Event Planning And The Scourge Of Round Banquet Tables

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Let’s be serious for a moment: audiences should be seated facing the speaker.

Imagine a photographer going from round banquet table to round banquet table taking pictures of people without asking anyone to turn around and face the camera. To do so would be absurd. But it’s no more absurd than introducing a speaker or entertainer when much of the audience – by virtue of the fact that they’re sitting at round banquet tables – still have their backs squarely facing the podium or stage.

Before introducing an entertainer or speaker to the stage, take a page from the photographer playbook and request that those whose backs are to the stage to at least offer the presenter their profile.

This and a few other simple changes very often make the difference between an audience which is engaged and one that is not.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or learn how a head injury forced me to reinvent myself from a conventional to a comedic juggler.

How SodaStream Might Reverse Its Fortunes By Telling A New Story

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Yesterday the New York Times published an article about the challenges facing SodaStream, the “once-hot device for do-it-yourself sodas”. SodaStream, according to the article, has responded to reduced sales and profits by unveiling “a new line of fruit flavorings like pomegranate açaí, green tea lychee and yuzo mandarin”. The article also outlines the difficulty SodaStream has encountered convincing Americans to make traditional soda (i.e. soft drinks) at home.

So what’s going on here? It seems to me that SodaStream is diluting its brand by telling two very different stories to two very different groups. One one hand they offer an array of exotic, healthy-sounding and unpronounceable beverages aimed at the health-concious, New Age-ists, women, etc. At the same time they promise the working-class the seemingly-irresistable allure of essentially making Red Bull at home. The disparity between these two stories might be what is causing SodaStream’s sales to flag.

So what to do?

What if SodaStream stopped telling both these stories and committed to a new, third story? The story is simple: Slake your real craving: bubbles.

It wouldn’t be difficult to find ways to make Diet Coke drinkers, for example, aware that what their bodies really crave isn’t aspartame but bubbles. Trying to convince the Mountain Dew and Red Bull crowd to make soft drinks at home is waste of time because it isn’t worth their time.

As for the yoga crowd who wouldn’t touch a can of soda with a ten-foot pole, SodaStream can offer the opportunity to make the healthiest of all beverages even more enjoyable right in the privacy of their home, not to mention the opportunity to advertise their virtue right there in the corner of their kitchen.

There are several ways to tell this new story. By reminding everyone, for example, of the adverse affects of virtually all non-water beverages on healthy teeth, SodaStream might be able to position itself as the purveyor of something remarkable: a healthy beverage that not only fills you up but does not make you think about your next trip to the dentist.

In short, SodaStream should consider getting out of the water-flavoring and pseudo-soft drink business and shake their real moneymaker: the tantalizing possibility of a perfectly-healthy beverage which also makes you feel full.

Thoughts or comments? Leave them in the section below.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch me juggle plastic grocery bags at the Magic Castle in Hollywood.

Marketing 101: The Value Of Being “The Only”

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Thanks to the good people at “America’s Got Talent!” for the flattering photo.

In marketing – and certainly in show business – it never hurts to be able to call yourself “the one and only” of virtually anything. I am happy to inform audiences that I’m the only performer ever kicked off America’s Got Talent! by just describing my act.

The same goes for being the most, the least, the tallest, the ugliest. It piques people’s curiosity. From time to time I toy with the phrase “World’s funniest juggler” but then I realize that that’s tantamount to calling myself the world’s tallest dwarf.

Thoughts? Comments? Leave them in the section below.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch me tell jokes at the Magic Castle.

Indifference: The Cruelest Criticism Of All

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There are two types of critics: those who wish to help you improve  and those who wish to discourage you from improving. It’s difficult to generalize about the former: these generous critics may or may not have not have experienced the trial-and-error process necessary to achieve success.

The latter, however – the cynical, petty critics – have little or no personal experience with success or, for that matter, even failure. If they did, they’d know that criticism – even unfair criticism – has no discernible effect on those who see failure as a speed bump and nothing more.

Those who criticize in order to discourage are engaged in projection: why else do they do so unless criticism had a discouraging effect on them?

So don’t waste time wondering if criticism comes from “a good place”: the critic knows where it comes from and all that matters. Your job is to be thankful that you even merited their attention, indifference being the cruelest criticism of all.

Thoughts? Leave them in the comment section below.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch me perform live at the Nerdmelt Theater in Hollywood.

Panic vs. Professionalism

When it comes to life or death decisions, your monkey brain does a far better job than your conscious mind. If you’re in a car skidding out of control, it can save your life. It causes your eyes, ears, hands and feet to focus and function maximally, thereby preventing you from allocating precious mental energy mid-skid to such potentially-deadly thoughts such as “I’m such a loser for driving so carelessly on ice”.

