Great Clip of the Coney Island Fakir (aka Al Flosso)

Discuss the historical aspects of magic, including memories, or favorite stories.

Postby Guest » 06/14/07 11:38 AM

Sorry if this has been posted before. Delightful coin pail routine, among others.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uxl7cMTsn4M&NR=1

CHS
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Postby Guest » 06/15/07 12:39 AM

Thank you very, very much for leading me to this wonderful film.
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Postby Guest » 06/15/07 08:54 PM

Funny how we've got one thread going where folks are criticizing Simon Lovell for making the spectator look stupid. But 50 years ago, I guess that was OK.

///ark
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 06/15/07 09:32 PM

There's a difference, though I probably can't explain it to your satisfaction. Al Flosso was one of a kind--unique personalities can always break rules.
I don't think anyone who was Flosso's assistant sat down afterward and was angry because the magician made him look stupid in front of his friends. Note that Flosso puts the paper hat tear on HIMSELF, not the spectator, and makes himself look silly. The spectator gets the top hat.
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Postby CardFan » 06/15/07 09:52 PM

Absolutely delightful! Thanks.
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 06/15/07 10:35 PM

By Richard Kaufman:
Al Flosso was one of a kind--unique personalities can always break rules.
Speaking from personal experience, I would say the same about Simon Lovell. I was once his victim on stage and I had a great time. Simon is as good as anyone at reading people and a room and knowing what he can get away with. Its also about the attitude and character of the performer. Simon doesnt take himself seriously, so no one takes his barbs seriously. Theres a huge difference between saying a line just for the sake of saying itlike a lot of people doand saying lines in the context of a character that the audience likes. Thats why guys like Flosso could and Harry Anderson, Simon Lovell, Chuck Fayne, and others can get away with it.

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Postby Pete Biro » 06/15/07 10:53 PM

Having shared the stage a few times with Al Flosso, and having had dinner with him dozens of times (I used to go to NY on business a couple of times a year and wound up each day at his magic shop and would take him out to dinner to listen to his great stories)... I can tell you Flosso never made anyone feel stupid... he generated FUN and was a pure entertainer from top to bottom.
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Postby Guest » 06/16/07 09:21 AM

I hate to differ with people who know more about magic and performance than I do, but I just didn't care for Flosso's performance at all.

I thought the top hat did make the kid look silly. I didn't like the way Flosso kept jerking the kid's chin. It was a cheap move to make the kid look like he couldn't stand up straight. And I felt that Flosso was talking fast so that you wouldn't notice that none of his jokes were funny.

Whether the assistant minds this approach depends on the spectator. I thought the general advice these days not to do that was from an ethical perspective, and because it turns many people off from magic altogether.

I just wonder how many people who are new to magic and who never heard of Flosso (like myself) would share my opinion. I was annoyed more than entertained.

I liked the magic, though. Each to his own!

///ark
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 06/16/07 10:01 AM

You're certainly entitled to your opinion, but I don't think he makes the spectator look any siller than he makes himself look with the screwy bowtie and paper hat.

The idea that you shouldn't insult the spectator when you perform has found favor only since the 1980s, and essentially as a result of Eugene Burger's books and lectures.

I don't want this to sound like an apology on Flosso's behalf, because he certainly doesn't need one, but he grew up and performed in a different era when insulting your spectators was seen as part of the fun, and could be very funny. Don Rickles made a career out of it. Not everyone liked it, but certainly enough did.
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Postby Andrew Martin Portala » 06/16/07 12:57 PM

Al talking fast
You have to think were Flosso was performing...Coney Island. You had to hit them hard and fast.
Mr.Biro has a great story About Al performing at a christmas party. All the acts were dying not Prof.Flosso he killed. He knew how grab audience and entertain them.
A few year back Teller did a great piece on him in
Genii.
Gary Brown wrote a great book on Flosso.
There's some wonderful photos of kids laughing and have fun.
It a good thing to watch Al's timing and how much
he gets out of a bucket,coins,flower wand, paper hat,rags and clocks.
Al made it fun.
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Postby Guest » 06/17/07 02:05 PM

Mark, each to his own, indeed, as you say.

