Monday, 14 February 2011

More on plagarism and some thoughts on children's entertainment

I've recieved a few comments on the Stewart Lee clip I included in the last post. It is a great riposte to his actions and you may be interested in Lee's original article too:

I also recieved a message from a respected UK comedy magician telling how Joe's Buckets of Doom was actually a routine Joe stole from them. The originator of the routine decided to be the bigger man and just let it go but it makes you wonder how much of Joe's stuff is his own. Maybe someday I'll start the behemoth of a task of sourcing all of his material just to see what's what.

It's also been mentioned that I'm quite self-deprecating and focus on what doesn't work. One of the followers of this blog is the wonderful Mr Danny Hustle. A Boston based magician who learnt his art/trade on the streets and runs the Buskers cafe forum. He often mentions that magicians suffer from "laughing ears" whereby they die on their hoop but for some reason think they've done marvelously. I think I have the opposite I hear the gaps and the mistakes and forget the laughs. I have done several gigs where I absolutely stormed it. People knee-slapping, crying and rolling around gigs. This immediately becomes my new benchmark and although everyone tells me I've stormed a gig I know I can do better. A touch of the laughing ears might actually help my stage confidence. I'm also a bit deaf...

I've also noticed I'm more conscious of when the adults aren't laughing at my kids show (getting the children laughing is no longer a worry) since I started stand up. I have to remind myself that I'm still doing a great job entertaining the kids and it doesn't really matter if the adults don't pick up on all my throwaway lines for them.

Which leads us nicely into my thoughts on Children's entertainment.

To entertain the adults or not is one of the many recurring arguments in "The Little Darlings" which is the childrens entertainer's section of the Magic Cafe website. I used to argue one should entertain the children and forget about the adults.(The opposite argument usually pertained to the fact that the adults are paying the fees to which I would point out that if you hired someone to decorate a nursery should they do the bedroom instead since the baby isn't paying. This is a weak argument there are many reasons you should entertain the adults but they are primarily paying you to entertain the children)

 I still believe that entertaining the children should be your premier goal and one shouldn't include adult stuff at the expense of the children or if it takes away from the entertainment value to the children of your routine. Here's why I think you should entertain the adults:
  • When the adults aren't entertained they will talk and make the show less entertaining for the children. Not only is it a distraction but as you are walking a fine line being silly/funny while also keeping the respect and authority to control the childers, adults talking shows the children that they don't have respect for what you are saying and therefore they lead by example. If you have a point in your show where you need silence to contrast the mayhem a child can ruin the timing and feeling of a routine by shouting out at the wrong time. They are much less likely to shout out when surrounded by a cloak of silence than when there is a buzz from the back of the room.
  • When I was a kid I used to watch "Only fools and horses" with my parents. I probably didn't get most of the jokes but being in the atmosphere of adults laughing made me happy and made me laugh aswell. Adults laughing gives the children confirmation of the fact that you are a funny guy and lets them know it is alright to laugh.
  • Why not? If you can entertain everyone in the room without taking away from the children's entertainment isn't that a better goal than just winning over half the room?

As I mentioned that is one of the classic arguments in "The little Darlings" an odd corner of the internet admittedly. I'm quite happy to admit I'm a big kid who plays with toys for a living but some folks there are desperate to confirm that their lifestyle choice is an a noble and intelligent one. I believe it is too but think some of the ways folks want to prove this sound pompous and desperate.

I think entertaining children is an artform but I know that most laypeople just think I'm a big, silly, funnyman and don't expect the public to realise that my sillyness is a highly crafted silliness and that I'm also doing a myriad of subtle and psychological things while performing to keep interest, control energy levels and subtely stamp on potential problems before they happen.

If stand ups can't convince the world that what they are doing is an artform, how are we clowns going to do it? Let it go and just know it in yourself that your work is not going to be fully understood or appreciated.

Another thing I find especially among some US entertainers is the desire to find the secret or the formula for entertaining kids. (I feel like I'm making a bit of a sweeping statement here about americans but interestingly my uncle who is a champion horseman went to the US to teach riding and mentioned to me that he found the same thing; people looking for the secrets and formulas for something that could only really be learned by getting on a horse and practising)

This of course can be done to some extent. Noo Yoik entertainer Silly Billy has done a great job, in his book, of taking the classic principles of children's entertainment and turning them into sound-chomping metaphors enabling children's entertainers to answer newbies questions while also sounding like a mysterious Zen Guru. Anyone who says "It's the journey, not the destination" has clearly never been to Larne.

These neat "rules" consist of stuff like
  • MIT (Magician in trouble): Do you think Tommy Cooper got his laughs by applying MIT theory to his tricks or do you think he just found it funny when his world started collapsing around him. Things going wrong is funny why label it?
  • LPM (Laughs per  minute): A ridiculous theory whereby you rate how successful your show is by dividing laughs by time, then presumably going home turning it into a graph which you can examine at will with a protractor and a compass and improve your act forwith. My suggestion of renaming it CPTITTBAE (Chuckles per time it takes to boil an egg) never really caught on.
  • Look don't see. The it's/he's behind you thing they do in pantomimes. Not sure why it's called "look, don't see".  The best way I know of not seeing something is by not looking...
It's basically stuff any old hand already knows but has now been given a snappy title. A way you can construct an act using formulas rather than going out there and finding out what makes you and the children laugh. Many may find them handy and I probably would've had a better show starting out being able to see these things clearly but I would've missed out on the wonderful learning process of finding these techniques out for myself and would've probably never created some great bits in my shows that fly in the face of all these ideas.

They also get overused. There are many parts in my show that work because the children see something I don't or because something has gone wrong but it's also usually working on another level too. I've constructed a set of circumstances whereby something happens that I don't know about or I've come up with a funny visual gag that enhances the trouble I'm getting into.These theories are too often just taken and used at their base level with entertainers dropping things on the floor for no other reason than getting the children to scream or idiotically misnaming something to be corrected for no real purpose.


  1. Really enjoying the blog. Keep it coming! Phil. Www.

  2. Thanks Mr Phil! I like your website. Look at you and your cakey face.

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  4. Your act is enchanting for kids and adults alike. I know every adult at the performance you gave for us was enrapt.

    We've also been using the "Look don't see" convention in the panto I've been doing. I, after establishing myself as the pantomime villain, step aside and make like I'm hiding and eavesdropping on the heroes and immediately all of the children completely ignore me and focus on the mid stage action for the duration, even though I'm "hiding" in plain view. Then the second I raise my finger to my lips to pretend-Shh! the audience, they all start pointing and screaming "She's right there!"

    At that, one of the heroes walks around following the children's shouted directions "looking" for me whilst I quite blatantly cower behind a flimsy bit of scenery. The frustration it raises in the audience is tangible! And strong emotional reaction is exactly what we want. :)