Going Nuclear at Garden Bros. Circus Can Be Crazy Fun, Or So It Seems ...

Going Nuclear at Garden Bros. Circus Can Be Crazy Fun,  Or So It Seems ...
Kijome Hara with the World’s Smallest Man and Wini McCay

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Biggest Mystery Under the Big Top: How Many People Went to the Circus? ... Ringling in Europe Illustrates ...

Are you a Yankee’s fanatic? I bet you could get me annual attendance figures if I asked.

Film buff? You probably know that 90 million people went to a movie every week during the forties, but only 30 million during the fifties. They say it’s a fact.

Hard core Beatles fan? I assume you know which of their albums sold the most copies.

Now, I’m a circus fan, so please don’t ask me any such questions, for I can’t answer them, and I'll tell you why. In fact, I wish I'd addressed this vexing historical issue with TV documentary film producer Philip Weyland during my Miguel Vazquez interview in Los Angeles last July. Here is what I might have said:

“Let me tell you something, Phil. You and I both share a general sense that attendance at circuses has declined markedly over the last thirty years. In fact, we are both only making guesses, because, and here it is important to note, unlike virtually all other entertainments, circus ticket sales are not tracked by any agency whatsoever. They remain a total mystery. Reporters and writers following the movie, theatre, pop music or sports fields, in comparison, enjoy the luxury of transparent factual sales information from independent tracking sources. We who write about circuses have none. And so we speculate based upon our own head counts at the shows we attend and upon rumors and reports, many of which are likely slanted to either puff up or push down the actual number of bodies in the seats. And that makes it, personally, very frustrating for me in trying to write accurately about historical business trends at circuses.”

Here is an of-the-moment illustration of the problem: A few of us have been wondering aloud about business at Ringling’s Gold Unit in Europe. One Anonymous source implied poor advance ticket sales in Spain. Another source, “Barb D,” who works for Feld Entertainment and has toured with the Gold Show in concession sales, has posted a couple of comments that challenge skeptical views of ticket sales. Compared to Steve Copeland's vague references on his blog to business on the Kelly-Miller Circus ("average sized crowd," etc.), Barb D's summations offer breathtaking clarity. However, since she works for the Felds, I must be on my guard, which is not to say that I distrust Barb D, only that I must take her information in context. Here are excerpts from her two comments:

1. “Milan opened with a bang...again, capacity about 2000 with only a few empty seats.”

2. “Milano was decent....the house held approx 2000 and most shows were three quarters.”

Now, how are we to interpret this? I’d say that a strong opening fizzled out to “decent,” agreeing with Barb’s account and assuming it is accurate. “Most shows” to me suggests that probably more than half the shows did about three-quarter business. So I would then guess that, overall, the circus played to, let’s assume, 60% capacity, or — if the venue actually seats 2,000 people — 1,200 to 1,300 patrons per show on average. Do I believe this as fact? No. I regard it as a strong likelihood. "Fair business" is how I would characterize the stand. And that is my best guess based on the information that I have at hand. It is, sadly, nothing like what I would have to work with were circuses accountable to a neutral reporting agency, same as -- you name your favorite entertainment pastime.

Be it a rock concert, ice show, Broadway musical or hot new film, everybody wants to know: How many people went?

At the circus, unless you were there, you may never know. It remains the best kept secret under the big top.

[photos, from top: Ringling-Barnum at Verizon Center, Manchester, New Hampshire, 2009 -- crowd size estimated by Crash Moreau to be less than 25% of available seating -- about a third of the seats were not used owing to the new truncated performance setting; Kelly-Miller Circus plays to a full tent in 2009; the last under-canvas performance of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey in Pittsburgh, July 16, 1956, with approximately 9,000 people inside the big top]

First published October 28, 2009

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday Scramble: Big Apple Bello Lopsided? ... Ringling Tongue Twists Another Puzzlement ... Cirque Storms Russia ... Death Stalks the Big Top

Another So-So Big Apple Circus? ... First review I could find of Bello is Back! comes from Peter D. Kramer on his blog In the Wings. Kramer found Bello Nock in return to be “good news and bad news” for the show. Bello’s engaging comic and acrobatic contributions, wrote Kramer, “makes Big Apple’s less comic and less daredevil acts pale by comparison.” The critic expressed disappointments in several of the acts. He gave high marks to identical twin Chinese contortionists Long Jun and Long Bin, Picaso, Jr. and Barry Lubin’s Grandma. “Other acts lose their luster when compared to past Big Apple productions.” I'm waiting for the New York reviews, expecting them to be generally-generically supportive as they usually are.

