The Write Way
7 August 2009
Mmm ... I bet you're wondering, aren't you? Just what do the rear regions of small furry animals with a reputation for being feisty have to do with writing? Well, as the doctor said to the short man, "you'll have to be a little patient." All will be revealed in due season, in the fullness of time, before the day is out ...
As so often happens, we need to go back in time a little to fill in the background to our story. Come with me to a Saturday some weeks ago when the Love of My Life and I set off for a Big Night Out. We were going to watch one of our favourite performers, UK comedian, Ross Noble. If you enjoy the manic, ad-lib style of humour, Ross is your man. He's one of those performers who seems to work best when he's bouncing comments off his audience, but more about that anon.
Let's first embark on our eagerly-awaited night out, which we'd booked some weeks in advance, as is essential with these limited shows. We'd decided to go much earlier than was strictly necessary so we could indulge in one of our favourite pastimes -- people-watching.
The remarkable thing about this performer is that he appeals to such a wide audience; we watched indulgently as teens and twenty-somethings strolled by in all their weird and wonderful get-ups ... There were leggings and floral dresses; skinny jeans so tight they looked as if they'd been sprayed on and baggy pants clinging hopefully to hips; platform shoes so thick you needed a ladder to get up to them and stilettos so rapier-like they left holes in the floor. There were Emos, Geeks, Punks and Goths ... all we were missing were the Visigoths.
And then there were respectable, sensible business types in their suits and ties, rubbing shoulders with ageing hippies and others in Their Prime.
So we sat and watched the passing parade of our fellow fans until it was time to head for the allocated door, queue in an orderly fashion (as we've discussed before) and make our way to our seats.
Well, that was the plan, but what's that they say about the best-laid schemes o' mice an' men?
Ours most certainly gang agley that night! (Source)
As the time for the performance drew nearer, and the Goths and Visigoths began their relentless advances into our territory, we all started the Watch Dance. This is where people variously hold their arms up to look at the time, hurrumph and glance significantly in the direction of the door, then pull their sleeves down over their watches again, wriggling their shoulders as they do so. This is the signal for the person on either side of the original performer to do the same, and so it goes until everyone is hurrumphing and casting significant glances and tugging on sleeves like some bizarre mating ritual.
When the time for the performance to actually start rolled around and the doors still hadn't opened, the natives were really getting restless. Finally, one door opened a crack, and a hapless usher poked his head around the door to shout an apology before hurriedly closing it again and vanishing.
Twenty minutes later, the doors opened as if nothing was amiss and we all headed for our seats. Once there, it was plain what had caused the delay, because men-with-ladders were exiting, stage left, from the stage-in-the-round area in the centre of the auditorium, where we noticed a very large gap where the four (make that three) massive screens were hanging above the stage.
With the mystery solved, we settled in to enjoy the show. As I said, Ross Noble is not for the faint-hearted, and if you prefer your humour more genteel, best stay away. But for those who love to watch an agile mind at work (and play), he's a hoot.
I said that he ad-libs most of the performance, but that's not strictly true, because he always has a theme running through each show and has up his sleeve a selection of stories he can fall back on if the audience fails to provide sufficient fodder. As he comments, "I have ideas scribbled in various tatty note books then I get on stage and most of the time donít get around to doing the stuff Iíd planned to talk about."
This is quite different from the style of some of the classic comedians. Bob Hope is one who always appeared to be so laid back, so smooth in his deliveries and so unrehearsed, and yet every word was carefully scripted. Bob Mills was one of Hope's team of full-time writers, and he explains how Hope managed to make his performances appear off-the-cuff, "Working individually, we prepared eight to ten pages of topical jokes for each of Hope's live performances ... laced with local references prepared with the aid of questionnaires provided by local contacts. It was a process that had served Hope well for years -- allowing him to "personalize" each appearance with opening lines tailored to current happenings in that town or city. ("Nice to be here in Pitiful Falls -- the gateway to Nowheresville. I thought I'd visit your former mayor. What time are the jail visiting hours?) After a half-dozen or so local references, he'd segue into his regular material and the entire two-hour routine would seem 'fresh.'"
Sorry to dash your illusions about the creative talents of an icon! This week's Little Something Extra has more about life behind the scenes with Bob Hope.
I suppose you're wondering where the ferret tails come into all this ... Funny you should ask.
Ross Noble is a Geordie (from the UK) and he speaks very fast, add this to his obsessive approach to life and you have a bit of an idea about some of the misconceptions that can and do occur during his shows. At one stage, he was chatting about his new baby daughter and telling us that she enjoys ferret tails.
