Dave Richards for March 27th…………….
--It can be done! Stage entertainers still can, even in the 21st Century, be successful without using bad language and abusive jokes.
I have often told stories of my Uncle Jim who was a performer on the live performance circuit they call Vaudeville. He told stories about his years on the road. Several of his stories centered around the difference between the finest theaters and the…..er……theaters you performed in which you didn’t put on your resume, shall we say. Of course, the best places, the ones which paid the best and lead to the best jobs, required that you have a special talent. If you weren’t special, you just didn’t get booked there. But aside from that he told me the biggest difference was the language.
In those days there were bawdy ‘dance hall’ style places which sometimes included brief nudity and off-color jokes. Not as far down the politeness ladder as burlesque, but certainly not a place you’d take your mother, either. In actuality, most performers worked in such places. They were just naughty enough to be fun for the masses, but not bad enough to be raided by the cops.
And then there were theaters like The Palace. Every performer wanted to work there. It was the 1920s version of network TV. First-class. But there were rules. In fact, I read in a book by another vaudevillian, George Burns, there was a sign back stage at The Palace posted on the brick wall where all the performers would see it. George said it read, “If you do not possess the talent to entertain our audiences without offending them, you do not possess the talent to take this stage.” And they meant it, too. One ‘slip’ and you got the hook and were handed your photos. And being “handed your photos” in vaudeville was being fired, never again hired, and you could never say you worked there.
I don’t know what the attraction is for foul language. In my years I have worked with performers who claim their marketability decreased by a third and they lost money when they “cleaned up” their act for a while. Pay-cable TV and more recently streaming media on the Internet are often said to be more popular because Over-The-Air broadcasters cannot allow offensive language in their programming. I don’t get it.
Last week I had the surprise opportunity to go to a show in Providence. We had given away tickets to a listener who found later they couldn’t go and turned them back to the station. The Fabulous Denise and I decided to use them to see the famous comedian Jay Leno’s stage show.
I have always admired Jay somewhat. He’s only about five years older than I am and we share some similar experiences, as he grew up in the Boston area and was working there when I was also working in Boston.
I also admire Jay for having the strength of character to work on national TV for more than 15 years and still stand up to the terrible pressures a job like that will bring to challenge a person’s ethics, essentially unchanged.
Unchanged, but improved. Yes, Jay worked comedy clubs in Boston’s infamous ‘Combat Zone’ in the 70s, and he has, in places like that, told all those jokes you’d never tell your grandmother. But hundreds of other people and I sat in that theater last week and listened to Jay Leno tell joke after really funny joke for 95 full minutes, non-stop, and it was all rated PG. What an amazing talent it takes to do that!
My admiration for him has soared since then. Jay Leno has confirmed in real life what I have always believed. When you are really and truly talented, you don’t need to use bad language to be successful.
Bad language is a crutch for lesser-talented performers.
--That’s what I think. What do you think? Comments to: email@example.com or postal mail to Dave Richards, WOON Radio, 985 Park Avenue, Woonsocket, RI 02895-6332.
Thanks for reading.