Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Victim Work

They call it Victim Work.

It’s when you pull someone out of their comfy seat in the audience, yank them out of anonymity, disorient them with stage light and the attention of an audience and then use them as fodder for comedy.

It’s a dirty job but someone’s got to do it.

The clowns.

Jimmy and I make nice nice with a victim.

Casting at 100 mph.

Selecting a victim is an art.
It’s basically a form of instant psychology.
Casting at 100 mph.

In Kooza I must select a victim with very little preliminary interaction. (see Clown vs. Man and the Animation Barometer) so I have to make some split second decisions that are based on very little information.
And who you select has a lot to do with what you want them to do (or not do) in the act.

For one of the victims in Kooza we need to have someone really normal, even slightly reticent. A kind of everyman.
So a quick profiling checklist goes through my mind in the instant I have to troll the audience for a suitable victim.

Who is he with?

(A dad with wife and kids is more likely to behave than a jock with a date he’s trying to impress.)

What is he wearing?

Unfamiliar footwear and he might not speak English. Is he wearing a jacket? I can use that for a bit.

Is he too enthusiastic?

I have seconds to gage this person and predict his behavior. If he’s too pumped up or too extroverted he could kill the act.
He’s no longer a victim. He’s a fellow performer. I cast him.
And I can fire him. If he’s too crazily enthusiastic as we step onstage I immediately fire him (with a joke) and go for my second choice.

Is he capable of doing what I’m going to ask of him in the act?

I pulled a victim on last Sundays matinee.
(After firing my first choice when he pumped his fist in the air.)
We were doing the duo version of the “Clown Magic” act.
At one point Jimmy Slonina and I are skipping around the perimeter of the stage with the victim between us. The audience couldn’t hear it but I distinctly heard the victim say “You’re killing me. You’re killing me.”
Apparently he had a bad back and clearly was not going to be able to lie down as is required of this particular victim. That’s lousy casting.

Like anything it’s a practice.

I had plenty practice at it at Teatro Zinzanni as Chef Cecile B. DeGrille where I would pull victims into some of the wild scenarios I developed with comedy mastermind Stefan Haves.
Sometimes, as in the Samurai sketch I used to introduce the salad, or the bullfighter bit I used for the main course, I’d have three victims working at the same time, each with their own specific casting parameters.

At both Kooza and Zinzanni you have the possibility that your victim is too drunk to follow simple orders. At Zinzanni you have the added factor that the person you plan to use has gone to the bathroom and you have to quickly go with your second choice.
(No chance of that at Kooza, the show is simply too consistently electrifying for anyone to get up and go.)

Clown prince Christian Fitzharris and master pick-pocket Lee Thompson actually keep logs on the victims to hone their craft. (and remember the crazy highlights.)

Human Sacrifice

Victim work is a form of Group Schadenfreude.
Clown Crime perpetrated in plain sight.
As I reach down and clasp his hand, my other hand imperceptibly controlling his elbow, I watch one person gulp with fear while 2,599 others giggle with relief that it’s not them.

Last Thursday I was pulling up a victim who resisted, saying “I can’t. I have asthma.” I felt like saying “I have asthma too buddy and I’m the one pulling you up here!” but I let him go. Better to move on to some other lucky victim.

So a Thank You to all my victims. I realize they may never have been onstage in front of 2600 people and it may be a bit discomfiting to be thrust into the sharp glare of the follow spot, but when you see their families greet them when they return to their seats you know you’ve given that family a memory they may never forget. They saw a loved one thrust up onto the Alter of Comedy. Sacrificed for the funny.

With me.

1 comment:

Patch said...

Wonderful show.
Any room in your act for the effeminate beach-party dancer, Snowflake?