As others have suggested, Flosso comes from a different era. So its difficult to judge him in light of todays standards whatever those standards may be. In Flosso, you had a guy whose vibe wasnt negative. If you subscribe to the modern performing ethic which says dont mistreat your audience, then no doubt you understand the reasons for such dictate, one of which is to make yourself likable. As the saying goes, if your audience likes you, you can do no wrong.

Note the first two things that happen in the Flosso clip: he tells people they can go back to sleep and his bow tie transforms (not too subtly, at that) into a goofy-looking pair of wings. I think hes telling the audience in very clear terms, dont take me seriously. And so everything that follows can be taken by the audience with a grain of salt.

Regarding the chin correction that offends you, I see it differently. I dont think hes correcting the kids posture, but is instead simply directing the kid to look straight ahead at the audience. After all, its only polite to face your audience. And if you wanted to get a little deep about it, you could argue that Flosso is confirming the paramount importance of the audience by forcing the kid to face the audience (Look at them, kid. Theyre important, not me). But I simply view it as setting up the comic tension. The kid repeatedly just wants to see what Flosso is doing, but Flosso isnt letting him!

My two bits.

Ill close with this. Mark, you did like the magic, which suggests to me that even you found Flosso likable on some level. Not bad for a guy whos abusing his assistant, eh?

Clay
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Postby Guest » 06/17/07 03:09 PM

What stands out in my mind is that the audience doesnt seem very entertained. There is a small bit of scattered laughter and polite applause at the end.

Is this a representative performance? He seems to a bit rushed, stepping on his own effects and lines
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Postby Guest » 06/17/07 05:27 PM

I certainly accept that Flosso's act is from a different era (just like blackface minstrel shows), but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

You make an interesting point about the chin correction. Basically, it's a sucker effect, where Flosso implicitly tells the kid to look at him (by doing magic), which gives him a chance to make it look like the kid's doing something wrong. I'll tell you, if someone pulled that on me when I was that age, I'd have decked him.

I don't think there's any question in anyone's mind that Flosso wasn't to be taken seriously.

With regard to the fast patter, it wasn't the speed I was objecting to - it was the vapidness of what he was saying. He just wasn't funny.

I don't think the reason why we don't abuse our assistants these days is to make ourselves likable. It's because it's wrong.

Magicam, I'm afraid I don't follow your last point. The quality of the magic had nothing to do with the way he treated the kid.

I'm not judging Flosso in any kind of overarching, universal way. All I was saying is that 1) I didn't think he was funny, and 2) we don't treat our assistants that way anymore.

If other folks like Flosso, great!

///ark
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Postby Jim Maloney_dup1 » 06/17/07 05:33 PM

Does anyone know if there's a video of Jeff McBride's Miser's Dream online? It'd be interesting to compare that with Flosso's approach.

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Postby Doug Brewer » 06/17/07 07:28 PM

Regarding the audience reactions: this cut comes from Don Alan's Magic Ranch (you hear Al calling out to Don occasionally during the routine), so it was in a very small studio - I bet we're talking less than 15 to 20 people max. Studio cameras, etc. makes this kind of a tough audience. Even during Don's performances there weren't the reactions where people jumped, looked at the camera and yelled "holy sh*t" like they do today on TV. A very "reserved audience" I would call them.

If I could perform Al's act exactly "as is" I would do it - but Al Flosso is Al Flosso. He is killing them (and me). This is a standup show, with a kid helping, and there is non-stop magic happening. Surprise after surprise. This is one of my all time favorite routines to watch.
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Postby Tom Klem » 06/19/07 09:30 AM

Al Flosso passed away in the 1970s. That is almost 40 years ago. It is nice we have the video of the Don Alan Show but it is far from the best representation of Al Flosso at his prime. I personal would have loved to see him on the sideshow stage in Coney Island as Harry Houdini often did.

He was a one of a kind. Jackie Flosso once told me Al Flosso was booked by his agent to do a show for a business convention at a major hotel here in New York. When Al got to the hotel Al asked a bellman what room the party was in.He went to the room and did his act and went home. The next morning his agent called and asked why he had not shown up to do the show. Al said I did show up. It turned out the bellman sent Al to the wrong room. Al Flosso had done his act and he killed. No one told him he was in the wrong room such was the power of his personality and performance.

To review Al Flosso from a video from 1950 is unfair to the man. He was from a different time with a different public viewing him. What was funny in 1920 or 30 is far different than today.

