Throw Another Blog On The Fire

Well… Hello again.

I really didn’t have another post prepared tonight, but your warm and generous response to the last Blog has beckoned me back.

So, if there are no specific requests, than I’ll just assume you’d like to hear something similar to the last piece…another offering of advice to the young rock n’ rollers out there; and in this case, it opens with a bit of history – French history, no less.

Novembre, 1668 - After years slugging it out in the comedy clubs of Paris, observational comic Marcel Henri D’Encore had developed a strong local following and a near-perfect sixty-minute routine. He would warm the crowd up with some cogner cogner (knock-knock) jokes, and then segue into a hilarious bit about the differences between French men and women (something about the way each respectively eats a baguette). He’d do sight gags and musical parody, and then really work the crowd over with some risqué religious material.

D’Encore was quick-witted; if ever a heckler yelled out from the crowd, he or she was summarily and sharply silenced. Like a featherweight boxer, D’Encore would bob and weave, landing comedic blow upon blow, while remaining virtually unscathed.

“Votre mère est si grosse, elle utilise la lune comme un beret”.

Really phenomenal stuff.

One fateful night, Marcel was met backstage by two representatives of the King.

“Monsieur D’Encore” they began, “His Royal Highness loves a good chuckle. And we’re certain that your act would kill at this weekend’s feast.”

‘Ooh la la’, thought Marcel. To have audience with the King was a treasured opportunity for a comic, and would surely increase the odds of landing a TV pilot.

But Louis XIV was a volatile ruler, and he’d beheaded men for lesser crimes than an errant punch line.

So on the night of the feast, Marcel took to the palace stage with less than his usual self-assuredness. But by the end of the 1st cogner cogner joke (in which the baker’s wife is at the door), the Sun King’s face had lit up, and his laughter echoed through the halls of Versailles for the remainder of the hour-long set.

Marcel was a hit, and when he finished, he hurried backstage to celebrate his good fortune. But the King was a man of great excess, and his appetite for a laugh had not yet been fully sated.

“Encore”, cried the King. He wanted more, and he was determined to get it.

“Encore”, he screamed again, and his king’s men followed suit.

Upon hearing his name, Marcel stepped gingerly back onto stage, but was uncertain of how to proceed; he had spent so many years refining his sixty-minute act, that he had no other material of which to speak.

So with no clear alternative, Marcel launched into the very same set, anew.

Cautiously, he knock knocked, and the Sun King playfully asked who was there.

But when his majesty realized that the baker’s wife was once again at the door, he grew angry. And so Marcel Henri D’Encore, gifted young comic, was beheaded, so abruptly that his moustache skidded clear across the floor.

There is much to be learned from Marcel’s ill-fated demise. And though Louis XIV seemed to know how to handle an ‘Encore’, few performers can say the same; debate rages as to ‘who should expect an encore’, ‘how to guarantee an encore’, ‘whether to leave material aside for an encore’. To this day, my musician friends still wrestle with these questions of proper encore etiquette. And that is a shame (not just because musicians are too delicate to be wrestling). The storied encore can be easily demystified and mastered with a few choice bits of advice:

1. Arrange to have a plant in the audience… A good plant can be counted upon to initiate the call for an encore, even if one isn’t really warranted. For even greater certainty, get a human to do this, instead of a plant.

2. Determine a way to inform your audience that there will be no further encores… Rock audiences often demand multiple encores from their prized performers (Madison Square Gardens, 1987 – After countless encores, rabid fans at a Bruce Springsteen show were surprised to see the New York Knicks come out to begin their warm up). Without some definitive signal to declare an end to the evening, the crowd will just keep on asking. Elvis Presley would bring an end to his shows with an announcement that “Elvis has left the building”. Mod rockers, The Who, would mark the finale by destroying their instruments beyond repair. Many contemporary acts choose to finish by bringing up the stadium house lights. I used to signal the evening’s end by wandering back on to stage in pyjamas and fixing myself a mug of warm cocoa.

3. Lastly, think objectively about whether or not to actually plan on an encore. If you are the opening act on a bill, don’t anticipate the call. If you are a stripper, you might want to think twice (unless you plan to exfoliate). If you are delivering a eulogy, or presenting a play, it’s best to leave things ‘as is’. And as Beethoven was quick to learn, classical composers shouldn’t heed the call (audiences don’t want to sit through your 8th, after having just heard your 9th).

These few tips, and a little bit of ‘histoire’ should allow you to keep your head about you.
And with that, I bid you all a good night. That’s all I’ve got. I’m outta here.
Seriously, good night.
I end this week’s Blog with another interesting musical fact:

In the musical theatre world, a ‘swing’ is an actor who is responsible for learning and covering many different roles in a show; the swing must be prepared to take over the part of any absent performer at a moment’s notice. This can be particularly daunting for a swing if they are in a production in which one of the roles is written for a castrato.


Anonymous said...

ha! great blog.

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

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