To deadpan or not to deadpan

I realized about ten or so days ago that I wanted to be a Talk Show Host.

I’ve been amazed at the reactions from the people in my life. Most of the time, without fail, they say something like, “You’d be good at that” or “What a good idea.” I’m not surprised by the support of the people in my life–they are always truly wonderful that way. What I’m surprised by is the way that all of a sudden all the pieces of all of my projects start fitting together. I am a person of many diverse and spontaneous interests, and the forum of a talk show is suddenly the perfect fit for all (or most) of these.

On Saturday I got it into my head to film my first show three hours later. I accepted that it was going to be a true experiment. I had no script–only a guest and a few silly questions, a couple products to plug and a spattering of friends to be the studio audience who I knew would come through with ideas if we hit a lull. And they did–without their urging I wouldn’t have attempted a monologue and I probably would have gone on and on about the virtues of Tupperware far longer then I did.

My inaugural studio audience was composed of great friends who happened to be available. I did give them each a free gift (like every good talk show host!), but that doesn't nearly thank them enough for attending.

This inaugural filming, I faced many challenges–logistics, nerves, fear, and, perhaps most importantly, my inability to deadpan. One of the questions I wanted to ask Mike, my guest, was, “I have a cabinet in my kitchen that won’t stay closed. Is there anything analogous to that in your life?” (I don’t recall whether his answer was usable… I’m afraid that it won’t be…) I had to ask the question twice because the first time I found it so ridiculously funny that I cracked up.  Even the second time will only be usable if I cut to his reaction because I could not suppress my wide smile.

I could also cut to some footage of Mike seems we took so long getting everything ready that he was forced to take a nap. In my defense, we are a little worried he might be narcoleptic--he falls asleep virtually everytime he visits. Please note, we have many guests and the bulk of them only fall asleep if it's the wee hours of the morning.

This is a problem perhaps; I am extremely good at cracking myself up.  The talk show hosts I admire (a list I’m working on expanding!  Taking suggestions!) are able to keep their composure no matter how funny they might be or find themselves.  Stephen Colbert’s occasional crack up is the one exception I can think of (I don’t blame him!) but he is so quick to regain his composure.

I mentioned this to my friend BoAe who is on board to co-produce my talk show, and she seemed to think that I was fine cracking up.  It was my personality and the show would adjust.  Of course, she hasn’t seen the footage!  (I haven’t either, actually–who knows how much, if any, is usable!)

I will try not to dwell on the 29 wasted years I could have been learning to joke without laughing.  I am trying to stay thankful for my jovial nature and trust that I will find my own way to lead a talk show, unsuppressed laughter or no.  But seriously: if anyone has any tips, exercises, suggestions…please send them along!

I will spend my evenings this week piecing together a Talk Show so please stay tuned!

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0 thoughts on “To deadpan or not to deadpan

  1. As someone who’s been cultivating deadpan for years, I would suggest convincing yourself that what you’re saying is serious, and mainly, just completely relaxing your face muscles. If you try to hold them in place, it doesn’t work, just try to disengage your face entirely. That said, the most important thing as a talk show host is that you appear to be natural. So if you are naturally not deadpan, being an artificial deadpan is not going to showcase your unique personality because it will probably damper the other things that make you unique. However, I think even holding a straight face for a couple seconds before cracking up can be a valuable thing and can be funny in its own right. Better than cracking up while you’re saying it. I guess what I’m saying is don’t try to act like you’re deadpan when you aren’t, but it’s worth working on trying to keep a straight face, even if you can’t hold it indefinitely. Seeing you try to stop from laughing can make an audience want to laugh.

  2. I’ve always thought of you as a deadpan man. It is not naturally in my abilities to be deadpan so I should probably let it go. A friend pointed me to Arsenio Hall, who used to crack up all the time. That gives me inspiration in expanding my definition of what a good talk show host is.

    I do think it’s a good skill, so thanks for the tip about relaxing face muscles. That might actually help me when I cry too much at silly movies (a problem I have quite often…ha!).

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