I personal think Al Flosso did everything for a reason. His action with the young boy was also to hide the loading of coins into this boys every pocket. His working with the boy was not just to be rough. As rough as he might have been with a street tough on the stages of the Dreamland Sideshow. His act is a mirror into the past.

I think Al Flosso was one of the greats of the last century.
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Postby Guest » 06/19/07 05:18 PM

I think Al Flosso could go out and work his act today and he would be successful. He was a character playing a character. The act was Flosso and Flosso was the act. The only complaints from other magicians were the guys who had to follow him....a difficult task.

This PC business is getting a bit thick and almost always comes from people with little or no show business experience.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 06/19/07 05:51 PM

Flosso was a magnificent magician, and I do think his act would be successful today because his humor is timeless.
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Postby Guest » 06/19/07 07:24 PM

No, David, "this PC business" (as you call being polite to your assistants) is pretty much the accepted wisdom these days. That's why I originally posted - because folks were blaming another magician for lack of same in another thread.

I dare say Richard is right. I'm reading Mastering the Art of Magic right now, and it's full of "this PC business."

But hey, what would Eugene Burger know about show business? :)

///ark
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Postby Guest » 06/19/07 08:57 PM

///ark wrote:

Funny how we've got one thread going where folks are criticizing Simon Lovell for making the spectator look stupid. But 50 years ago, I guess that was OK.
Mark:

Perhaps the best answer to your initial post should have been, quite simply. "yes, it was okay fifty years ago."

Period. End of story.

As RK said, you are entitled to your opinion. But as others have observed, applying one era's standards to conduct in another era isn't an easy, or even very helpful, thing.

As I read David Alexander's post, he does not say that all PC-type comments come from inexperienced showmen.

Clay
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Postby Pete Biro » 06/19/07 11:11 PM

PC crap has harmed our country! People are afraid of free speech. Argh... :whack:
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Postby Guest » 06/20/07 09:35 AM

Mark Widen wrote:
No, David, "this PC business" (as you call being polite to your assistants) is pretty much the accepted wisdom these days. That's why I originally posted - because folks were blaming another magician for lack of same in another thread.

I dare say Richard is right. I'm reading Mastering the Art of Magic right now, and it's full of "this PC business."

But hey, what would Eugene Burger know about show business?

///ark
_____________________________________________

People may write about their own experiences and theorize about others. My experience in show business is vastly different from Burger's as is my performing persona and style. He has his approach and I have mine. What I do works very well for me because of a variety of factors usually unknown to amateurs.

Having a distinct performing persona that is successful with an audience is difficult to develop. Most amateurs think that the magic and the secret methodology is all important. It isn't. It is about performance and the interaction of an interesting persona with the audience. And I'm not talking about the hot-house atmosphere of magic conventions but the real world of club date show business where the audience doesn't give a rip if you're famous amongst amateur magicians.

Knowing variety show business and the club date scene as I do, Al Flosso would still be a success in today's market despite all the theorists blathering on about their PC-nonsense. We're seeing a generation of "magicians" learning to perform like castrati. Fortunately, I'm not one of them and neither are any of the performers present and past that I respect and admire.
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 06/20/07 11:38 AM

By Mark Walden:
But hey, what would Eugene Burger know about show business?
That all depends on what you consider show business. Has Eugene ever toured the nightclubs left in this country? How about in Germany where show business is alive and well? In this country, that style of show business is not like it used to be. Like Mike Caveney says: Show businessreal show businessis all but dead in the United States. (And I suspect that of whats left of it, the guys who work it arent talking much about it because the last thing they want to do is create competition. All that does is thin out the pay. Thats exactly what happened to the restaurant business here. Ask anyone who worked restaurants in LA what they were being paid before the Magic Castle came to town. I can promise you it was more than they are making today, and Im not talking about in relative terms either! The dollar figures were much higher!)

I remember as a little kid seeing all the nightclubs near the Navy station in Long Beach, wishing I could go in: They where all brightly lit and had posters outside heralding the entertainment inside. Now these placesthe few that are leftare just bars and the rest have been cleaned up and turned into dress shops and Baby Gaps.