The Russians are lining up to get their first taste of the Cirque du Soleil magic. 80,000 tickets already snapped up, Guy Laliberte happily noted. “Russia has a strong circus tradition. This is a good place for Cirque du Soleil.” He might have gratefully added that his artistic empire, in fact, owes its heritage to this very spot on the globe. The roots of Cirque are solidly in Russia soil. And if you don't believe me, just ask Guy Caron. Twenty percent of Laliberte’s artists, in fact, are Russian. BTW: the big bop boss got back from up there in space AOK.

Kenneth “Overly Clever Title Concoctor” Feld: Please enroll me in your Ringling Tongue Twister Titles pronunciation school. I’m still trying to pronounce Barnum’s Ka, Ka, ka LAID oh, or collide and scrape, shape ... skip? ... Then there was that long and winding name alluding to something out of Monte Carlo years ago. Now from Feld’s Funqueurlous Name Division comes this: Barnum’s FunundrumSM. It's the letters “SM” that sometimes appear at the end of this name that give me pause. I mean, are the Felds taking on Cirque’s porno unit in Vegas? The advance press agenty is spell binding, complete with a typo. “Thrill seekers may pay for the entire seat, but will only need its edge as a rip-roaring" ... and you know the rest of the drill. Let’s get to the best one and a real howler: “funomenal animals” What is a funomenal? Is that me? You? Animals raised on funomenal? Oh, it’s so vaguely fun, I say, let’s funvaguely Feldge forward: “the funtastic and the funbelievable experience answers the conundrum...” Please somebody, untwist my tongue before I gag on all the Feldific fun! ...

End Ring Twitters Down the Covington Chute: San Antonio Witt Museum to open a new wing “Circus Folk: Secrets Behind the Big Top,” incorporating, anong an array of items, a 1902 Gentry Bros. Wild Animal Show wagon; a timeline tracking a circus at the time; video segments and “chewed on chairs” from Clyde Beatty’s act ... Cirque's Kooza drew an L.A. Times rave out of Santa Monica, causing cyber catcher Don Covington to aptly note, as if spotting a rare drop of water in a desert, “reviews!” ... Good news about the hereteforic profiled FunununudriummmenialSM is that Johnathan Lee Iverson is returning to the ringmaster role; that guy had such great potential when he first hit Ringling -- until he turned his restrained persona to Afro-Centric gospel hall. No, no, no, sayeth Showbiz David! ... Dangerous Russian Rehearsals: Here is tragic news to report and respect: A skating Russian bear with an ice circus in rehearsal in Bishkek turned on and killed the manager, Dmitry Potapov and mauled another worker. Bear was shot and killed by police ... Sadder still is the death of Ukrainian gymnast Oleksandr Zhurov arising out of a mishap while practicing on a Russian swing during a CDS rehearsal in Montreal. Said Guy Laliberte, “Today, it is all of Cirque that is in mourning. An incident like this reminds us of the courage and determination displayed by our artists each and every day. They are exceptional human beings who share their talents with great generosity.”

Well said, Mr. Laliberte. I share your same deep appreciation and sadness.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

That Disturbing PETA Video: In What Way Was it "Edited," Ringling Bros.?

