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Passing the torch for audience participation

By JIM BUSEK • Apr 9, 2019 at 10:00 AM

At last, the torch has been passed. I hope.

I am talking about the embarrass-the-guy-in-the-audience torch.

I have been that guy for decades.

Jay Leno got me good at the old Front Row Theater where I had the misfortune, as it turns out, to actually be sitting in the front row where Leno could pick on me.

Then there was the time magician Kerry Pollack had me up on stage holding an old fashioned egg beater to my forehead and cranking it to “channel your thoughts to the audience.”

Comedian Louie Anderson tried three times to get something going with me in Las Vegas a few years ago. But none of my responses gave him anything good to work with.

Then there was the time I was dragged onto the stage at Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas: roughed up and partially undressed by a mean circus clown. Very embarrassing.

But why is it always me?

Char thinks my being bald has something to do with it, that somehow an audience has more fun when a bald guy is the butt of the joke.

You might think I would have been safe at the Milan Public Library a few years ago when we took our little grandson, Jett, to see a performance by Jim Cruise, “The Spoon Man.” About 80 percent of the audience members were children under the age of eight. The rest were parents, grandparents and other assorted adults.

Mr. Cruise, as you probably guessed, plays the spoons. He does it, as folk musicians over the years have done, by holding a pair of spoons loosely in one hand and using the palm of his other hand to slap them against his thigh or knee. It is fun and charming and remarkable in its way.

And Mr. Cruise has that gift for performance which makes his show fun for all ages. He also — I wish I had known this in advance — has an audience participation segment.

And of course he starts it the way they always do, with a mischievous “Let’s see now, who am I going to pick?” expression while walking slowly into the audience, children squealing and adults avoiding eye contact.

Two kids actually volunteered. And I could have told the other adults not to worry; I knew where The Spoon Man’s search for an adult-to-be-humiliated would end: with his hand extended to the only bald guy in the room.

I will spare you the details. Let’s just say it involved me awkwardly playing some “training spoons,” square dancing a bit with The Spoon Man, and shouting “Yee Haw” in falsetto while wearing a platinum wig with pig tails. Yes, Mr. Cruise transformed the bald guy into a quite fetching blond girl.

The audience loved it.

And I was afraid it might happen again when we were in Las Vegas on a family vacation recently.

We took the aforementioned grandson, Jett, and his brother Zane to the Mac King

Comedy Magic Show.

And we ended up seated right smack in the front row.

My knees began to knock slightly when I saw there were some audience participation segments.

But Mr. King did not call me on stage. Instead, he got the guy right beside me, our 9-year-old grandson Jett.

Oh boy is that audience participation stuff fun when it is not you.

We all loved it when Mac King made a gold fish appear in a clear glass of water Jett was holding, popped it in his mouth, appeared to swallow it and then dazzled our little guy when the fish wriggled out of Mr. King’s mouth and back into the glass.

In another bit, Mac had Jett in and out of an onstage tent to verify that it was empty, that there were no trap doors and all that other magician patter. Two seconds later, a guy in a bear costume jumped out of that tent causing our little second grader to yelp and flee in amazement.

I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard. And it was a dream come true for 6-year-old Zane to see a scary bear chasing his big brother around the stage.

The Mac King Comedy Magic Show was a highlight of the vacation for all of us.

And it gave me a strategy for any future audience participation shows I might attend: 1. Be sure to take a kid along and 2. Consider wearing a hat or hairpiece.


Jim Busek is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] hotmail.com.

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