Monday, March 24, 2014

Killing at a banquet can kill your career

I’ve never done standup, but I have done a lot of banquet speaking. Especially in baseball. I’d speak at Rotary Club meetings or emcee charity dinners, that sort of thing. If you think the crowd is rough at the Comedy Store on open mic night wait’ll you face an Elks Club after they’ve had their raffle and 99% of them didn’t win that grand prize power saw.

Back in 1993 when I was announcing for the Mariners (that’s the “other” sports team in Seattle), I got a call from the great Jerry Coleman (who recently passed away). He sponsored a San Diego charity and every offseason held a fundraising banquet. For guest speakers he would always ask various major league announcers from around the league. This year he asked me. I was delighted to accept.

On the dais that night were Ralph Kiner of the Mets (who also recently passed away at 87), Harry Kalas of the Phillies, Ted Leitner (pictured above) of the Padres, and me. So legend, legend, legend, skeesix.

As it happened, I killed that night. (The raffle was after the speeches.) I was a tough act to follow and poor Ted Leitner, who is a very funny man in his own right, got that assignment. He did okay but would have done better following Ralph Kiner.

The next morning I’m driving home from San Diego and Ted is on the air doing sports for a local radio station. He mentions the banquet and does five minutes on never follow a Hollywood comedy writer. He thought he had bombed (which he didn’t) and got a lot of mileage out of how bad he looked in the process.

Now flash forward a couple of years. Jerry Coleman is doing the CBS Radio Game of the Week every Saturday and the Padres need a play-by-play guy to just work weekends. Their new president, Larry Lucchino had been president of the Orioles when I was broadcasting in Baltimore. He remembered me and thought I’d be perfect for the role. But since I’d be partnered with Ted Leitner, out of courtesy he ran the idea by Ted.

Now Ted could have easily said, “Not a chance. I don’t want that guy upstaging me. I got burned once. Ixnay.” Their conversation was private. No one would be the wiser. But instead Ted said he thought hiring me was a great idea. As a result I was offered and accepted the job.

And Ted and I got along great on the air. Padres fans were treated to some hilarious exchanges over the next three years.  Trust me, most of the time the broadcasts were better than the product on the field.

Performers in all mediums can be very insecure. But no more so than in the acting profession. Some actors feel horribly threatened by anyone whose talent might show them up. I’ve seen series stars treat guest cast members like shit. There are many instances of actors counting lines to make sure they have more to say than their rivals… I mean, fellow cast members.

But the truly good ones understand. They know that if they’re in a scene with someone good they will come off looking better as a result. Good actors elevate each other. It’s the old story – a high tide floats all boats. And the reverse is also true. A bad actor can totally bring down a scene.

Happy to say I have also witnessed many examples of gracious, unselfish actors embracing their fellow thesps. As a showrunner, these actors are Gods to me.

Thanks again to Larry and Ted. I loved my association with San Diego.  And in all future Padres banquets I let Ted go first. And there were a couple of times he was way funnier than me.


Angry Gamer said...


Great post and informative to anyone doing public speaking. Thanks

Canda said...

I'm glad Ted is a good guy, but unfortunately I think he's the worst baseball announcer who ever lived, with that fake "speed up delivery" during "exciting" moments. He sounds like a parody of a graduate of a back-of-a-match-cover-broadcast-school-trained DJ.

don mincher said...

I love to listen to Ted and the Padres, probably for all the wrong reasons. I assume all his years with bad teams had an impact. Sometimes I'm not sure what's going on, and not sure he knows. But it's always entertaining.

Sue said...

So glad to hear how gracious, as we call him in San Diego, Uncle Teddy was to you. He adds so much energy to the broadcasts, even in the bad years. When we are on a national broadcast I will sometimes turn the sound off my TV and turn on the radio to hear Ted call the game, even if I know a second or two ahead what happened on the field. Thanks Ken

MikeN said...

What are you talking about? The NL West was a tough division in 96, and the Padres won it that year with 91 wins and made the Worlds Series two years later.

Breadbaker said...

Is it IX day? Skeesix and ixnay in the same column?

Anonymous said...

A few years back, Jason Alexander starred in his own sitcom. It was cancelled, and the name of the show escapes me.

On this show was a supporting player, Robert Klein.

I have never been a fan of Robert Klein. I always found his comedy to be lightweight, and was no fan of his acting either-really didn't like him.


In this sitcom, I dunno what got into Klein, but he was the funniest he'd ever been in his life. Every scene he lit up the room. He was just amazing. I was astounded and delighted.


Klein, working at his heightened state, turned Jason Alexander into not much more than lawn furniture. Alexander could not match Klein's... everything.

As a comedic actor, Klein blew Alexander into a ditch, every single week.

It wasn't the writing. Klein, for whatever reason, was comedically at one with the universe. The series lead, Alexander, was his prop.

Friday Question:

If you're the starring lead of a sitcom, a respected comedic actor in your own right, and a supporting player blows you off the stage to the point that it's embarrassing to watch...

what the hell can you do? What *should* you do? What if, unlike Alexander, this is your first series lead role, you don't have a lot of money banked, like Alexander, to afford to fail because your supporting actor is handing you your ass every week? What if this series is everything you've strived for since you began acting, and this old bird Klein is roasting you alive every week.

What do you do?

Alexander was a mensch. He did nothing, and the series in which he starred was cancelled, and he hasn't been seen in a high profile role since.

What do you do?

- Jay

croquemore said...

Ken, Friday question possibly: What is your take on The Good Wife plot twist from this week from a writer's standpoint? I've heard several people refer to the King's decision as fearless. I tend to agree but would welcome your opinion.

Brian Phillips said...

To Anonymous regarding Robert Klein: The show in question was "Bob Patterson". Klein, like Jason Alexander, has stage experience. Klein was in "They're Playing Our Song", as well as a couple of movies, comedic and dramatic. I won't argue who is the better stage actor, but Klein has chops beyond stand-up comedy.

As for guest stars and regular cast, I can relate one story that I heard:

This particular show had younger and older people on it. Two of the cast members ran around the set talking in baby voices, another actor threw a fit about a standard procedure (it was standard on THAT set, in any case).

The worst was when my friend was waiting to make an entrance and another cast member threatened to destroy the costume that my friend was wearing.

The older people were, for the most part, much, much nicer. One of the younger women, who had previous acting experience was also pleasant.

The upshot of all of this? The agents got together and decided that their clients had to be in the last shot of this episode, so... friend's scene was cut!

Brian Phillips said...

Friday question: I was watching an episode of "Just Shoot Me" and the running gag was Elliott (Enrico Colantoni) was being inadvertently injured by Jack (George Segal). Elliot, wisely, tries to keep his distance after recovering from hot tea spilled on his privates. His line after being asked by Jack how he was feeling was, "Better. I no longer shriek when I go to the bathroom."

I love that line, primarily because "shriek" is such a wonderful word to use in this context.

Can you recall any lines that you felt were improved merely by changing one or two words?

Mike Schryver said...

"Breadbaker said...
Is it IX day? Skeesix and ixnay in the same column?"

It's probably the result of several years writing for Colonel Potter.

chalmers said...

"They're Playing Our Song" came about when Marvin Hamlisch and Carol Bayer Sager were on the downhill side of their romantic and professional partnership.

Neil Simon commissioned them to write a musical version of "The Goodbye Girl," but Simon found their bickering and creativity more interesting than his original idea and wrote a show based on them instead.