SIZE DOESN’T MATTER – Bo in the trenches by Bo Gerard

Well, it doesn’t!!!  I am speaking of audience size, of course.

"Bigger isn't Better" - from "Barnum"

"Bigger isn't Better" - from "Barnum"

I have been very blessed in my career to have performed for audiences of all sizes.  The largest audience I ever performed for was when I was part of an industrial show for State Farm Insurance.  We did two performances, with 7000 people each show, at the old Reunion Arena.  And while I was on tour with the Tony Award Winning Musical “Barnum”, we played houses like the Kennedy Center Opera House, and the Pantages Theater in Hollywood.  It was a big show, with amazing songs, brilliant costumes and sets, and a truly extraordinary cast, including Jim Dale and Glen Close.  Some of the theaters held 3000 people.

The largest audience I have ever performed my SOLO Comedy Magic show for is about 1000.  It is quite a different thing performing a solo stand-up show, with zero light or sound cues, compared to performing in a national tour, with award-winning lights, sound, sets, costumes, and 18 other actors.  With my show, it’s just me!  Lights and sound up at the beginning and down at the end.  I have to make them like me immediately, and keep them liking me for the next 45 minutes.  Sounds crazy, huh?

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However, I have also performed in hospital rooms, for an audience of one.  All of you performers out there know that this type of show is just as meaningful and rewarding as any big theatrical show.  The challenge here is to scale the frenetic energy and vocal volume down to the situation, while still being that “Crazy, Amazing Bo”.

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Every audience demands something unique from the solo performer – the number of people in the audience, stage placement in the venue, quality of sound and lighting, other presenters in the program - all these things effect how you launch your show, and keep it afloat for 45 minutes.

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So, in a sense, size DOES matter.  Just not in the way you think.  Bigger isn’t better.  It’s just… different!

CELEBRATION VS CELEBRITY - Bo in the trenches by Bo Gerard

The difference between celebrations and celebrities - no rehab!

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Every major career choice I have ever made has turned me away from celebrity.  Instead of celebrity, I have chosen celebrations as a means of making a living.  Take the two shows I did yesterday.  In the afternoon I performed at an adoption party, celebrating a family’s arduous journey through the adoption process.  In the evening I performed at a wedding rehearsal dinner.  Company banquets, business mixers, festivals, birthdays, award dinners - all year long, people ask me to be a part of their very special celebrations, and I am honored and grateful that they do.

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I have never chased celebrity.  In fact, I have turned sharply away from it many times in my life.  First time was in 1982, when we moved AWAY from NYC, in hopes of finding a cleaner, less manic place to work and raise a family.  Soon after we moved here, I was offered the opportunity to work corporate incentive trips on cruise ships in the Caribbean, but it would have meant being away from my family for weeks and months at a time.  Not for me.  Not while I had a wife and two-year-old daughter at home.

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A few years later I was offered the opportunity to “middle” (that’s the guy who is not the MC or the opener, or the headliner) in a national Stand-Up Comedy Club circuit, but that would have meant being on the road 40 weeks a year.  Thanks, but no thanks.  I have traveled extensively doing corporate shows and trade show, but I’ve tried to never be away more than 5 days. 

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Saying no to opportunities that mean you would be away for extended periods of time, does not exactly catapult one into stardom and celebrity.  But, that’s just fine with me.  I would much rather make my CLIENTS the celebrities, and gratefully do my best to make their celebrations memorable. 

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And as my good friend and fine performer, Dal Sanders, once said to me, “Everybody’s famous, somewhere.”  I am happy being one of the most famous people in my own house.

AAAKWAAARD!!! – Bo in the trenches by Bo Gerard

After 39 years and over 13,000 shows, I have had the occasional awkward moment or situation occur; and I am sure you have as well.

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Like the time I showed up to do a show for 300 Ericsson employees at their company picnic, and there were only three people at the picnic.  It seems that Ericsson had done a massive layoff the day before, so 300 people were suddenly un-invited to the company picnic.  In solidarity with those who lost their jobs, the rest of the employees decided it would be inappropriate to celebrate the next day at this picnic.  So, when I arrived, only the three employees who were in charge of organizing the picnic were present.  I sat them down in one of the pavilions and did my show - just for them.

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On another occasion, as MC of the event, it was my duty to announce to a crowd of 7000 people at the Taste of Addison’s headliner show, that “Hootie and the Blowfish” would not be performing.  The organizers informed me that a dangerous storm cell was approaching and that I was to encourage the audience to leave as quickly and safely as possible, before the storm arrived.  The booing was truly deafening!

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And once I arrived at a venue to perform for Christian Louboutin Shoes.  It was to be a fashion show for the buyers from Niemen Marcus.  I was going to be part of a runway show, performing magic with some of the shoes.  When I arrived, I was informed by the producer/decorator that I would not be wearing the outfit I had brought. (one we had previously agreed upon). but instead would be wearing a suit that they had purchased online.  It was an electric-lime-colored suit, and they had GUESSED at my suit size.  The suit was huge on me!!!  I had to use a stapler to hem the pants, and tape and safety pins to make the pant waist and vest even come close to fitting me.  I looked ridiculous!  I have worked with this producer again, but always stipulate in my contract that I will be providing my own costuming, and that this cannot be changed without prior approval by me.

