Here's a bonus Friday Question that leads to a worthy topic: Warm-Up Guys.
It’s from Brian Phillips:
Warming up an audience takes a special talent. Johnny Olson (pictured: above), of "The Price is Right", from what I have read, was great at it. Who warmed up the audience on the shows you worked on? If it is not someone associated with the show, who determines who gets the gig?
There have been so many over the years that I don’t remember a lot of their names. Ray, Mark, Wendy, and J.J. if that helps. Usually either stand-up comedians or writers from the show handle the warm-up duties. I did the warm-up for CHEERS for awhile. Then I passed the torch to another writer, Earl Pomerantz. The great David Lloyd used to do the warm-up for THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW during his stint on the show. Jay Tarses, the showrunner of THE BOB NEWHART SHOW and TONY RANDALL SHOW did their warm ups – perhaps the most caustic warm ups ever. I'm surprised he wasn't attacked every week.
For comedians it’s a great gig. Steady work, a captive audience, and the pay is pretty decent. If you build a name for yourself you can score several gigs a week.
The showrunner hires the warm-up guy, or assigns it to his line producer. Here’s how I got my gig on CHEERS. For the first few episodes we had a comic who worked a lot of shows. Les Charles got a call at 5:00 on a filming night saying he was sick and couldn’t make it that night. Les turned to me and said, “You used to be a disc jockey, right?” I said, yes, and he said, “Congratulations. You’re doing the warm-up.”
After that night the cast went to Les & Glen and requested I do it every week. I was very flattered and it was also extra money. Honestly, I think the reason they preferred me was not that I was funnier but that I kept the audience in the show better. I kept reminding them what was going on in the story, I answered a lot of questions about the show, and in general just kept the audience more focused. And now that I think about it, he wasn’t that funny either.
Each warm-up guy has his own schtick. I did about a five minute intro. And from the reaction to the jokes I knew whether we had a good audience or 200 cadavers. A multi-camera sitcom filming generally takes two or three hours. You have to fill time between scene and costume changes and during conferences on the stage when the writers decide to change the script on the fly.
Some warm-up guys would have games and contests or do magic tricks. I answered audience questions and did a play-by-play of what was going on on the stage as if I were a golf announcer. I’d whisper, “There’s a two-writer/one-actor comfab. The last time there was one of those was July 23, 1978 on THE JEFFERSONS. You’re witness to history, ladies and gentlemen.” Nonsense like that.
One of the reasons I liked doing the warm-up was that I felt I was really contributing to the filming. Actors feed off the energy of the audience and if I could generate a hot crowd then maybe the cast’s performance level might rise a percentage point or six.
Tomorrow: More on the subject with a guest blogger who’s an expert on the subject. But for now, let’s give a big hand for today’s blog post. I’m going to take a break, but in the meantime, here’s the band to play one of your favorites: “Love song from SAW IV: JIGSAW’S BAR MITZVAH.”