I'd Hate To Have To Paint It.

I once made a living as a mime.

This was a long time ago. "Twenty years and twenty pounds" I tell people, but I haven’t had a job since that’s been as challenging, memorable and fun.

Seaworld of San Diego has this ongoing Seal & Otter show that’s been around in one form or another since the sixties. The show changes story and format every few years, but I'm not going to talk about the show today. Instead, I’m going to tell you about Michael and John. Those are two guys who met each other one day long ago, but I'm the only one who finds it ironic.

Until now, because you will too when I’m done.

Michael was a former Ringling Bros circus clown who’d been hired as a mime but then promoted to show producer. He was a funny guy, and by that I mean he was hysterical. He still took the stage once in a while to fill-in when someone wanted a day off and when he did, he'd hand the audience their balls on a platter.

One day I only had a few people show up. The stadium held 1200, so when you only have 12 people sitting there watching you perform that’s one percent, and that’s enough to be a downer. I went out and did some of my funnier bits for them but it basically sucked and they applauded politely as if to say, “HAHA, very nice, now get the hell out of the way and bring on the dancing otters.”

I left the show feeling kind of drained and ran right into Michael behind the scenes. He was carrying his clipboard while wearing a tie and showing appropriate concern that I seemed blue, and not the bouncy, happy mime I was supposed to be. He asked how the show went and when I told him about the 12 people he told me about an audience he had only a week earlier when filling in for someone else.

He said it was cold and drizzling rain, and he knew it’d be slow, so he hoped nobody would show up and he’d not have to do a show. But there they were, two teenaged boys and a girl who climbed to the very last row at the top of the 1200 seat stadium, sitting in the drizzle and waiting to be entertained.

So he entertained them.

He pretended to be a mountain climber when he first came out, swinging an invisible pick and pulling on an imaginary rope to make his way up to them. That ate up the first five minutes of his routine so once he got up there he stood on the empty bench in front and offered up a silent yet panic-stricken prayer to his muse for ten minutes of inspiration. It came.

He said he didn’t know how it came or from where, but dammit.. he was funny! Those kids laughed and clapped and had a great time, as Michael stood on that bench and did silly shit that he couldn’t recall when telling me about all of this a few days later.

His point was that if I’d just trust my muse to let inspiration flow through me, I’d be able to do it for one, one hundred, one thousand or a million people.. just let it be. Obviously, I’ve always remembered the story because it had an impact on me. This happened in 1988.

Fast forward to 1998. Dorian and I lived in Ashland Oregon. I was doing sound design for a local theater group and a young guy named John was doing lighting. After we’d finished our show set-up one evening, he came over to our place and we sat around drinking beer and swapping stories.

Turned out he was from California. Turned out he visited SeaWorld once with some friends.

Turned out it was while on spring break in 1988.

I’d told John I used to perform at the Seal & Otter Show as a mime, so he was telling me about the mime he saw. He said it was a drizzling Monday and the place was empty. After he and his two friends made their way to the top of the stadium the mime came out and did some kind of mountain climber bit to get up to them, followed by ten minutes of delightful comedy on the bench directly in front.

John, his buddy and his buddy’s girlfriend all thought it was hysterical.

After he told me this I asked, “Did you guys see the mime in another part of the park later and go up to thank him for doing a whole routine just for you?” Yes, they did. Michael had told me about that part too; how the three kids came up to him later and said they really appreciated him doing the entire bit just for them.

I told John about Michael and his inspirational story ten years earlier. Here we were, a decade later and 500 miles further North, sitting in stunned silence for a few minutes until Dorian finally laughed and suggested that perhaps now would be a good time to go buy a lottery ticket. I did, but I didn’t win.

Steven Wright once said, “It’s a small world, but I’d hate to have to paint it.”

Me too.

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  1. I remember hearing this story and thinking what a true performer he must be. It would have been easy to just blow those three kids off and not do a show just for them. It must have made an impact to be remembered by Saj all those years later. Great story. True performer. Well done.

    1. Michael was the best. He used to do a weekend gig where he was a nerd character at a San Diego diner called "Corvette's" or "The Corvette Diner," I'm not sure which. Anyway, he'd go around entertaining the patrons from table to table with this goofy Jerry Lewis type of screwball who did weird stuff like balance chairs and cigarettes on his nose. True story.


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