Another QuarterNote Heard From

Bill Sutton

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Shtick Two It

This week, we continue the discussion of wild and madcap antics executed without shame in front of crowds during the filksing. No, it isn't the Interfilk auction (well, not quite), we're talking about the use and abuse of shtick.

Remembering our discussion last week, and taking into account all the manners and common courtesies, you have decided to do shtick anyway. What reactions should you hope for or be afraid of?

Reaction Number One: "There was this time when Don was singing something I hadn't heard before. These two idiots came up behind him and started doing the stupidest stuff. Finally, they ended up covering him up completely and I couldn't see or hear a thing. It really ruined the song!"

Reaction Number Two: "It was the funniest thing I've ever seen at a filk. Don started singing and these two stood up and started acting out the song. Every time he sang a new line they came up with something else. I nearly wet myself laughing. The whole room was laughing so hard they had to stop and wait for things to quiet down before they could go on. I'll remember that for the rest of my life."

Now, which reaction are we going for? Anyone? Of course, the real question remains how to get and keep the reaction you want.

Tip 1: Know the Song

The easiest place to start working with shtick is to find songs that have shtick built in. One of the easiest places to find audience participation shtick is in children's songs - many silly songs aimed at youngers have hand motions associated that allow the audience to play while singing along with the song. A song that fits the mood of the filk and has these kind of motions built in can be a great place to ease your way into shtick - and to learn how to keep a straight face while shtick is being inflicted upon you.

When deciding whether to come up with new shtick to a song it is vitally important to know consider how well shtick will work with the song itself. This isn't easy. Shtick becomes the overwhelming impression that listeners and participants will have about the song, so be careful to understand how the song is received before deciding to add that extra element.

Can you add shtick to your own songs? Certainly if you wrote it as an audience participation song you would probably want to add any suggested movements yourself. My opinion is that the best shtick comes from an outside mind looking at the song just a bit differently.

Tip 2: Know the Singer

We covered this in last week's column, but it doesn't hurt to say it again. Be certain the singer is OK with things going on during the song.

Whenever possible, try doing yer thing with the knowledge and cooperation of the singer. This will give you another perspective on whether it is funny or not, and will also help you to avoid inadvertently messing up someone else's good time with your shtick.

If you are the singer being shticked (shtuck?), remember that the whole reason we are getting together is for everyone to have a good time. If the audience is having fun, then you are doing a good job. If at all possible throw yourself into the role of straight man and let the shtick happen.

Tip 3: Know the Situation

There are simply times when shtick is not appropriate. Even when appropriate, shtick is best when done sparsely. One or two shtick songs per hour seems to be the carrying capacity for even the most rowdy and hilarious filk. Most filks could do with much less than this.

Shtick can be and is often overdone. A shtick that is funny once may never be funny again. Before trying it once more, think carefully. Did it work the first time because of the combination of the song and the actions? Or was it because it was 4 am and everyone was drunk or tired or in an exceptionally silly mood?

Resist the temptation to do the same shtick over and over and over. As in most humor, leaving the audience wanting more is better than leaving the audience bored with the same old thing. Sometimes it is best, even though people are asking for it, to nod and give a knowing "you had to be there" smile.

It is Usually Not Done to do shtick someone else is known for while they are at the filk or even at the convention. Certainly you could speak to them first, and it will most likely be just fine, but they may be choosing not to do the shtick for one of the reasons outlined above.

Tip 4: Know the Audience

One thing must be mentioned here. There are people who simply do not like shtick. They will always respond with Reaction Number One. This is OK. People like different things, and different dynamics within a filk will produce these different things. You should learn to recognize this kind of audience. In particular, a filk that is going perfectly well doing quiet, pretty songs should not automatically be subject to a sudden change of mood because this will quite likely produce Reaction Number One.

Tired filkers can produce an audience that just wants everything to be normal (Reaction Number One) or that will laugh hysterically at anything (Reaction Number Two). This latter audience is a very good place to play with improvised shtick, because the audience will tend to have fun no matter what.

Never do shtick for an audience carrying weapons.

Tip 5: Know Yourself

Before you decide to try doing shtick, you need to be brutally honest with yourself. Can you tell a joke? Do you know when to stop? Do you have the skill not to overpower the song with the shtick? Can you tell if you are crossing any of the etiquette lines we've discussed above?

If you are trying improvised (rather than planned) shtick, you need to ask yourself additional questions. Have you done improv in a safer environment (like in a lion cage)? Can you make up jokes? Can you react quickly to a change in the situation?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, then find someone whose opinion you trust, someone whose answer to those questions is yes. Ask them to help you decide whether or not to go forward. Accept their answer and also remember that they may not be able to explain why something won't work. Don't be afraid to get a second opinion, but don't be so wedded to an idea that you lose sight of the ultimate goal - to have fun with it.

Will you always be successful if you follow these rules? Dude, if you believe that I've got some swampland in Florida to sell you. The best laid plans of filk and fen oft gang aglay, or something like that. We all get Reaction One at times - we just learn not to do that again.

So, give it a try! Next time the filk is winding down and is still a bit silly, pull out your best shtick and wave it around. Who knows what will happen until you try?

And, sometimes, I think that is the definition of filk.

Next week - Writer's Block

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Bill Sutton has been active in performing his own and others' music in public for fun and profit ... well, fun anyway ... for over 25 years. His column appears regularly as part of The Dandelion Report.

Copyright ©2001 Bill Sutton. All rights reserved.