be hard to believe coming off the twin dumpster fires of “Jack and Jill” and “Bucky Larson,” Adam Sandler used to make entertaining flicks – sophomoric, sure, but charming and funny and infinitely quotable.
“Happy Gilmore” is one of many (OK, at least two) examples. One of the better bits in the hockey-player-turns-golfer plot: When Gilmore explains that he was the first person ever to take off a skate and try to stab someone with it.
Well, I may have come close to that sort of infamy Saturday afternoon, bombing so badly as the emcee of a free charity event that it’s not impossible to think donors have asked for refunds.
OK, maybe that’s a reach. See, writers sometimes dabble in hyperbole – it’s a dramatic method used to elicit a response. And, apparently, it’s one of many tricks that doesn’t translate well in a public-speaking setting.
By way of background, I was asked on short notice to be the emcee at the cake show and cupcake contest at the local mall. (And, yes, even the largest city in the Dakotas really only has one mall of note.) It’s an annual fundraiser for the Children’s Miracle Network, with which my family has become involved since having premature twins about 20 months ago. We’re especially active in the media side of things since that’s my area of expertise. At least, I thought it was.
My task: Walk around one wing of the mall conducting interviews, encouraging participation and promoting CMN on and off for two hours. In the end, off may have been better than on.
For starters, you don’t have a captive audience – an audience, yes, but hardly captive – in a mall setting. Folks are coming and going, most there by accident even if taking the time to get involved. As the only male in our four-person household, I’ve grown accustomed to being ignored, but not like this. I might as well have been invisible. That’s a strange feeling, and it hit me immediately. So I got all needy and sort of panicked (without really panicking; I was strangely calm during this hosting Hindenburg), breaking into the self-deprecation stash far earlier than expected and practically begging for laughs, the most easily measured response and/or sign of approval.
I also worked too much in dry humor. That might work when I’m hanging out with the boys (assuming I had boys, of course), but it’s doesn’t translate to strangers and passersby.
Other bad ideas that I attempted to execute: Caddyshack references (“which is nice”) and commentary about the difference in costs between private and public schools. (Oy.)
At one point, I literally said something to the effect of, “I could say anything right now and it wouldn’t matter because no one is listening.” Making matters worse, the less funny others found me to be, the more funny I found myself to be. My 8-year-old daughter, one of the unfortunate witnesses, reported as much to my wife afterward. The other confirmed criticism: A 15-year-old girl, bound for Macy’s, scowling and wondering aloud, “Who is this emcee?”
It was awkward, at best. Sigh. Oh, well. As Fury pointed out, at least I didn’t go all Michael Richards on the crowd or Gallagher on the food.
What did I gain from the experience? A new respect for stand-up comedians and live-show hosts. Crowds, particularly those in motion, are difficult to wrangle, let alone entertain.
I better stick to the written word. Then again …