Dont get me wrong: I like Eugene. But by the time he started performing magic professionally, real show business was all but gone here. He works in restaurants, magic clubs, and conventions. Plus, I cannot recall Eugene ever saying that his words were gospel. Eugene writes about what works for Eugene. His goal has always been to get you to work on what works for you.

As far as what he has to say on the subjectand he can correct me if Im wrongbut I believe it was in the old kind of nightclubs Im talking about where David Alexander cut his teeth in show business. So I think its fair to say he knows what hes talking about.

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Postby Guest » 06/20/07 01:09 PM

Magicam, I don't buy that today's standards can't be applied to other eras. If something's rude, it's rude. To take it to an extreme, would we excuse slavery in the 1820's? I'm not saying that tweaking a spectator's chin is remotely comparable to that; just that today's standards can indeed be applied to the past.

At any rate, there have been comments in this thread that the routine would be perfectly good today.

David, your opinion of Eugene Burger is noted. :) Clearly, the nonburgerians will have a different opinion of Al than others. I don't think it's limited to Eugene, though; just recently, I've heard the same from Jamy Ian Swiss and Luke Jermay (and no, I'm not positing them as the ultimate experts, any more than Eugene).

Dustin, I've tried to make clear that everyone else here has much more knowledge of magic and performance than I do.

I still can't help my reaction! And I still continue to wonder what someone who didn't have the experience with magic in "the old days" would think of Al's performance.

///ark
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 06/20/07 02:04 PM

Im going to try and explain via a couple of real world examples: Things I have seen in live performances.

My buddy Steve Dacris performance personaas far as I can tellis that of a really nice, charming guy. He treats people well and pretty much lets the magic speak for itself. Then, all of a sudden, he asks a woman if shed like $100. When she says yes his reply is, Well talk. This appalling line insinuates that she might consider trading sex for money. It doesnt work with the character he has already developed during previous effects. He pulls this line straight (appropriately) out of his ass thinking that it will get a laugh. It does: But a nervous titter is not a laugh. A guy with his years of experience should know better.

On the other hand, Harry The Hat Anderson is a smart-aleck: A street hustler whod sell his mom for a buckokay, five bucks. So when he says, Madamand Im just guessingwould you help me? Its in character. The majority of the audience knows it. More importantly, the woman knows it. Everyone has a good time.

Sure, there are always small exceptions, and get peeved by Harry. Im also sure there are a few people who think Dacris line is actually funny. But they are exceptions.

Simons character is also edgy. He works in bars and in other situations where you better not be a Boy Scout. But he makes fun of everyone including himself! Its all silly fun. I was reduced to tears of laughter when he was having his way with me on a stage in front of 400 or so of my peers.

The performance in that little clip of the unfortunate trick youre talking about (which is a different subject) is 100% Simon. Sadly, the clip doesnt show anything else, so someone who has never seen Simon work a room will be offended. They simply dont know any better because its not what theyve read should be done.

Sadly, a lot of magicians dont get to see professionals work for laymen, and very few bring that act to magicians events.

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Postby Guest » 06/20/07 02:09 PM

Mark, if your original post was to simply note that standards of acceptable conduct can evolve over time, then your point has been made and is quite valid, IMHO. If that wasn't your intent, then please explain why you feel it's useful (instructive? beneficial?) to compare standards of conduct from two very different times.

You wrote, I don't buy that today's standards can't be applied to other eras. If something's rude, it's rude.

Such a comment reflects a very narrow-minded, black and white way of thinking, and reflects why this whole PC business gets irritatingly relativistic. Its rude by whose standards, Mark? By yours? Burgers? Swiss? Western civilizations? In the U.S., its considered rude to belch at the dinner table, but not in certain other countries, where belching is a sign of appreciation of the hosts cuisine. So are you going to go to one of these other countries, and when you hear someone belch, start lecturing those at the dinner table about how rude they are?

As a matter purely of historical observation, I thought your original post had merit. But I think youve painted yourself into a corner with your follow-up commentary and rationale.

Clay

P.S. Have you ever seen Burger, Swiss or Jermay perform?
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Postby Guest » 06/20/07 02:11 PM

So, Flosso doesn't live up to his legendary status? As judged by viewing him from one static camera, in scratchy black-and-white, with poor sound, in front of an almost non-existent audience?