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And finally, there’s the time I cut the tip of my finger while performing the “knife through coat” trick.  I foolishly believed that I could continue without the audience ever getting wind that I was bleeding profusely. I honestly thought that I could pull off doing the rest of the show using just my right hand, while applying pressure with my thumb and a tissue to the cut on my left hand.  And it was working too, ...until the blood started getting past the tissue and dripping on the floor and some of my props.  Luckily, the person that hired me saw my dilemma and stepped up to whisper “Would you like to stop the show?”  I reluctantly said “yes”.  He gracefully got the audience to give a me round of applause and I walked off stage, still smiling and waving, and pretending that nothing was wrong.

I bet everyone in the business has a “bloody” story of their own they could tell.

PLAY IT AGAIN, BO – Repeat customers by Bo Gerard

Repeat customers can be a blessing, but they can also present a challenge.

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When you have a long-standing repeat customer, you have to know how to play it.  Strolling jobs are not as complicated as shows, since the guest list has usually changed from the last gig.  And I find that people want to see a lot of the same tricks you did last time, because they have been talking about the tricks and telling friends about them.  Of course, sometimes they want you back for the same audience and it has not been long enough between events for you to do all of the same material.  So, you mix in your “B” stuff, and sometimes even your “C” stuff

I have realized that most of the repeat gigs I get occur because I managed to create a certain atmosphere, or contributed a certain energy to the party, and the client wants to re-create that energy every year.  You can add “a sense of tradition” to that list as well.

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A few repeat clients stand out.  I have been performing at the Exxon/Mobil Christmas party for over 10 years.  When I first booked the show, the agent told me that the client NEVER hires the same performer more than once, which make perfect sense to me - you want to offer your guests some variety.  But they asked me back the next year, and the audiences loved my shows (usually 4).  So, I had to ask myself, “Why do the prefer the same performer, over variety.”

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Then there’s a Christmas party I do for Felcor Lodging & Trust.  They have had ne back for 17 years!!!  Some of the kids in the audience from 1999, are now coming up and introducing me to their own kids.  Amazing!

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And Finally, there’s the Addison Oktoberfest.  I have been Emceeing and performing at this event for 28 years, and have actually made friends with bands, sound crews, and many of the guests who come every year.

These long-term repeat gigs can be challenging, but if you find the balance between new material and stuff they want to see again, they can be very rewarding.  Once you figure out the REAL reason they want you back, you know what to give them; and can truly celebrate your reunion.

THE HALF MILLION DOLLAR SIP & SEE – Bo in the trenches by Bo Gerard

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If you don’t know already, a Sip & See is basically a baby shower; except it happens AFTER the baby is born.  This way the guests can see the new arrival, sip some champagne, and of course, bring gifts.

I recently was booked to perform strolling magic at one of these events, and I should have known something was different when the agent said that the client wanted 4 hours.  He said he was told it was going to be a really BIG party.  This agent was hired by a party planner, who was hired by a décor designer, who was hired by the client.  Since I try to stick to my “100 guests an hour” rule as a guide to how long they should book me for strolling work, I assumed there were going to be 100’s of people.  The party was supposedly going to take place in a custom, see-through, plastic tent, in an urban park in downtown Dallas affectionately known as The Dallas Eyeball Park.

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Now let me go on record as saying that I am very grateful to all of the agents and clients who think highly enough of me to book me.  This blog is merely a chronicle of something that I think is truly a one-of-a-kind event.

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When I arrived, I saw that the tent was indeed clear plastic, and the décor company had re-created a city park inside the tent – trees, grass, benches, etc.  There were literally 40 people on hand: party planners, servers, cooks, and helping-hand staff.  There were also, three strolling violinists and a strolling accordionist, all playing separately.  And there was also a bubble artist, a juggler, a caricature artist, 2 face painters, and 4 art-tables with helpers.

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Everyone (including the wait staff) was told to dress in baby blue and white, and we were a thing to behold as we stood waiting for the guests to arrive.  We stood, and we stood…and finally guests started trickling in.  10, 20, 40, 60… and then it stopped.  That was it – 60 guests; 20 of whom were children.  I found out from the Joule Hotel staff who worked the event that the final tab for the party was around a half-million dollars.  That’s around $8333 a head.

In our many years as performers, Gretchen and I have worked every kind of party, for every kind of client, in every income bracket.  Some of our best memories are of home parties that took place in depressed neighborhoods; given by families that probably had to save for a few months to be able to afford entertainment at their daughter’s party.  But at these homes we were treated like honored guests when we arrived, and everyone at the party gathered around and gave their full attention to the show.

Funny which events end up being truly memorable.

THINGS WE PRETEND ARE NOT WEIRD - letter from the trenches by Bo Gerard

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I think we can all agree that Weird Al Yankovic is wonderfully weird!  But there are many other things in our lives that are just as weird; only we pretend they aren’t.

