Wednesday, October 15, 2014
What makes a good Warm-Up Man?
(Seriously, FRIENDS tapings took so long they literally had two audiences. The first came in at about 4 and the second around 9. No one wanted to stay for the eight or nine hours it took to film a single episode.)
You need to keep the audience focused on the show and in a heightened state of excitement. They have to be in such a good mood they’ll laugh twice or even three times at the same jokes depending on how many re-takes of a scene there are.
And God forbid the air conditioner goes off. I've had that happen. I've also had a power blackout. Fun fun fun.
A good warm-up man can have a major impact on a sitcom taping. A good crowd energizes the cast and performances can really be lifted.
But a bad warm-up man can have the opposite effect.
Different warm-up men have different styles. Some are stand-ups, some are just high-energy cheerleaders, and a few are dynamo entertainers. I hate the dynamos. I mostly hate the high-energy dudes. Why? Because they upstage the show. A recent warm-up guy I saw had the crowd dancing wildly in the aisles and was giving away prizes. and when the bell rang signaling it was time to film a scene, the entire audience groaned. The show became an imposition to the party that was going on in the bleachers.
Earl Pomerantz so accurately says – the audience is not there to watch a television show. They’re there to watch the MAKING of a television show. (I passed on the CHEERS warm-up baton to Earl in season two.) The unique experience of watching a TV taping is to see all the behind-the-scenes shit – the cameras, the director, the confabs with the actors, the bustling going on on the stage. Writers huddle and suddenly new jokes are introduced. Based on instructions from the director, actors make acting adjustments. You’re privy to live bloopers. Actors go up on lines. How do they handle it? You’re on the inside. Create the “drama” behind-the-scenes. Have them watch a confab and be curious to see what the outcome is. Bring them into the loop. And remind them that they’re PART of the show because their laughter is recorded and becomes a permanent part of the soundtrack.
To me, a good warm-up man is a tour guide, explaining exactly what is happening down on the stage – who all those crew people are and what do they do? People can dance and win silly coffee mugs anywhere.
Before each scene Mr. Warm Up needs to recap where they are in the story. There may have been a ten-minute break since you saw the previous scene. He should know the cast’s resumes. He should know the history of the series. He should know the producer’s background, what shows he’s worked on in the past. Same with the writers, same with the director. Again, THE SHOW is the star; not the warm-up man because he can balance a table on his nose.
He should budget his time. If he's whipped up the audience into a mad frenzy at 7:00, what shape are they going to be in at 9:00 when you’re on the final scene? They’ll be gassed. Regulate the enthusiasm.
And finally, warm-up men have to be spontaneous. They can’t just rely on their forty-minutes of stand up material. They need to converse with the audience. Their patter should be humorous but more importantly, be engaging. They must put the audience at ease. Create a good mood. Convey the idea that the audience is getting a real treat. Very few people ever get the chance to see how a television show is made. It’s a rare privilege. And just like when you go to a baseball game you never know if you’re going to see a no-hitter; if you go to a TV taping you never know if you’re going to see the best show of the year, or the Pope makes a guest appearance. Bottom line: make the audience feel like they’re participating in a special experience (which they are).
So junk the hula hoop contest, leave the magic tricks at home, and turn around. There’s a television show going on behind your back. Tell the folks about THAT.