Hmmm, I thought, perhaps it's genetic, but then he went on to tell us the sort of ferret tails she enjoyed ... mostly the ones with trolls and giants and ...
Ah! Those ferret tails!
You can watch and listen to Ross Noble here. These short snippets from his shows give you some idea of his skill with the ad lib.
And if you're wondering why there's no hyphen in this use of ad lib, it's because when it's used as a noun or adverb, there is none, but when it's an adjective or verb, there is! So Ross Noble ad-libs (vb) his lines, in fact, he ad-libs (vb) throughout his shows and his ad-lib (adj) comments to the audience provide much of the humour. These ad libs (n) are an integral part of his performance.
You won't be surprised to hear the term comes from a Latin phrase ad libitum meaning 'at one's pleasure, as much as one likes' from the verb libere 'to please.'
dictionary.com explains that the term as an adverb is mostly used in scientific circles ... when writing prescriptions etc when it means 'freely; as needed; without stint.' e.g. "Water can be given to the patient ad lib."
Noble's ad libs begin when he chats with people he chooses at random from his audience. He'll ask their names and try to elicit some tiny piece of information about them that will then provide material for the next part of the show, as one poor man who claimed that a dance floor in Noble's hometown of Newcastle was a rotating floor, rather than a revolving floor, discovered. The next 30 minutes was devoted to stories involving rotisserie chickens going out on the town to this special nightclub and getting to the club early to claim their prong.
Spying a pregnant woman in the front row, he commented that Russian women don't give birth in the usual way, you simply unscrew them at their waists and there's a tiny person inside ...
This week's quiz:
These words are from Steve Fullenwider's 'Not So Correct Dictionary' ...
See if you can match the words with their definitions:
aardvark, teleprone, boasting, pronoun, skier, acoustic, alimony, golfer, luddate, poverty
1. having too much month left at the end of the money
2. one who yells "fore!" takes five and writes down three
3. strenuous labour
4. apt to answer a cell phone anywhere it rings
5. pitter-patter of little feats
6. someone who pays an arm and a leg to break them
7. instrument used in billiards
8. someone you are going out with who does not understand your obsession with technology
9. noun that has lost its amateur status
10. bye now, pay later
And here are some useful words unearthed by Rose Lund, one of our Merry Band form South Africa:
Testiculating: Waving your arms around and talking bollocks
Mystery Bus: The bus that arrives at the pub on Friday night, while you're in the toilet after your 10th pint, and whisks away all the unattractive people so the pub is suddenly packed with stunners when you come back in
Prairie Dogging: When someone yells or drops something loudly in a cube farm and people's heads pop up over the walls to see what's going on. (This also applies to applause for a promotion because there may be cake.)
I often trawl this for comments to post on my site ... so if you say something about the newsletter or site, be warned, you may end up being read by one of the 2,000+ unique visitors who visit Write101 every day! Make your Mark on the World. Then stop by our Map of the World and read the messages. (Just click List) and add your mark.
Have Your Say
If you have a couple of minutes to spare this weekend, feel free to drop by and join the Write101 community and leave your comments. These new comments boxes scattered throughout the site will also be a source for me when I'm looking for comments to post on my site, so if you say something about the newsletter or site, remember, you may end up being read by one of the 2,000+ unique visitors who visit Write101 every day! You'll find the new toys on the Home Page.
Did you know that every newsletter is archived? So if you've missed anything since 1998 or want to revisit some favourites, you can do so any time!
Don't forget to bookmark the page when you get there ... or even make it your Home Page. (For Internet Explorer, just click on Tools ... Internet Options ... General ... fill in www.write101.com/archives/index.htm and click OK. For Netscape, select Edit ... Preferences. Then select Navigator from the left menu, click Home Page and enter the URL above next to Location and click OK. For all the flash new browsers, you'll have to do a search on my mate google to find what to do. There's a search box on the archives page!)
If you've received this little missive from a friend, you can get your very own issue, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed every Friday morning by clicking here: mailto:WritingTipsemail@example.com And I'm even prepared to offer a shameless bribe.
