Barry Welsh Celebrity Blog. 06.01.11
Although reality television (Question! Is there anything that looks and feels more un-real than reality television? ) and fly-on-the-wall style sitcoms & documentaries are very popular, many tv shows are still made ‘ the old way’ , in a television studio in front of a live audience. Well, a large percentage of them are alive at least.
Another percentage are only there because their wife, partner, mate, parent or someone they met in the ‘pub across the road just before the recording, who had all their own teeth and a clean shirt, asked them along.
Then there’s the handful who sit there, stone-faced, totally refusing to smile, laugh, applaud or acknowledge that just a few feet away, down there on the studio floor, someone is knocking himself out trying to entertain them.
That’s why it’s so important that twenty or so minutes before the big name star of the show appears, while he or she are still being made-up and coiffed and generally fussed-over and cosseted backstage, the audience members, some of whom might have had a rotten day at work and all of whom may been have queuing outside in the cold, need to be put in a jovial, receptive mood so that they can fully appreciate the entertainment about to commence.
This is where the audience ‘warm-up man‘ comes in. Through that little green door over there. On the right.
The studio warm-up man is without doubt the un-sung hero of the world of television entertainment. It’s true. Well have you ever heard a song about a warm-up man? Well there you go! My point is proved. He remains completely un-sung.
Quite a few years back I managed to convince the head of light entertainment at itv that I was the tv studio warm up guy they needed.
As he was laying semi-conscious , flat out on the cheap, grime-stained, thirty-year old lino of his office floor, clutching the large ( but now almost empty ) bottle of Bells I had cheerfully and blatantly handed to him as a bribe less than an hour before, I didn’t have to utilise all my persuasive skills to convince him. No, I just had to promise him he’d receive a similar bottle every Monday morning for the next eight weeks – wrapped inside a copy of the Daily Sport to save him any embarrassment.
Of course, as some of the more astute amongst you you might have guessed, that previous paragraph was ever-so-slightly embellished for comic effect. The truth of the matter is, it was actually a large bottle of Teachers.
Not long after that rather embarrassing episode, I received a telephone call from Absolutely Productions in London asking me if I’d like to work with them on a new series of their successful comedy show ‘Barry Welsh is Coming’ starring the uniquely talented and highly quirky comedian with a sense of bawdy humour that could bring a blush to the cheeks of Chaucer, Swansea’s most famous export – Mr. John Sparkes.
Initially I thought that the call was a wind-up from one of my mates. But when I thought about it, I realised I didn’t have any mates, so the call must have been genuine. After I graciously accepted the job, they brought up the thorny subject of money. So this is where my vast experience over many years in financial advice came in to play. Armed with this knowledge and also knowing a thing or two about how show business works, I said “Well….how much do you want? “.
They said “No, ‘Phil. We will pay you a fee for warming-up the audience at every show!”.
They mentioned a figure that they thought was reasonable to cover my work over the whole series and…after I had got up off the floor and dusted myself down…the deal was done.
They said they’d be in touch very soon with the dates, and I think they were a little taken aback when I mentioned that I wasn’t too keen on dates but I was quite partial to the occasional olive.
Initially I thought that I had bitten off more than I could chew. But a quick visit to my dentist confirmed that I’d just got a bit of toffee stuck between my third and fourth molar.
However, Absolutely Productions was (and I’m sure still is) a company that clearly knew how to treat people and make them feel special. They had values that I hold close – yes it’s all about people, all the rest is just so much stuff and nonsense. Do you remember them? Stan Stuff and Nobby Nonsense? They were a comedy double-act who were always on the telly when I was a kid. I remember reading somewhere that they owed their success to that long-running tv talent show “Opportunity Knocks“. That’s right, they refused to appear on it.
On my first day on the job I was introduced to the cast and crew and each and every one of them were warm and friendly towards me, despite the fact that they were all working towards tight deadlines and under pressure.
I was shown to my dressing room which was clearly marked with my name and next door to the main talent for the show.
I could also see that they’d booked the famous jockey Willie Carson as a guest star, because his initials were on the door opposite me.
My dressing room had flowers, fruit, chocolates and a variety of soft drinks. For a moment I thought I’d wandered into the worlds smallest supermarket.
I even had my own clothes rail and a bed. Which, frankly, was more than I had at home. I felt like moving in for the entire run of the series and only coming out for the recordings.
All this made me feel like I was part of the team, even though I wasn’t taking part in the actual production on camera. It was their way of telling me how important they thought my role as warm-up man was.
Now you might think this would be the norm. That every production company in television holds the warm-up man in high regard because if he does his job properly he can create the right atmosphere that will ensure that when the stars of the show appear, they can shine that little bit brighter and their jokes and sketches appear a lot funnier than they might be.
No comedian or comedy actor/actress wants to go straight out on the studio floor to try and be rib-ticklingly hilarious with a new sitcom script or new untried gags, in front of 300 or 500 people if the studio atmosphere hasn’t been ratcheted-up a few notches by the warm-up man. He doesn’t have to be as manic as Lee Evans or as brilliant as Billy Connolly or as famous as Michael McIntyre,
The basic job qualifications are these : –
He has to be able to control an audience, not show fear if the odd gag doesn’t get a laugh and has to be able to think on his feet for several hours at a time. He has to be able to not take offence if the floor manager suddenly cuts him off mid-joke because the star is ready to perform – this happens on and off all evening. He needs to knowledgeable about what’s been going on in the news that day so (a) he doesn’t crack a gag about say, flying when there’s been an air crash somewhere in the world and ( b ) so that he can make some topical references about celebs or politicians. He also has to be constantly funny, as well as coming over as warm and likeable. And he needs loads and loads of material, just in case, as it invariably does, things go wrong during the recording.
But most of all, he must never, ever be or attempt to be, funnier than the star(s) of the show he is warming-up. Otherwise his career as a warm-up will be very short lived.
So, having read all that, do you fancy applying?
Before you do, you should know that there is very little, if any, glory in being a warm-up man. Although there was a time when every warm-up man was given a dressing-room as a matter of course, as well as being fed and watered if he wanted it, those days have long gone.
The truth is, there are production companies making programmes now (some of the top shows on prime-time television) who barely acknowledge the presence of a warm-up man and in some cases treat him with casual rudeness.
Next time around I’ll reveal a few hair-raising tales about how badly some warm-up men are treated today by, invariably young and inexperienced members of a production team.
And I’ll also return to my experiences as a warm-up for “Barry Welsh Is Coming “and other shows.
Until then may I wish you all a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2011.
Because if there’s any happiness, good health and prosperity available in 2011, I want it!