Such thoughts – if thought at all – are best reserved for such a time when survival is assured. Unfortunately, our monkey brain never shuts up, treating every decision we face as a life-changing, if not potentially life-ending.

Being a professional means learning to ignore your monkey brain.

Some time ago a particularly talented and accomplished friend arranged to attend my show. I felt honored by this and told him so. I was honored even more when he announced his intention to attend my return engagement at the same venue just ten months later.

Shortly before the show I was walking on the sidewalk outside the venue and there was my friend! “Hey, are you doing any new material?” he asked. “I’ve got some new stand-up” I said, meekly. “Just new stand-up?” he said. “Plus I kick a coin into my eye socket now” I added, now more desperate than meek.

“But haven’t you always done that one?” he wanted to know. I explained that it was never a staple of my act and now it is, thanks to a new context I found for it.

“Well, I may not stick around for the entire show”.

It would have been easy to listen to what my monkey brain was chattering at me: “You’re a loser! Why would you ever think he’d want to see the same show he saw just ten months ago?”

At that moment – less than two hours before taking the stage – my job entails, among other things, being in a positive frame of mind. If circumstance did not quickly place my friend in the company of others, I would have had to politely excuse myself from his presence.

In other words, although not yet onstage I was already work and I wasn’t going to let anyone prevent me from finishing the job.

I often think of the movie Apollo 13, in which the astronauts and their support team on earth must show tremendous creativity and work ethic in order save the astronauts’ lives. As professionals, they know that frustration is deadly. A sense of being overwhelmed is deadly. Reflecting on the unfairness of it all is deadly. Wondering how it will all turn out is deadly.

Such subjects are appropriate over beers once the mission is complete, but when you have a job to do they serve only as distractions. When saving a life means saying “You’re going to build a filter out of duct tape, nylon and a coat hanger”, it doesn’t help to add “Does that frustrate you?”

If it’s not part of the mission, it compromises the mission.

Not long ago I would have thought that my friend’s boorish behavior came at the worst-possible moment. But as a professional, I realized that his timing was perfect: after all, I had a job to do and was therefore free to politely ignore him, which is what I did by focusing on the task at hand.

Do you have thoughts on professionalism? Leave them in the comment section below.

Return to www.daviddeeble.com or wach me juggle in fast motion on The Tonight Show.

Funny vs. Not Funny: A Primer

Extreme shortness: funny

Height extremes: funny

Well-defined abs: unfunny

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People ask me all the time: “Mr. Deeble, can you teach funny?” I always say the same thing: “You will address me as Dave or David: I believe I’ve earned it”. Which brings me to tip #1: be funny right off the bat.

Let me save you some time: despite proliferation of books, workshops and comedians which purport to teach you how to be funny, comedy cannot be taught. No one considers a particularly funny person and thinks “Boy, she’s really well-taught”. Why can’t comedy be taught? Because comedy requires comedic instincts and great comedy requires great comedic instincts. And you can’t teach instinct.

Take an example: well-defined abs. Few things in the world are more unfunny than a chiseled pack of six-pack abs. A thought experiment: recall of one of the funniest people (famous or otherwise) you are aware of when you were witnessing him at the height of his hilarity. Was it your co-worker at that time at the Christmas party? Was it Brian Regan talking about how great it’d be at parties to be one of the men 12 who’s walked on the moon?Whatever it was, remember what it was like to experience in real time what this person said or did that struck you as so hilarious. Recall what it felt like, both physically and emotionally, to engage in that wonderful thing called uncontrollable laughter. Got it? Good. Now imagine once again but this time imagine the hilarious person with chiseled, six-pack abs. He just got considerably less funny, didn’t he?

Probably it has something to do with the discipline, vanity and low-fat diet that great abs connote. If possessing one or even two of these attributes makes being funny an uphill battle, then great abs are the trifecta of unfunny.

Let me be clear: merely having great abs is not disqualifying. But like a medical doctor educated in the Caribbean, it’s best to keep it to yourself. In other words, don’t be this guy.

As long as we’re talking about physical attributes, being a “little person” is about as funny as you get. And not just because the term “little person” seems more offensive than the term it replaced, though that helps (offensiveness is funny. We’ll call that tip #2). And though I’m not a “little person” in the clinical sense (I can drive a car and stuff) I’m sufficiently diminutive to get away with jokes like these.

Which brings me to one of the great things about comedy: good looks are hindrance (call it tip #3 for maximum clickability). If you’re regular-looking, you’re ahead of the game. You may even be able to get away with slightly-above average looks. But people with aggressive good looks have a hard time of it, especially when they first come on stage. It’s distracting! The sooner the audience stops looking at you and starts listening to you, the more success you’ll have.