Last week's quiz:
Here are some more of those words that prove what a wonderful language English is ...
bedizen, foofaraw, quiddity, badinage, pablum, galumph, faineant, lugubrious, atelier, plangent
1. excessive or flashy ornamentation; also, a fuss over a trivial matter - FOOFARAW
2. mournful; gloomy; dismal - LUGUBRIOUS
3. to dress or adorn in gaudy manner - BEDIZEN
4. to move in a clumsy manner or with a heavy tread - GALUMPH
5. a workshop; a studio - ATELIER
6. beating with a loud or deep sound - PLANGENT
7. doing nothing; idle; also, a do-nothing - FAINEANT
8. something (as writing or speech) that is trite, insipid or simplistic - PABLUM
9. light, playful talk - BADINAGE
10. the essence or nature of a thing - QUIDDITY
A Little Something Extra
A couple of months after he celebrated his 100th birthday, comedian Bob Hope took his final bow, bringing down the curtain on a career that stretched from Vaudeville to television. In those years, he gained a reputation as one of the industry's best performers, and now Bob Mills, one of his scriptwriters, takes us on the road with Bob Hope, providing insights into how this successful artist worked.
Bob Mills was just 17 the first time he met Bob Hope at a book-signing in his home town, "A queue quickly formed and I got into it, my copy of Bing's book clutched securely for action. Hope began signing, and, as he asked each person's name, would add a little joke or comment -- "O'Callahan. Jewish, huh?" -- an accommodation that slowed the process, but one that presaged something in his nature that, years later, I would observe time and again -- whenever he had the chance, he made fans and supporters feel that they were somehow special. It was the mark of a consummate salesman which, I would someday learn, he was.
"I reached the head
of the line and said "Hi, Bob." He nodded. Then, in that smart-alecky way only
teens can handle just right, I said, "I can't afford your book, but will this
do?" He looked at the dog-eared paperback, held it up for the others in line to
see -- it had a picture of Bing with his pipe on the front -- and tossed it
straight up, where it hovered momentarily at mezzanine level and then fluttered
to the floor like a wounded pheasant, landing beside a Hoover upright on sale in
the adjoining housewares department. The crowd reacted just as I expected they
would. My visual gag produced a spontaneous, genuine laugh. I had created my
first comic routine for Bob Hope!
According to Mills, working as one of Bob Hope's writers wasn't a typical job ...
"When you signed on with Bob Hope, it was akin to entering an ancient, tradition-laden religious order where you agreed to forego the temptations of the secular world in exchange for a life of unwavering loyalty, absolute obedience and, I have to admit, more thrills and excitement than anyone could possibly imagine.
"Hope himself was the first to point out that having maintained a staff of the most able writers he could find contributed as much to his sustained popularity and prodigious body of work as the uncommon physical stamina with which he had been genetically gifted.
"The unique performer-writer symbiosis that developed between Hope and his comedic entourage was the first -- and most likely will be the last -- of its kind.
"What follows is an inside look at how Hope's system operated -- one that I hope will provide clues as to why it did for seventy years."
Mills provides hundreds of jokes from Hope's TV Specials and shows as well as from his personal dealings. We're given a behind-the-scenes peek at how the team of writers, with Hope firmly at the helm, wrote and refined his material, working to a formula that worked every time!
Read more about Bob Hope.
Word of the week: Fustilug (n) gross, fat, unwieldy person; fat, clumsy, lazy, filthy slob
How charming! How many fustilugs have you come across recently?
Oxymoron of the week: fish fingers
And here's a Latin phrase for those idiots wielding spray cans ...
Stultorum calami carbones moenia chartae
[stool-TOH-roo kah-LAH-mee kahr-BOH-nees MOH-nee-ah KAHR-tay]
(Chalk is the pen of fools, walls (their) paper OR Grafitti is the work of idiots)
Recommend this page to other writers by clicking the Recommend it! button below, then see what pages others are recommending here.
Did you know that you can have your very own Latin reminders? How about undies proclaiming, Bene est rex esse? (It's good to be king) Or a shopping bag that warns, Emptrix nata sum (Born to shop)?
P.S. Want to donate to the upkeep of this newsletter? Just $17 a year seems a small price to pay for all this wit and wisdom, don't you think? C'mon, that's just a tad more than 30 cents a week!
1.Toss a few pennies into my Running Away Fund at PayPal (Send to jennifer @ write101.com ... without the spaces, of course) OR
2. Click here to subscribe for a full year OR
3. Use your credit card on my secure order form. (You can also access the PayPal subscription link from this page if the link above didn't work for you. With PayPal, you can use your credit card, PayPal account or pay online using your own cheque account.) OR
4. Send a cheque (made payable to Jennifer Stewart)
Copyright Jennifer Stewart 2009
Individual articles copyrighted by
Copyright 2009 Jennifer Stewart Write101.com