(original posting date lost)

Update, 8/1: To Anonymous: I have your latest missives. Considering the severity of your claims about widespread and pervasive alleged animal abuse (we have yet to hear from the Felds on how the PETA video was “deceptively edited”), your refusal to tell me who you are strikes me as an act of counter-productive cowardice. If I am as naive as you obviously believe I am, at least my name is clearly attached to my naivety. Now, when you assert that I have been fooled by "the publicity propaganda of the industry you idolize," I had to laugh. You seem not to have read this blog, otherwise you would have noted how critical I have been time and time again of many of the ways in which circuses are produced and promoted to the public. Your blanket generalizations, in fact, lead me to question your credibility and agenda. This is the last attention you will get from me, nor will I even read any future comments from you for monitoring unless I see your name along with the information I earlier requested: shows you have worked for and dates. And fair warning: Do not give me your name asking that I not use it, for I WILL.

Update, 7/31: To "Anonymous," who claims to have worked in the business on and off for 20 years before leaving it 13 years ago, and who makes damning accusations concerning animal abuse: This is too critical an issue to accept your comments without a name that I can check out and verify, so I have rejected your comment. If you wish to resubmit, including your name, and if I can confirm your alleged background, I will print your comments. Tell us what shows you have worked for and give us some dates. You say I am either "feigning ignorance for public consumption" or am genuinely ignorant. If I am ignorant, at least I have placed my name to my thoughts. If you are so strong in your feelings, why won't you tell us who you are?

It's not a fun thing to watch. Not a day at the circus I would wish upon anybody. I wondered if the clicking and loud cracking sounds were added by PETA.

I am in possession of the Ringling press release, forwarded to me by Don Covington, responding to a video secretly shot by a man who "posed as a stage hand for six months," according to the New York Daily News.

What is critically lacking in the press release are any specifics to support Feld Entertainment's claim that the disturbing video, which is receiving wide coverage, is "deceptively edited."

Just what the circus world does not want or need. And I am reminded of Kenneth Feld, under oath during a recent courtroom appearance, confessing that investigations of animal abuse at his own circus were not always reported to him. The surly actions of the handlers, which, yes, may have been edited, nonetheless do not convey the image needed to be conveyed. Nor should it benefit closing defense arguments now being heard in the court case filed by Tom Rider against Ringling that went to trial six weeks ago. Rider and a number of animal rights groups alleged "harming and harassing and wounding" the elephants.

What is so telling about the release is this statement: "Nevertheless, Ringling Bros. wants to insure the public that we take any allegations concerning animal care very seriously, no matter the source."

Say it isn't so.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

SUNDAY MORNING OUT OF THE PAST: Kelly Miller 2010: Poema Risley, Rice Animals, “First Time in America” Aerialist, New Copeland-Combs Gags; Torales Twist on Rolla Bolla ...

In a recent production meeting on the Kelly Miller lot hosted by circus boss John Ringling North II in his “Jomar,” (no, not the rail car but a mobile version), ideas “were flowing,” according to inside information supplied to Showbiz David by show manager Jim Royal. Next year’s opus will feature two new clown production numbers and a walkaround from returning laugh-makers Steve Copeland and Ryan Combs. Shriners in greasepaint need not apply at this circus. And that’s good news.

Adrian and Nellie Poema offer an “incredible risely act,” in Royal’s estimation. And from what I’ve just seen on a couple of You Tubes, his high regard is well placed. At the very least, this charismatic family from Peru are a minor sensation who should hold their own in any ring or venue. They mix clean crisp executions with high-line showmanship and verbal comedy from the kids and a simple knock-out zippy zesty payoff. They will stop the show for Kelly Miller. And if properly used, they should provide plenty of color and personality to production elements.

“We are working on a rather interesting production number,” added Royal, “with some twists, but I can’t reveal it yet.”

North II is currently in negotiations with an unnamed aerialist whose appearance would mark a “first time in America” booking.

The diversified Rices, with a performing menagerie of dogs, camels, ponies and donkeys, are advancing to North II's payroll following two seasons on the Cole show. The veteran trainers arrive with some promising critical cache. A tough Brooklyn Paper reviewer this past summer termed two of their acts “a blast.” Crash Moreau rated their four-camel act the “best” he has seen on any show in years.

A “completely different” Friedman Torales twist on the rola bola is on the bill, reports Royal. Other returnees include Casey McCoy’s tigers, Armando Loyal’s elephants, and Natalie Cainin’s dogs recast in a “themed” number.

“The program is not complete at this time,” said Royal.

Impressively absent from Royal's e-mail are three entries from last year that all struck me as show retarders: hula hoops, motor bike up a wire, and a group horse-back riding effort that many charitably regarded as a work in progress.

So, what to think? Two dog acts on any show makes that show in my doggy opinion automatically twice as entertaining. Mix in the inventive comedy antics of admirably ambitious Copeland & Combs, add and season in those terrific Poemas, and it sounds like a ground pleaser in the works.

On paper, so far the spread looks out-to-lunch above the ring. Yet to be known is how JRN II will fill the air, and just who this sought after “first time in America” thriller might be.

Show goes into the barn this Monday.

First publisher 10.21.2009

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunday Speculator, Europe to Feld: ICE, not SAWDUST ... Now, Would John Ringling North II's Designer Dung Do?

Will Ringling-Barnum ever conquer the old world? This latest attempt to capture European patronage by offering them one ring in a building does not appear to be paying off. Already, earlier slated visits to England, Germany, France and Belgium, in venues usually played by the Disney ice shows, have been axed, per sketchy reports. In fact, everything about Kenneth Feld’s foray abroad is rather sketchy, but I twitter on, Tweet! Tweet! Circulating rumors, some posted on this very midway, allude to “lousy” advance sales in Spain. Seems the Europeans are asking aloud, why would I want to see a one ring show with only two American performers? Hmmm, well, ah, either, Over Here, we lack American performers —- or our producers aren’t hiring them other than to push canvas and pitch coloring books ... Don Stacey, are you ready to bash once more what I am about to reference? Here goes: John Ringling North (the original) took a crack at Europe in 1963-1964, lasting a full four months and then calling the whole thing off in a fit of Northian haste, either fearing the loss of more money or unentranced by less than stellar reviews (they and the biz were both respectable, to put a full tweet on the matter). JRN did not exactly flop out, not anywhere near. At least he gave old Europe new America (as in three rings). Mr. Feld is not giving Europe America, nor is he giving it to them in a tent. And so they aren't giving back ... Oh, let's leave Over Here ...

And what is there back here? We have designer dung to sample, over here at the in-the-mud Keller Miller Circus festivals, according to a big story in the St. Louis Post- Dispatch. What a hoot. Tweeting for fun, John Ringling North II, I am thinking with a smile verging on a Felix Adler guffaw, has a dry wry sense of humor. The most laid-back of the Ringlings. This cool senior dude will be advancing into his senior year as a circus owner, and he’s now hosting production meetings, spreading out next season’s opus, and I’m waiting for details, sorta kinda promised by the royal version of North’s Concello — James Royal I. Stay tuned and all atwitter for future tweets on the matter.

Heck, I was supposed to be addressing those elephant emissions. Okay, “In some towns visited by the roadside circus [boy is that mud-on] people wait in line for the elephant dung,” reports the Post-Dispatch (or would that be the Dung Dispatch?) ... Fights are said to break out over first grabs for coveted Jumbo fertilizer. I am almost laughing ... “like the time three men scrapped over the last of the pachyderm poo,” according to the story. Saith North the Sequel (there he is strutting his lip with a side show manager in the 1950s), “You don’t put it on fresh. You need to compost it. Let it rot down. Then it really is super” No wonder North's tenter revels in making love to muddy lots. Now I wonder if our circuses will break out into poop battles, each boasting “the most magical manure on earth!” “Fresh off the back lot!” “Sacred White Elephant emissions!” “Dixie Dung!” “Pennsylvania Poo!” Stay with me on this, please, we are close to a Krisnamurti insight, courtesy of the Dung Dispatch writer: “Most people want elephant dung for their garden. It is held in high, almost mythical regard as fertilizer. And the circus gives it away for free.”

I’d better get a poop on before I tweet out ...

End Ring Twitters: Barbara Bird, chirping eternally, to Good Morning America; “You have to love this job or you can’t do it. It’s definitely in my bones, my blood, and in my whole being." And in your dung, too, Lady Byrd? "I was born on the road and I’ll probably die on the road. We want to stay in the business. We want to keep alive the circus in America." And I say, YOU deserve a song and the cream of the you-know-what for that lovely sentiment ... A film Children of All Ages, lensing in easterly places, and I wish I could see it, for it includes interviews with, among "many others," La Norma, La Claire, Woodcock and Herriott (seen in the photo above) ... But back to the smell of circus, if you’ll pardon my poop. I Just told my friend Boyi about the Kelly-Miller giveaways and he recalled happy encounters with our subject in his enchanted Chinese boyhood. During New Year’s back home, Boyi and friends put firecrackers into OX poop, ran back and watched the stuff explode into the air. Oh, the joys of life on the farm. “Only happens in the village” he insists, because outlawed in bigger Middle Kingdom cities. Mr. North, are you looking for a fresh new act angle? How about a most spectacular finale combing ancient traditions with earthy necessities. I was just served a thin stalk of celery wrapped in turkey. Now I'm ready for the rest ...

Tweet tweet! Oh, and I have so much more. Meet me here in a few furious days, all atwittered up in your finest mud ...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ringling Singing Coney Return, But Deal Far From Done

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey wants to return to Coney Island next summer, and, what's better, they'd like to make it an annual event, according to a story in today's New York Post. Felds are said to be in active communications with the owner of the land they played on for a 2010 return.

"It makes sense for many reasons to come back to Coney Island," said Ringling Northeast Regional Public Relations Manager Paulina Pickarski.

Hold your horses! The elephants are not coming back just yet. The Post story outlines a more difficult and uncertain road ahead, reporting that the Bloomberg administration "will have to work its magic with developer Taconic Investment Partners," owners of the land that hosted Boom A Ring's three month stay this past summer. A possible roadblock are plans by developers to "someday" build condominiums on the vacant site.

Pickarski is doing most of the up-talking at the moment. "We see the value of being an annual event on Coney Island for reasons beyond ticket sales." She pointed out the 200 locals hired by the show to work the date.

New York City Economic Development Corporation spokesperson Libby Langsdorf expressed support for another Ringling visit, but "played the details close to the vest."

Pickarski termed the date "wonderful," and added that ticket sales "exceeded expectations."

So the Felds, it seems clear, are high on Coney. That's good news. Now, it's up to the land owners and local politicians.

Restart the negotiations. This is not a done deal.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sunday Morning with Showbiz David: A Tale of Two Circus Reviews

Continuing my periodic discussion on the value of criticism, today I will address the subject of how best to know if a “review” can be trusted. That is, if the writer has sincerely endeavored to offer an honest account of his or her reaction to a show.

Because very few circuses — as holds true for stage shows or films — are thoroughly perfect or thoroughly awful, we expect most notices to reflect both the good and the bad.

I am looking at a review published in The Brooklyn Paper of Cole Bros. Circus, and I believe it. It is very mixed, full of both praise and put downs, and I believe it. I do not believe it because I agree with anything in particular that the critic, Jared Foretek, says, for I have not seen the show. Nor do I believe that Foretek is necessarily right in every regard. But because he seems quite able to affirm and reject, I consider his opinions worthy of serious attention. In general, he was well entertained by the aerial acts and the animals, though not the camels, whose “synchronized” work he found “boring.” He termed the Toprasta's seven-high wire walk “incredible,” the wheel of death, “undoubtedly one of the best.” What he did not at all like were the clowns (“a drag’) and certain of the ground acts, calling them “Neanderthals of entertainment.” For example, Foretek was not impressed by a juggler manipulating bowling pins — “I’ve seen better on You Tube.” Now to me, the idea of a somebody juggling bowling pins amuses.

Overall, Foretek’s notice began by calling Cole Bros.“better than average,” and concluded on a warm note: “I must be a kid at heart, because when I left the Aviator sports complex, I had a smile on my face.”

Can a review be of any value? To circus owner John Pugh, who takes great pride in his show, it might. That is, if some of the criticism is in sync with feedback Pugh might be getting, or with his own perceptions. Indeed, he might be motivated to address areas of weakness, which will only lead, theoretically, to a better show and greater customer satisfaction. Surely, from the average circus fan, Pugh will get none of what The Brooklyn Paper has given him.

Newspapers tend to print real reviews such as the above (very rare these days) or general feature stories, usually published in advance of the show’s opening, in essence heralding circus day. There are a lot of these, especially in the smaller papers which virtually never send out reviewers.

Of late, there is a third very clever form, which the Felds may have had a hand in engineering, a form that vaguely lends the impression of being a review but upon closer examination bears the unmistakable marks of either a die-heard fan or a reporter flaking for a circus. This was what I found in a recent issue of The Denver Post, in a story headlined “Zing Zang Zoom Puts New Spark to Trad Circus Model”

Cruising the piece quickly, you may get the impression that the writer, John Wenzel, is endorsing the show. He extensively quotes Kenneth Feld, whose voice colors and directs the article’s affirmative tone. (In reply to an e-mail query I sent Mr. Wenzel, he confirmed that he interviewed the circus boss for the article.) I could not find one specific item in the show that Wenzel critiqued as a critic would, but I did find a couple of statements he made that arguably reveal a pro-Feld stance which permeates the entire piece. Exhibit A: “no other circus act comes close to the vibrance, scale and general appeal of a Ringling Bros. Show.” Notice how Wenzel uses words “of a Ringling show” and not “of Zing Zang Zoom.” He is not focusing in on Zing. He has, quite obviously, turned the story into an endorsement of the Ringling products. Exhibit B: In acknowledging the reach of Feld Entertainment, Wenzel makes a blatantly misleading claim that Kenneth Feld has had his hand in “numerous Broadway hits.” I checked the Broadway database. The Felds, indeed, invested in the hit musical Barnum during the late stages leading up to opening night, for the right, I believe, to pitch concession in the theatre lobby. Other Feld produced shows have had woefully short runs. Even Kenneth Feld’s critically acclaimed Fool Moon lasted but six months on Broadway. His other efforts trod the boards from seven days to four months. "Numerous Broadway hits" they were not.

Here is how the story opens: “Ferocious Bengal tigers and death defying acrobats. Disappearing Asian elephants [there was but one] and whirring blades of steel. Human cannonballs and clowns galore. Sounds like a good old fashioned circus, doesn’t it?’

This is neither a review nor a serious feature story. It is a veiled pitch for Feld Entertainment, plain and simple. In this instance, John Wenzel, whether he intended to or not, was turned into a part-time Ringling press agent. He would not be the first nor the last. Beware.

[photos: top image by Boyi Yuan; the Toprasta Troupe with Cole Bros.; Ringling Bros. Zing Zang Zoom clowns]

Friday, October 09, 2009

Friday Flighty: One Drop at a Time, Will It Be the Moon or Cirque? ... Bello Stays Near Earth ... Forbes, Clueless -- or Calculating

Drop downs and Drop Ins: We are very much out there, and out there is, he would like you to know, Guy Laliberte of Cirque du Soleil, who from what I gather hoped to land major media attention for his spacey stunt designed to advance public awareness of the water issue. Our Guy may be wondering where all the cameras went. Oh, boy, of all days to be reading a poem he wrote to the world from Up There, he had to pick the Nassau day, when those spacey Moon-struck bureaucrats are again trying to prove that water flows on the Moon. They say they’ve now got the evidence, having just bombed it, but others are snickering at what did not appear on the visuals. As for that other man out there drop drop dropping good vibes, I wish he’d bring a few free drops back to his touring circuses, where once upon an earth free water was to be had during intermission. Must I go Up There for what I once enjoyed Down Here?

We are, still up there, but down here too, back at Lincoln Center in NY, where Bello Nock, the guy whom they keeping reminding us is, according to Time Magazine, “America’s best clown,” is going legit on a high high wire. America’s best proved his grit by completing a sky wire walk over Lincoln center, so studiously executed as to remind me of the similarly dull performance by his senior relatives, known as the “Nerveless Nocks” when John Ringling North brought them to America in 1954. I could not wait to see them in ‘55 — to witness those breathless “mid air exchanges,” which turned out to be about as graceful and intrepid as a rescue mission of stranded victims from sea to helicopter. Anyway, our cool Bello fellow is the real thing on a wire. Those stunts have never much dazzled me, for they are merely walk overs, without artistic programming and music, and a context ...

Wonder if this means that Bello will be working a wire or rope act in Big Apple’s new bash, soon to uncork in the Big big Apple. Ooops, it must have already uncorked, for I read all about it in Forbes Ten Best Circuses list. I am still awaiting word back from the Forbes group on just how they reached their cockeyed verdicts. Today, all you have to do is pitch your next-season intentions, and you might, without even opening, land a Forbes “Best” placement. Which makes me wonder why they failed to honor Franco Dragone’s new show, still still still in the planning stages. Dropping in on the subject, trouper Ben Trumble trumbles, "I'm afraid the magazine was looking for a quick puff piece and didn't dig much." Or maybe they dug just enough, Ben, to serve the mighty on yet another of America's many hidden Wall Streets.

End Ringers: Passing on to Up There, at 56, is Benny Williams. The obits failed to mention his time with Circus Vargas. For a few seasons, he and the elephant Anna May, responding it seemed to the terrifically torrid scoring of the live Vargas band at its red hot best, put on one of the most memorable one-elephant turns I’ve ever seen. A real heart-grabber ... Speaking of which, Zippos Circus animals have been allowed back into the English town of Haringey, the city council having reversed its aversion to such entertainment. Already, the anti-crowd is lining up to protest ...

After Bello made it to the other side, a bigger than life-sized balloon of his trademark persona inflated upwards. Nice theatrical ending, which the walk needed. This sober demonstration came with none of the whimsical antics that have made our funny guy liked and adored by the moppet market ...

Okay, so not much is happening up there in space. Don’t blame me! So let's stay Down Here. I’ll have another drop of tea, please ...

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Memo to Leno: How to Sharpen & Save Your New Show

Dear Jay:

I really want you to succeed, for two or three reasons. I love being able to watch a late night show early night. You’re a nice guy. Your opening monologue usually lands a few big zingers. And some of your other stuff (the frenetic google search bit) is very amusing, even refreshing.

Since I read today that your ratings on Thursday night last sunk to a new low (something around a 1.5, whatever that means), in a fit of charitable selfless intervention, I am sending you this list, pro bono, of the things you need to do to save your new program, the sooner the better, and spare me reverting back to our local daily Bay Area body count (aka: the 10 o'clock News):

1. Move OUT of that sprawling and flashy mall walk through of a set. At times, you look like a rejected spouse cruising a pricey boulevard for supplementary late night relief. Find yourself a smaller apartment, cozier and less flashy. Get yourself just one comfy chair, preferably a rocker or one with desk. And settle in. I don't tune in for the neon, stupid. I tune in for the talent. And that includes yours.

2. End once and for all that pandering hand-shaking opening when the audience (or audience extras) crowd around you like a flock of stricken pop star groupies. This odious ritual is gratuitously time consuming and it makes you look like one needy guy. Are you that insecure, or that determined to prove what a universally loved icon you are? We get it, icon! We really do. I don't want crowd supplication. I want solo star delivery. And I want it now.

Go right into your monologue. Are you getting my drift?

3. Okay, one more big -- or little -- thing, before another: What’s this rather lame ongoing gag between you and Kevin alluding to a secret love? Calculated pandering to a gay demographic? Problem is, the strained schtick just isn’t very funny. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell falls flat on your show.

Now, as for the material. Some of it (like that Wendy’s girl) clicks. Some doesn’t. I found the twittering orientation at the senior center delightfully inventive, though uneven. The kids toppling into the talking photo booth kept me giggling.

Sharpen and shape. Cut the chaff and go straight for the laugh. Focus and fight, guy. Now go do it!

Showbiz David / provisional twitterless 10 p.m. follower