I wonder how Houdini, Thurston or Kellar would have fared under similar circumstances. (To be fair, I, too, recall being disappointed when I saw Al on TV. The camera never captured him accurately.)

For those of us who saw Flosso live, in front of normal-sized audiences, there is no doubt about his incredible ability to captivate the people out front. He was a masterful entertainer and his act would still cause audiences to wipe tears of laughter from their faces if he were reincarnated today.

As for the death of show business -- sorry, but that's simply not true. The venues keep changing, but there is always work for talented business-savvy performers, magical or otherwise.

I have many friends who bring home hefty and steady paychecks as entertainers. They are out in, to name a few -- the college market, the corporate market, social functions, trade shows, or cruise ships.

And most of them, as was the case with me when I was full-time for 15 years, are virtually unknown to the magic community.

But that belongs in another thread.

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Postby Dustin Stinett » 06/20/07 02:55 PM

Mr. Weber,

I never meant to imply that show business as a whole is dead or dying (and I dont believe that I did). The old style (clubs, theaters, etc.so call it venue) is all but dead, just as vaudeville is dead. Thats what some folks (like Mike Caveney, who makes much of his living in show business) consider real show business. That style is alive and well in Europe (particularly in Germany).

Like you, here in the US, virtually all of my friends and acquaintances are making their living in the venues you speak of (though, sadly, cruise ships are beginning to have some issues).

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Postby Guest » 06/20/07 03:10 PM

Thanks for those examples, Dustin. Food for thought.

Magicam, the only standards that really matter to me are my own. However, I think Al's style would bother others of my generation, and with my experience with magic. Remember that I started this whole thing by reflecting on differences between reactions to Simon Lovell and to Al Flosso.

Weird that you should call my "black and white" attitude "relativistic." I thought I was saying that some standards are not relativistic.

There is nothing intrinsically bad about belching. It's just a noise. That's a lot different from making a spectator feel stupid, and jerking him around physically, just to get some laughs.

While no one is agreeing with me, here :) it should be noted that some of you guys are disagreeing with each other, as well. Some people are saying that Flosso's act shouldn't be judged by today's standards, and others are saying it holds up just fine.

Y'know, I am really the last person who should be arguing to you folks that rudeness is wrong. It makes sense to me, but as far as I'm concerned, I learned of its application to magic from much better magicians than I'll ever be. I'll just refer you folks to them.

I've seen Jamy perform twice, Luke once, and Eugene on video. Not sure how that applies, though.

///ark
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Postby Guest » 06/20/07 03:24 PM

To take it to an extreme, would we excuse slavery in the 1820's?
No. But one might well excuse Mark Twain's use of "the N word" in his books... books which showed a black man in the role of father to a young white boy. Times and socially acceptable behaviors do change and one needs to view history in it's historical context. That's why I asked if the video was representative of the act we have read so much about (most recently for me in Ken Weber's wonderful book).

And I do not assume that just because someone could carry an audience by pure personality alone in one era, that he could do it in another. I've saw that myth disproved when I saw Bob Hope bomb in front of an audience of soldiers...

I've seen footage of Houdini doing the subtrunk and Thurston doing card manipulations and both stunk by current standards. But I'm quite willing to believe that the people who were so successful in their own era, would be just as successful (though markedly different) today.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 06/20/07 03:49 PM

I'm enjoying this discussion--it's a valuable and valid one.

Let's all remember to be polite, try to remain apolitical, and not take remarks personally.

As far as Flosso, true performing genuises like him can walk into any situation and do a great show. It's years of experience, superb timing, and the ability to be funny and fill the room with personality.

And, yes, insult humor is still funny to many. Whether Flosso is engaging in insult humor is, I think, open to question.
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Postby Pete Biro » 06/20/07 04:02 PM

Gazzo is a great example of an act loaded with INSULT humor... He has a lucrative, steady gig, in Florida at a resort where people come to see him TO BE INSULTED... in his way.
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Postby Guest » 06/20/07 04:31 PM

No, I'd never call the Flosso performance I saw "insult magic."

What's really ironic is that I myself definitely tend towards the Don Rickles vein in my casual humor (though not so much in my magic performance).

With regard to the "n-word," that word's offensiveness is by definition situational.