If you want to be a success at comedy but suffer from inordinate good looks, take my advice: give it a couple decades.

Thoughts? Comments? Leave them below.

Return to www.daviddeeble.com or see why I’d make a lousy magician.

Happy Performers Make Happy Audiences

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The Orange County Magic & Comedy Showcase in Orange, California is remarkable: instead of limiting the amount of time performers spend on stage, its producer and emcee Joe Derry limits the number of performers. By leaving it to performers to self-police their time on stage, they are freed to spend all their focus on what they’re doing.

Everyone – including the audience – benefits tremendously.

“No one is prowling the back of the room with a watch and a flashlight, waiting to give you your two-minute light” explains Derry. The result is like a much-needed breath of fresh air: performers are relaxed and enjoy an unmistakable sense of camaraderie that’s virtually impossible with the assign-a-slot mindset that prevails at so many showcases.

When I was building up my stand-up comedy act at open-mics, giving performers “the light” was deemed a necessity – and few things go further to ensure that performers are put on ice from the moment they arrive.

By limiting the number of sign-ups instead of the amount of time they spend on stage, Derry’s showcase avoids another problem that famously vexes the format: an audience that consists mostly of sign-ups anxiously waiting their turn. At the OCMC showcase, the audience is comprised overwhelmingly of Orange county locals patently grateful to have a different (and free) magic show right in their own backyard each month.

Learning magic under the auspices of the Long Beach Mystics, Joe Derry knows that happy entertainers mean happy audiences: a lesson more bookers and show producers would do well to learn.

(In addition the monthly showcase, Joe also stars in his own weekly show, Merlin’s Magic & Comedy Dinner Theatre. Both are hosted by the Rib Trader restaurant).

Questions or comments? Leave them in the section below.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch me relate an awkward conversation I had on an elevator.

Difficult Things Make You Happy

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My son loves watching videos and playing games on our iPad. He become giddy with excitement when I allow him to do so. The problem is that when it’s time to stop, he invariably becomes sullen and moody.

I point out to him the transformative effect the iPad or – more precisely – turning off the iPad – has on him. In response, he promises he’ll be more self-aware (my words, not his) when his time is up. And when his time is up, I’ll be damned if he doesn’t slide right back into grumpiness. It’s as if we had never had our conversation.

Conversely, homework is something which he does not look forward to. He’ll do it, to be sure, but he does so grudgingly. And when he’s done? He’s happy.

In short, the iPad makes him unhappy and homework makes him happy. Why then does he not plea for more homework and less time on the iPad? Because he, like most of us, lacks self-awareness. He thinks the iPad makes him happy because it’s fun. He thinks homework makes him unhappy because it’s boring.

Like many others, I have struggled with cultivating the self-awareness to do those things which make me happy. One area where I have largely succeeded is exercise. For example, I’m an avid runner, putting in anywhere between 20 to 50 miles week. My primary motivator is knowing that getting my run in – even if it’s only a relaxed 30-minute jog, makes me happier, not to mention more pleasant to be around. (“I owe it to others!”).

Would I characterize running long distances as fun? Not really. Do I wake up each morning aching to find time to put my tired legs to the test? No. Do I ever put up a big, fat zero in my running long because I just can’t bring myself to lace up and head out the door? All the time. But in general, it because I have enough self-awareness regarding the effects of exercise on my mood to get some in each day.

Notice the parallel: exercising is for me what homework is for my son: not something I particularly want to do but something I have to do because not doing it will make me irritable. Which, funnily enough, makes me want to do it.

If you’re a responsible person, the vast majority of your days are spent doing things you’d rather not be doing. At this very moment I can think of many things I’d rather be doing than sitting in Minneapolis airport writing this blog. So why am I doing it? Because I know that having written it and sent it out into the world I will have accomplished something and accomplishment is one of the greatest sources of happiness.

There’s part of us that wishes we could enjoy a sense of accomplishment without doing the hard work it necessitates. Call it the path of least resistance, the death wish or just plain laziness. The point is that if you think of those things you have to do as essential for happiness, you’d do them more gladly.

Comments? Leave them in the section below.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch me roll a billiard ball around my head.

Generating Buzz And Power Of The Unexpected

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Some time ago I was thinking of ways to increase my post-show merchandise sales. I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable when watching other performers attempt to reach into the pockets of their audience before the conclusion of their show and I had little desire to follow their example.

But then an idea occurred to me: what about thanking my volunteer during each show by giving him a complimentary edition of my dvd Look What I Can Do! (Not available online or in stores!) That way I could at least make audiences aware that I have merchandise without doing any kind of onstage hard-sell – or any onstage selling at all, for that matter.

