Monday, December 6, 2010

'Volunteers' Two perspectives.

Robert Nelson/Butterflyman

“Pick me! Pick me!” said the performer as he raised the hand of a rather nondescript member of the audience. I laughed a little and so did the rest of the crowd. It was the first time I saw anyone select a volunteer that way. Maybe I laughed a little less because I saw a little more.

Picking a volunteer can be risky business for sure. You just never know 100% of the time but a seasoned performer knows what to watch out for. Never, I repeat never, use someone who appears too eager. It usually means they have their own agenda and more often than not, they aren’t funny. That and anyone with dreadlocks, don’t ask me why.

Someone too shy or reluctant is just as much of a problem. If you get that vibe, pick someone else and quick… because it can be a real bummer if your choice adamantly refuses to participate. It lets the air out of your comedic balloon pretty quickly and usually has a viral effect on the next selectee. 

You might wonder why volunteers have such power over your act and the answer is simple.
A volunteer, once engaged, becomes the representative of every person in your crowd. Whether they consciously realize it or not, every member of the audience sees themselves up there and well, if your volunteer sucks… nuff said.

Even more important than picking a volunteer is how you USE a volunteer. Watching and listening is an absolute MUST. Many performers mistakenly ignore their volunteer and use them as they would any inanimate prop. Ignoring your volunteer is the same as ignoring your crowd and can have demoralizing results across the board.

Besides, you never know. I mean, you just never know. Some people just have IT. They have that indefinable quality that just comes alive when in front of a crowd. Where most people freeze, they know exactly what to do and like a great performer play their role perfectly. I used a cop once who should have had his own sit-com. You really don’t want to miss out on things like that, you really don’t, so you must LISTEN. There’s gold in them thar’ hills.

Always make eye contact with your volunteer before during and after you use or “abuse” them. Either way you want them to feel like the star they are. The way they feel about being up there is the way everyone will feel and hopefully part of their joy will be generosity. I got five bucks from a guy in a wheelchair once who pulled a knife on me during the act. To this day he’s the best volunteer I’ve ever had.

Sometimes you just aren’t lucky and the volunteer is an absolute jerk or worse, a jerk that thinks he or she is “entertaining”. Good gawd, I wanted to kill this one blonde I once used, I should have known better. The line: “No, no, its MY fault… I picked her!” still resonates in my head.

So, yeah, it’s a roll of the dice but you can load them, so the odds are in your favor. Just remember that in choosing a volunteer you let your instincts be your guide, but when using them then your means to an end is clever setups and failsafe jokes. Paying attention pays off.

And last time I checked, people will pay for a happy ending.

Martin Ewen/Lurk

Volunteers are the swapped spit in the sloppy French kiss that is a street show.
I have a form of psychic Herpes so I tend to keep my distance. I don't kiss my audience, my audience exist to watch me sodomize random passers-by. The tighter they are the funnier it is.
[Ha, I'm so full of shit.]

Volunteers denote the level of trust your audience is prepared to have for you. They are your audiences ambassadors sent out into a strange land in the hope the natives are friendly. They are brave folk prepared to take a risk and should be afforded every respect for this.
That's not to say you can't play with them however you want.

Picking your volunteers is an art in itself. There's a skill in picking people best suited for your needs that is part intuition, part experience and part guesswork.
Like the concept of props there's the potential of amplification at stake. You want someone who has some energy. Sometimes you want a serene type who will survive what you're about to subject them to. Other situations may require individuals whose enthusiasm and ability to take direction makes them OK to take the ball and run with it improvisationally. The risk with seeking live-wires is that some simply have no sense of place. They are unschooled in dealing with the amount of attention you provide them, they become unmanageably excited.
Whatever they are it's you that got them up there and it's your job to keep them safe, they represent the audiences trust in you so you can't abuse them with anything in your heart but affection if you want to get rid of them. They lend you validity.

Some quick 'Don'ts' and 'Nevers'
*Don't pick the bouncing out of their skin person.
*Don't be a sleezebucket with pretty girls it just makes everyone uncomfortable you stupid horny loser.
*Never make them less than they were before you called them up.
*It helps to make some form of physical contact initially. It's calming in a primate way.
*Don't think that you are better than them, you can act like that but never think it.
*Whether guys or girls, if they are in a group of three, Never pick the omega [lowest status], they have nothing to lose and everything to gain by sabotage.
* Always give them some chance to play, even if it's just you setting them up with an easy comeback.
*Always thank them afterwards and give the audience that opportunity too.

Volunteers carry with them a degree of risk however the rewards when they supply the return can be awesome. The right volunteer can carry a show, give you impulse after impulse to work with and show both to you and the audience the very point you are trying to broadcast. That having fun sometimes just means trusting yourself. If your volunteer is given the chance to eclipse you in playfulness let them take it, be amazed. The audience may learn to love you but they automatically love the volunteer.
The more fun your volunteer has the bigger your hat. Just don't get too cynical. I know it's hard but just try OK?

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