On the "dizziness of freedom" that accompanies an improvised performance
Once a knock came on my office door, and when I answered it, one of the heads of Strategic Communications at UC Davis wanted to know if I would be willing to appear on televised panel that was starting in five minutes? I said yes.
Evidently a panel of VIPs was missing an important alumnus who had to cancel because of car trouble. I was being asked to stand in for him, to be interviewed alongside then Provost Ralph Hexter and a number of other faculty and administrators. As the mic was being attached to a orange necktie that I thought well complemented my black shirt (this taping took place on Halloween), one of my colleagues looked at my outfit and said, “Somebody didn’t read the memo.” Evidently everyone else on the panel was told what sort of clothes to wear and not wear. As you can tell from the photographs, back then I had a jet-black beard and bright orange pants. If it were not for the tie, I would have looked like a pirate who had recently escaped from the brig / county lockup.
Just before we started taping, I asked one question of our moderator: “What is our topic?” He responded, “The future of the student experience at UC Davis.” Great, I said, I’m ready to go. As you can tell from the transcriptof the 2013 interview, at least the moderator did me the courtesy of asking me the second question, instead of the first. The first thing Provost Hexter said when the director finally yelled “cut” was that he was especially impressed with the only one of us who was not given time to prepare. I replay those kind remarks when I’m having a hard day.
Unlike most people (one thinks of the Seinfeld line: “To the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy”), I love public speaking, and I actually love being put on the spot the way that I was that day in October. Just as I enjoy playing cards with friends, but not doing card tricks, I enjoy making jokes, but I don’t know if I could ever write a joke.
This is why, even though I am a writer, I believe I do a better job when I don’t script out every word when I give talks and presentations, than when I do. When actress and comedian Bonnie Hunt was recruited to join the cast of Saturday Night Live, she was asked if there would be any room for improvisation, and Lorne Michaels told her “Absolutely not.” As a performer, I’m more in the Hunt camp than the Michaels camp.
This past Saturday night, I did work from a script. I performed a fifteen-minute Pub Quiz at the Davis Chamber of Commerce Installation Gala, their biggest event of the year. Such a short allotment of time meant seven questions and a tiebreaker before I sent teams to confer in their Zoom rooms. By the time we determined the winners (not surprisingly, the team with Mayor Partida and Vice-Mayor Frerichs came in first), and I thanked everyone, we were hauled back into the main Zoom room to hear speeches from the prizewinners. I “finished” about five seconds after we ran out of time. Perhaps a spare moment of improvisation caused the discrepancy, but I immediately forgave myself, knowing how much I relished working a live crowd again!
The Chamber event was as well run as the three-camera shoot back in 2013, but this time, instead of a crew of camera operators and a seasoned director, the entire evening was supported by Tim Kerbavaz, the founder of Talon Audio-Visual, and something called Zoom OSC. It was remarkable how much Tim could do from one control room. I was reminded of Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quotation: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Although we won’t have the advantage of the Kerbavaz magic, I am available to run synchronous Zoom Pub Quizzes for special events. If you are supporting the Pub Quiz on Patreon at the Adamantium Tier (I’m looking at you, Original Vincibles), you can schedule your bonus event now at no extra charge. For the rest of you, I look forward to seeing how I can add a bit of televised trivia to your lives. If you always suspected that you were smarter than most people you know, including your distant cousins in Chicago or Edinburgh, now is a good time to arrange a family or group competition and have it confirmed.
I appreciate all my subscribers. If you support the Quiz on Patreon and would like to see the bonus quizzes I wrote last week for the Davis Chamber of Commerce or the Unitarian Church of Davis (new supporters!), please let me know. Thanks especially to the teams known as The Mavens, Quizimodo, Quizzers with Attitude, Portraits, The Outside Agitators, and Bono’s Pro Bono Oboe Bonobos. Let’s add your name or team name to the list for next time.
Stay healthy! I am vaccinated, and soon you will be, too! look forward to returning to a Pub later this year and returning to all the scripted and unscripted hilarity that we have waiting for us. I had better start exercising my lungs now!
P.S. Here are three questions from last week’s quiz:
Books and Authors. According to Lewis Carroll, what kind of rabbit is crazy?
Current Events – Names in the News. What former European leader was recently sentenced to three years in prison for corruption?
Sports. When Hank Aaron broke the home run record, whose record was it?
P.P.S. “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” Soren Kierkegaard