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I go to the gym 3 or 4 times a week, and have been going for 20 years. But I have to admit - it’s weird!  Don’t tell me that going to a cavernous, brightly lit space, full of weight machines and other strange apparatus, and attempting not to make eye-contact with all the other people in workout clothes, while House music is thumping through the speaker is not weird!

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Our lives are full of weird situations and moments.  Growing up in NYC, I rode the subways daily. You are not only presented with the same eye-contact situation as at the gym, but there is also the added weirdness of having someone pressed up against you in an over-crowded subway car, that is hurtling through the subterranean depths of Manhattan.  And yet we pretend it’s not weird!

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Sometimes while waiting to go onstage to perform, I suddenly realize that what I am about to do is very weird indeed.  For a brief moment, the blinders open up, and you clearly see what a ridiculous thing it is that you are about to attempt.  You are going to get up in front of a large, unruly audience, try to command their attention, and make them feel amazement and joy.  WHAT ARE YOU CRAZY!!!

1000 senior bikers at the Gaylord Texan last night.

1000 senior bikers at the Gaylord Texan last night.

Yes, you ARE!  You are crazy to think that an audience will listen to you, focus their attention on you, and go on a journey with you.  That they will laugh with you, care about you, and reward you with their heartfelt applause.  WE ARE NUTS!  And yet we do it – every day.  We leap into this crazy endeavor and risk our lives, our reputations, and our hearts.

We do it!  And we pretend it’s not weird.  But it is…kinda.

ATTACK OF THE GIGZILLAS 2 – Sizzling Summer Sequel by Bo Gerard

Gigzilla has hatched a few babies, and they are taking over the world!

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Back in February I blogged about how the Gigzilla sites (like Gigsalad, Gigmasters and Phillip & Henry) were dominating the Google organic search results for magicians and other performers.  Since then even more sites have appeared, like Kazzam, and Thumbtack.  Even Yelp is making a go at being a one-stop-shop for booking local performers.  I know a number of local performers who are part of these sites, and I have even gotten some work through Gigsalad myself.  I had a very good experience working through Gigsalad, but I do find it easier when I can communicate directly with the prospective client from the very first inquiry. 

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Good news is – end customers can choose from a number of “local” performers and book them through the Gigzilla sites.  Bad news is - although it is implied that these are the “BEST” entertainers available, most of these sites don’t spend time vetting their performers.  That means there's everything from seasoned professionals to rank amateurs, listed side by side.  What the Gigzilla sites do spend time and money on is getting their sites listed on the first page Google results.  Some even make sure their Google Ad is the very first thing you see when you search for a performer.  They employ every tool at their disposal to grab the top result positions.  These are coding tools that are beyond the likes of me and other DIYers.

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And the Gigzilla sites are very useful to the new generation of performers, who don’t necessarily see the need to build, maintain and promote their own website.  They get along just fine with just a Facebook page, some YouTube videos and a membership with some, or all, of the Gigzilla sites.  Since these sites don’t vet their performers, the onus is on the customer to do the vetting.  In days of old, clients would peruse my site, then talk to me by phone, and then some even asked for references’ phone numbers that they would actually call!  However, many of today’s potential customers aren’t even screwing down to the Client List and Testimonials on your site anymore.

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Maybe we at the tipping point, where it doesn’t pay to maintain a site of your own; keeping up your search engine, optimization, regularly adding content, and keeping up with browser and device changes.  Maybe in this sequel, Gigzilla finally WINS!!!

I AM THE MOON – thoughts from Bo by Bo Gerard

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"ONE MUST OBSCURE THE LIGHT, SO THAT ONE CAN TRULY SEE IT." - Mendaxicus

Unlike Carly Simon’s vain lover, I am not flying my Leerjet to Nova Scotia to view the total eclipse of the sun.  Instead I will be in Guthrie, Kentucky, wearing goofy-looking cardboard “Eclipse Glasses” (ISO Approved, of course).  Why I am in Guthrie is too long a story for this blog, but I will be “within the path of totality”, and will see one of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights. (If it's not overcast.)

Thinking about the eclipse has made me realize something interesting.  I used to think that being a performer on the stage was like being the sun.  I was the star, and the audience was viewing my awesome brightness.  But maybe being a performer is more like the eclipse.  Maybe I’m not the star.  Maybe I’m the moon, moving in front of the star; enabling the audience to see it in a new and special way.  The star is that communal experience, that we only experience in live performances or a house of worship.  This communal experience can shape our lives and inspire us in so many ways.  The performer is not the source of the light, but the lens through which the audience can appreciate and experience the light.

In my best moments on stage, I have truly felt that I was merely a conduit of some sort.  A channel for something amazing and funny to move through me to fill the audiences’ hearts and minds with wonder and happiness.

Pretty heady stuff!  But, that’s what a total eclipse can do to your mind.  (P.S. – a little tidbit for those who actually read this to the end – today is my 64th birthday!)