Sometimes I don’t even try to be a funny as a funny speaker. It just happens.
As you might guess, over the course of more than 30 years of stage work I’ve had a lot of crazy stuff happen. I’m not just talking the normal things like dishes crashing (how about not trying to carry 20 at a time), power outages (although I do look better in the dark), and bad microphones (I’ve spoke into more dead mikes than an Irish undertaker). I’m talking about the truly off the wall, “you ain’t gonna believe this” type of stuff. I’ve had medical emergencies, food fights, a stage collapse, a head table fall off the riser during dinner, a raccoon scamper through the room sending the audience into a frenzy, and once had four people show up in a venue that was set for 1200. Where were the other thousand? The attendees had a program option: listen to me or have breakfast. I can’t blame the people for picking breakfast. I’ve seen my show. Food is better.
But a few weeks ago I had maybe the oddest thing ever happen to me when I’ve been hired as a funny speaker to cap off a convention. Here’s the Reader’s Digest version.
After my program there were some brief awards and the emcee asked is I would stick around and help with the ceremony. I obliged. You may ask why I would agree to stay and shake the hands of recipients I didn’t know, but the reasons are simple. I always give of myself to the client, and I had not yet been paid. So, here I am presenting plaques when a robust gentlemen in his 50’s came forward to receive his award. The following pieces of information are critical and shall recuse me of stupidity. I DID NOT see him carrying a small cup of coffee in his left hand, AND I temporarily glanced away to grab the award, WHILE he was placing that cup of coffee on an elevated table behind me. Read that last sentence again if you don’t have a clear picture in your head. As I turned back to him, it APPEARED TO ME that he was making a gesture to hug. That’s right, I thought he wanted to hug me, NOT just get a handshake.
Let me digress for a moment and discuss the awkward nature of a man hug. It has nothing to do with sexuality or manliness. Those things are immaterial as to whether it’s appropriate or not. The key factor to eliminate awkwardness is that both man huggers have to be thinking the same thing. You either both want to hug, or you both don’t want to hug. You have to be on the same page. Well we weren’t on the same page. We weren’t even in the same book.
In mid-handshake I thought I had to convert to a hug, so I leaned towards him completely off balance thinking I would be able to steady myself by leaning on him. Except he wasn’t planning on hugging so he was caught off guard and off balance too. It was like two drunk overweight ballerinas performing a routine way beyond their capabilities. And remember, neither one of us wants to be in this dance. I believe it was Plato that said, “nothing ever good or graceful has come from reluctant huggers”. I could be wrong on that quote. Anyway, we don’t have the skill set or athleticism for this and it was at this point that our feet got tangled up. Because we were both off balance, we stumbled, tripped, and hit the deck. Not gracefully slumping to the ground, more like a WWE takedown. Ka-boom!
I told you this guy did not want me to hug him. Well he didn’t want me lay on top of him either, particularly with my head buried in his chest. That’s because my arms were pinned behind his beefy frame. I couldn’t get up. From virtually any vantage point in the room, it appeared as though I was very comfortable cuddling with my new friend. I wasn’t. Of course when I tried to get up, the only thing I could move was my behind, so it’s sticking up in the air and now this visual has gotten completely out of hand. It was kinda’ awkward. And at this point I’m sensing he’s not all that pleased with the situation either. I knew this because he yelled “what the hell are you doing?” I’ve always been good at picking up clues.
The good news: Once we both stood up and the audience knew we were okay, they burst into room shaking laughter. And you know me, I’ll do anything for a laugh. The bad news: We shared a hug, a laugh, and a roll on the floor, and I haven’t heard from that guy since. No flowers, no phone call, nothing. Apparently it wasn’t that special for him.
Mark Mayfield, A Funny Speaker with a Serious Message