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I kept it simple: after inviting my volunteer to return to his seat (to the audience’s applause, of course), I would produce my dvd and point out the following: “Now, Steve, here was sitting in the audience just like the rest of you folks, but then I plucked him out of the ether, as it were, and he found himself onstage in front of everyone with spotlight in his eyes and so forth. And I think he did a great job assisting me. So I’m going to give him a complimentary dvd of my entire show.”

Having performed thousands of shows throughout my life, I thought I had encountered every kind of audience response, from utter indifference to nervous laughter to hanging onto every word that comes out of my mouth in anticipation of more hilarity. But I had never encountered the response of audiences to giving something away unexpectedly.

I’ve given away countless dvds in this manner over the last couple of years and audiences always respond in the same manner, yet it never ceases to amaze me. How to describe it? They react to this unselfconscious act of thanking my volunteer (while making them aware of a thing) with… a gasp. No, not the kind of gasp that’s triggered by performing a dangerous stunt or boarding an airplane wearing shorts. It’s the kind of gasp that results from witnessing the unexpected.

It’s important to note that it’s the unexpectedness of the gesture rather than the magnitude of its generosity that generates the buzz: after all, though slick-looking, each dvd cost me only a couple of bucks to mass produce. (But even there, my volunteer discovers more unexpected surprises inside, such as a blooper reel and commentary feature in which I describe how I dreamt up each routine and so forth).

I always thought I should be able to create and sustain buzz by simply doing  great work. But great work my audiences and clients expect. A little gift for a volunteer for briefly helping me out onstage? That’s unexpected.

By thinking up ways to improve my merchandise sales I accidentally discovered a way to generate the kind of joy and excitement that every performer and salesperson seeks.

Naturally, if my volunteer so desires I’ll sign the dvd for him after the show. How’s that for a great way to start a conversation?

Thoughts? Suggestions? Leave your comments in the section below.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch me try out new jokes on a baby.

Outwitting Your Inner Perfectionist

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If you have children you know that they can sometimes be unflattering reflections of yourself.

“Put your pants on, Luke”, I often tell my 6-year old son, adding “Put down your Transformer and put your pants on”.

“Put your shoes on, Luke”, then “Set down your biscotti and put your shoes on.”

Oftentimes I have to explain to myself what I explain to Lucas: you save time by doing one thing at a time.

For children, of course, saving time isn’t a priority because it’s one thing they have in abundance. For adults, though, this tendency to do more than one thing at a time is a result of run-of-the-mill perfectionism.

I call it “run-of-the-mill” perfectionism because many of us think perfectionism is an attribute solely of artists or surgeons. Worse, many of us think of perfectionism as a positive thing, spurring us to higher and higher levels of achievement.

Real perfectionists know that the most-common side-effect is difficulty getting anything done. Those truly in thrall to perfectionism try to do everything at once because, well, what’s the point of trying to do one thing at a time when perfection is always beyond reach?

Blogs, as a medium, have helped me to see that if you take something seriously, doing it consistently is infinitely more important than doing it perfectly. But only by doing it consistently was I able to learn this.

Even on the most popular blogs, after all, it isn’t unusual to find misspellings, grammatical mistakes, etc. We readers don’t interpret such mistakes as failures as such. Blogging has evolved into a conversational medium, where the most successful ones tend to be personal, helpful and free, none of which requires that every i be dotted and every crossed.

What does this mean for you? It means that people – readers, audiences, bosses – respond to openness and authenticity more than to perfection and panache. (I learned this the hard way).

It means that if you’re intimidated by the prospect of writing book, commit to writing three books. Instead of updating your resumè, consider replacing altogether with your story. What do you wish to accomplish? What have you started? Captaining your high school chess club is pretty cool.. Founding your high school chess club is even cooler and tells us something about you. (This is great advice to give your children, by the way. If your child’s school has no German club, encourage him to start one and help him every step of the way. Imagine how transformative it is to be reminded of your power – even as a child – to start things).

So take a chance and start something, finish it and send out it out into the world. If you can do that, you’re ahead of the vast majority of others who wish they had the courage to do the same but substitute it with the unfulfilling rewards of anonymity. 

Will your thing fail to set the world on fire? Probably. But you’ll learn firsthand that you had much less to fear than you thought.

But what if everyone hates it? That’s the perfectionist in you again, telling you, in effect, that you’ve got one shot and that it has to be perfect. But you don’t have one shot: you have a new shot everyday. In fact, each moment provides you with an endless supply of new opportunities to say “Let’s see what happens”.

When you fail, tell yourself “Well, at least I got that out of the way”. You’ll find that your inner-perfectionist, for once, has nothing to say.

So use both your hands, pull up your pants and see what happens.

Did this blog suck? Let me know in the comment section below and I promise you, there will be a lot more.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch me fail on stage in front of hundreds of people.