Own your character

Yesterday I related the story of Soupy Sales meeting a clown with a Krusty like attitude.   Soupy explained to the clown how his character could easily be replaced by another guy, with the same make up.

But that’s not necessarily true.  If the studio hired the guy to fill the giant shoes, that’s one thing.  But if the clown owns his character, he owns the trademark to the makeup and costume.  If he were very successful, say like Bozo the clown, he would be in a more powerful position.  He could even license out the image to someone else.  Krusty could have said, “Yeah, but if I am successful, I can hire 6 guys to play me in different cities, and pay each half what I make.  I could make three times as much for doing nothing.”

And it happens.

Here are three guys called “Blue Man Group”

I saw them decades ago off Broadway in NYC.  It was probably the originators of the show.   Would I recognize them anywhere else?  No way.  Now they have multiple shows playing, and those guys don’t put on the blue masks any longer.  They just administer the company.  In fact, Blue Man Group could easily continue after they are dead.

It’s good to own your character.

Soupy Sales meets Krusty the Clown

I am currently reading Soupy Sez the autobiography of Soupy Sales.  Soupy was another television pioneer who had a local “kids” show.  I put “kids”  in quotations because it also became popular with adults.  I’m sure he was at least a partial inspiration for Pee-Wee Herman.

The book is light reading, entertaining and informative about early TV production.  He described sharing a dressing room with performer from another show, who happened to be a clown.  The similarities with the Simpson’s clown character is unmistakable.

I had my own dressing room, but I shared the bathroom and shower with a guy who did a clown show there in the morning…  He had just finished taping when I would come in.  I’d talk with him while he took a shower, and it was fascinating to watch.  It was like seeing a Sherman Williams paint sign come to life.  Clowns wear something like eight different colors of makeup, and while he took a shower the colors would just stream down his body.  I found that fascinating, and one day he asked me what the big attraction was.  “Well” I said, “it’s the idea that you spend all that time putting on the make up and then you get in the shower and the colors all run down your drain.  Your character runs down the drain.”

“Yeah” he said, “but the difference is the people know me as the clown.  When I take off this makeup I can go to a bar, pick up a girl, and I can get drunk and nobody knows it’s me!  But if you do it, they know it’s you.”

“Yeah” I replied “but when you go in for a raise, they say ‘nuts to you.  We’ll pick somebody else up.’  Do you think Ronald McDonald gets a raise? They say ‘nuts to you.  Bring in another guy.’

Well the guy hadn’t ever thought about that and it blew him away.  He was never the same because he was always afraid that if he asked for something they were going to get rid of him.  And you know what, eventually they did.”

I like that story all by itself, but I have some follow up thoughts.  Tomorrow I’ll explain how Soupy missed an important concept. For that click HERE

The 3 reasons Chaplin was so successful

Charlie Chaplin rose from poverty to become the first international superstar. How did he do it? Here’s how I see it.

1. Extraordinary Talent. Duh.

2. Extraordinary Hard Work. Chaplin had to work very hard because he had extraordinarily high standards.  While Mack Sennett would want most of the shots in his films done in 1 take, Charlie began asking for more tries.  When he gained control of his own production, he would spend enormous time developing his ideas with an entire crew there shooting everything.  The documentary “Unknown Chaplin” show some of these outtakes, which are quite rare.

Sometimes, he would shut down production at considerable cost, in order to rethink the entire film. No producer would allow this today.  But Chaplin’s reputation was on the line. He owned the work.

3.   Extraordinary luck.  Yes, luck.  It was luck that he happened to be seen on stage by Keystone Studio owner Mack Sennett, and was offered enough money to lure him away. The movies were a new technology, a risky venture. But when the right person finds the potential in a new technology, fantastic things can happen. While Chaplin had enormous confidence in himself, he could not have imagined what movies would do for him.  As I wrote in yesterday’s post, he, like many stage actors, thought the movies would be a passing fad. He was wrong, but he was lucky.

The point is, new technologies are coming at us faster than ever. If you have talent, work really hard, and own what you do, the technology might be there waiting to take you someplace you never dreamed of.

%d bloggers like this: