First off, this isn’t going to be a preachy post were I pat myself repeatedly on the back about my charity work. This is a post were I begin to explain how I came to realize I was benefiting from doing charity work and volunteering my services beyond the obvious.
I first started making monthly visits to Children’s hospitals in the mid-90’s when I lived in Memphis, Tennessee near the famed St. Jude Children’s Hospital and the LeBohner Children’s Hospital. Since moving to Orlando in 1999, I’ve increased my volunteer work to include a ranch for at-risk children, the Boy’s and Girls Clubs of America, Give Kids the World, several faith-based organizations and more. Keep in mind these events were not exclusively for children. I began to notice that more and more jokes, bits of business and even full routines that were birthed during charity shows were beginning to creep into my regular act. I started to pay closer attention to this. Several years ago I made a bold statement to my wife that I had surmised the best, funniest shows I’ve done neither she nor the paying public had ever seen because they had been done at charity events.
As I delved into why I felt this way, I began to see a pattern, the obvious being:
NO PAYMENT – NO PRESSURE
When you are doing it for free, there’s less pressure to deliver the goods and possibly less time constraints and less worry in general. John Cleese, in his autobiography, “So, Anyway…” says that inspiration and spontaneity do not come if you are under pressure.
Cleese describes the fact that because he thought that eventually he’d go into Law, that allowed him to be totally “free” on stage during the early part of his career. He wasn’t worried about failure and therefore was “funnier” than he might have been otherwise. The question was, what did the lack of pressure cause me to do differently? I began to take notes:
TAKING MY SWEET TIME
I have a tendency to be fast-paced in my performances, a habit possibly formed from my long history of entertaining in a dinner show whereas you must grab the attention of the audience and hold on for dear life; at any moment you could lose their focus if a waiter happeneds to stroll by with an ice-cold pitcher of beer. I noticed that at charity shows, I take my sweet time, feeling out the crowd, getting their vibes and allowing them to get mine.
IMPROVISATION AND AD-LIBBING
You can find reviews of my show on Tripadvisor and other travel blogs and articles that will state how much I interact and ad-lib with the audiences. I realized in my charity shows I do even more, most likely because as I said above, I take my time.
STICKING WITH THE NO-PLAN, PLAN
Heath Ledger as the Joker said, “I’m not a schemer, I don’t have a plan, I just DO things.” I realized that in charity shows, I would take a “bag of tricks”, having no idea exactly what I was going to use in that bag, no idea of a show order at all. I don’t necessarily recommend this ‘free-form” style, however for my personality it’s liberating. I leave these types of shows invigorated and energized. Having performed thousands of shows, the thought of doing them exactly the same way would have a negative effect on my performing style.
I’m not suggesting that you take part in volunteer/charity work in the hopes of personal gain but it did work out for me that way so I look at it as a win-win.