///ark
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Postby Guest » 06/20/07 05:00 PM

Time does change many things. In Flosso's day any adult would likely tell a kid to stand up straight and "assist" him, and most folks would think nothing of it, in an non-comedic context.

So that, while not very funny today, would get a laugh of recognition at the time, and the kid wouldn't likely feel too imposed upon.

I doubt Flosso would be doing exactly that act today, but perhaps so. Amazing Jonathan does much more aggressive humor and his audiences love it. Of course the character he's playing is "[censored] magician" which is a cultural stereotype so he gets a fair amount of leeway in what he does.

Gazzo is apparently pretty aggressive with his audiences and he certainly makes it work
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Postby Jim Maloney_dup1 » 06/20/07 07:26 PM

The subject of character has come up a couple of times, and I think it plays a large part in this.

An audience can sense whether the "insult" or "rudeness" is part of the character or part of the person behind the character. I think people are more willing to forgive (and even enjoy) rudeness that comes from the character, but less so when it comes from the person.

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Postby Dustin Stinett » 06/20/07 07:42 PM

And just as important is the ability of the performer to read a room and know how far he can go with his character. A great example of that is Chuck Fayne. The man can sense the level of a room faster than anyone Ive seen. Tom Ogden is another who is great at that (and yes, Im talking about lay audiences). With these guys, rarely are any two shows the same because the audience is different. Yes, they do the same tricks, but the lines, how they are delivered (and sometimes whether or not they are delivered) are different. Of course, you dont learn that skill from a book.

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Postby Guest » 06/20/07 07:51 PM

Mark W. wrote:

... Remember that I started this whole thing by reflecting on differences between reactions to Simon Lovell and to Al Flosso.
Yes, thats correct, and you have neglected to answer what I feel is an important question in light of the development of this thread: why is it useful (instructive? beneficial?) to compare standards of conduct from two very different eras?

Weird that you should call my "black and white" attitude "relativistic." I thought I was saying that some standards are not relativistic.
Please re-read what I wrote. I said no such thing.

And if you want to argue that some standards are not relativistic vis--vis other times and cultures (which is the context of this discussion), then rudeness is not a very good example. What is rude in this country may not be rude in another, and vice versa; and what was rude 50 years ago in this country may not be rude now, and vice versa.

There is nothing intrinsically bad about belching. It's just a noise. That's a lot different from making a spectator feel stupid, and jerking him around physically, just to get some laughs.
In some cultures and/or at certain times in history, you may be correct. In other cultures and/or at other times in history, you may be dead wrong. The fact that you are willing to state categorically that theres nothing wrong with belching ably demonstrates (to me, at least) a blind spot when it comes to understanding that different standards apply to different cultures and/or different eras.

I dont sense that anyone here begrudges you your opinion of Flossos act. What troubles me is how easily and absolutely you can judge someones act from another time and flat out say it was wrong.

Again, why is it useful (instructive? beneficial?) to compare standards of conduct from two very different eras?

Clay
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 06/20/07 07:55 PM

And here is where the audience can make their own decision: years ago I saw Gazzo at a local fair in Maryland and he was extremely offensive. My friends actually got up and left because they couldn't stand his "fag" jokes. Most people in the audience were roaring with laughter.

So, you can always vote with your feet and with your wallet.
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Postby Guest » 06/20/07 08:47 PM

Magicam, you seem to want to make this personal, but I ain't bitin'. Since we apparently can't even agree on the meaning of the word "intrinsic," you'll forgive me if I don't address your questions about my reasons and motivations. It's not on-topic, anyway.

Jim, when I discussed this question with my magician co-worker, he made exactly the same point that you did. So I think you guys are on to something. I can't imagine people thinking Rickles is as mean as he pretends to be, so it works for him.

///ark
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Postby Guest » 06/20/07 09:12 PM

To me, getting personal means addressing the character of the person. I really dont think Ive done that here, but Mark, if you believe that I have attacked or insulted you personally, then I offer my apologies. I meant to discuss only the merits and logic of your statements and arguments, for, in my opinion, some of the statements you make are, at the very least, contradictory by their nature, as Ive tried to explain above.

The question, why is it useful to compare standards of conduct from two very different eras?, is not rhetorical.

If you cant/wont answer that question, so be it. But that doesnt change its relevance to the discussion.
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