Showbusiness or ShowArt ?

There’s no star system in Canada. That’s the problem.

I’ve been working in show business long enough that its impossible not to be a little bit jaded by it. Since the age of 16 the showing of magic tricks and making them funny has been my sole source of income.

Starting out its everyone’s wild ambition to be the next David Copperfireld or George Carlin. Of course the longer you keep at it, the less naive you become. You realize there’s a little more to it than that. I always thought magic specifically needed the equivalent of the A&R person in the music industry.

Someone to be the liaison between the artist and the agents, event planners, managers and producers. Without that person its difficult to create good work, build an audience AND do business and marketing. I believe, in part, the absence of an A & R person is what drove me in my teens to the world of conference performing.It seemed so impossibly impossible to become famous as a magician. I may as well go for the money and not waste my time trying to become a household name, that was the thinking of the day. This is Canada, there are no household names. Better to make a couple hundred grand a year, I thought, and have no one know my name than languish in poverty trying to build an audience that may never form. I probably should have gone after the audience. I may be happier now.

Every parent wants their kid to be the next Wayne Gretzky or Einstein. In my case I’d like my son Ferris to be the next Flaubert, Fran Lebowitz or even better, James Thurber. The likelihood of achieving that level of quality is incredibly rare. REALLY rare. I think for his own comfort and security I’d rather him be like Stephen King or Clive Barker. Functional writers who make a lot of money. Their literature is neither crap nor ground breaking, but the general readership enjoys their work. Certainly they are no Kurt Vonnegut or Philip Roth. I suppose that’s what I am : the functional writer of live performance. I do very good, solid funny work, but I’m not breaking much new ground.  I look back and think what if I’d taken the chance to see what I could have built with the theatrical going public.  Instead I chose to cater the corporate conference and convention crowd.  Had I chosen the former, I bet I’d have had something to say.

So there it is, what do you do? Run after the artistic goal of having an audience come to you? Do you develop an art that appeals to an existing audience? There’s no support for new artists in Canada, little in the way of business help and the country is vast and wide. These things make touring difficult and expensive. As a result I am the conference and convention comedian and magician. Comedy Magic for Corporate Events — Take the Boredom out of the Boardroom.  That’s my slogan.  Seriously.
I may have made the right choice, but who knows.

Believe me when I tell you its a remarkable feat to run your whole life making enough money to support a family from live performance exclusively. Especially in a niche market like the world of conferences. In fact, its so rare I can think of maybe 5 comedians or variety comedians in Canada that have done it.  By that I mean without the financial support of a spouse, a second source of income or family money. In that regard I’m pretty pleased with myself.  I managed ( so far ) to beat the odds in the financial sense.  I realize that the content of the work I’ve created does pander to corporate environment and the people who attend its retreats and outings. I’m confident I can always go over very, very well at any corporate affair. If you’d asked the 17 year old me if this is the material I’d dreamed of performing, I’d say that its not.  I’d rather be doing things that interest me. I once wanted to do a bullet catch routine who’s story centred around William Burroughs shooting the apple off his wife’s head. That seems infinitely more interesting that ripping up and restoring someone’s Brooks Brothers suit jacket.

We all make our choices.  I’m not unhappy with mine. I have a very good life.

I wish Canada offered more support to young performing artists. Maybe I’d have taken greater risks and gone for something closer to what I truly wanted. No one can know for sure how it’s going to turn out.  I guess that’s the problem and the lure of the arts. If you’re truly an artist interested in creating satisfying work there’s a ton of risk involved especially in my country. That’s frightening and who wants to end up broke.? Then again as William H Shedd says :

“A ship is safe in harbour, but that is not what a ship is built for.”

Something to think about kids…. Hey, I see a ship in the harbour. Its Blue Monday, by New Order.  Formerly Joy Division, formerly the Stiff Kittens

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