The Rubber Chicken Predicament

Being self-employed affords many benefits. The obvious freedom to create one’s own work hours and the location in which to while those hours away can certainly be placed high on that list of benefits. The owner of an event-planning company, for example, can scout out the perfect wedding-on-the-beach location for a client and then draw up and send out the contracts and itinerary right then and there to the betrothed couple while sitting on the rocks enjoying the view and listening to the waves crash below her. Deciding not to “go into the office” on a whim or, conversely, rolling out of bed into your office, taking vacation whenever you so desire—all are advantages of not answering to a boss other than yourself.

Being a professional magician, by its very nature, adds to that list of already-established, self-employment benefits. My job takes me all over the world to perform for audiences in a variety of scenic and interesting locations. But while I am indeed performing wherever I travel, the reality of the situation is that I am still a business owner and must continue to keep that business running from wherever on the globe I happen to find myself.

So far I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t already know. “Yes, we get it,” you’re saying to yourself. “You get to pick your hours and travel. You’re lucky to live that lifestyle.” Yes, I agree. “But,” you continue, “lots of people who are self-employed do the very same thing. With the obvious exception of how you make your living, how does your business differ from any other business?” Ah, yes…it’s the not so obvious elements of my job that I tend to cherish. Elements that are exclusive to my line of work—and sometimes critical to getting the job done—that someone (self-employed or not) standing on the outside looking in would find strange or even ludicrous.

While I have already shared in this blog some of the unusual emails I have received being involved in a business such as this (SEE: Not Your Typical Interoffice Mail…), I can accentuate my point by sharing with you an incident that happened just a few years ago…

I was booked at the Magic Castle, an exclusive magic nightclub in Hollywood, CA. I was appearing all week onstage in the Palace of Mystery theatre. This is the biggest showroom in the Castle and a show in the Palace usually consists of three acts of varying styles of magic. There is most often a comedy magic act that opens the show and then takes on the duties of “master of ceremonies” for the rest of the production, introducing the following performers which might include a traditional and elegant manipulation act or an illusionist, or—in some instances—a variety act such as a ventriloquist or juggler. I was the comedy act/MC for the week of performances and we all were performing three shows a night. Some of us, myself included, were also booked for all of the brunch shows that were to take place in the Palace that weekend. That meant that we would be performing six shows on Saturday and Sunday—three in the afternoon and three in the evening.

All week long I had begun my performance with a comical rubber chicken production set to music. Meant as a satirical spoof of all magicians’ bird acts, I would enter stage right after my name had been announced and take center stage with a slight bow. Strains of Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra would play behind me as I wordlessly produced the rubber chicken from an empty foulard. The bit was performed seriously, which made it all the funnier, and was a good barometer for both the audience and myself. Without me saying a word, the audience quickly realized what to expect from me and my style of performing for the rest of our time together, and I, judging from the level of their reaction to the silliness taking place before them, could get a good sense of their mood. An effective introduction.

The routine played well all week long, but by the first show on Thursday night I had noticed that my chicken was beginning to split at the seam that ran along its entire perimeter. By Friday afternoon, I realized that the split had progressed to the point that I would have to replace the chicken completely if the routine was to stay in my show for that night’s shows and the remainder of the week. Where could I get a rubber chicken on short notice?

Immediately the local magic shop came to mind; a shop not 15 minutes away from the Magic Castle. I called and asked the man who picked up the phone if they sold rubber chickens and, if so, were their legs soft and pliable?

Don’t judge… Just know that my rubber chickens must have legs that are not too stiff.

For those of you who are uninitiated in the ways of rubber fowl, allow me to explain. In today’s day and age it is very hard to find a “traditional” rubber chicken like the classic gag of years gone by. One of the best I have ever seen, not just for its pliability but for its sheer comic appearance, was used by the late, great Carl Ballantine; a zany comedy magician who had impeccable timing and was an early influence in my work.

 

ballantine2

The wonderfully talented Carl Ballantine. It doesn’t get much funnier than this.

 

Today’s rubber chickens, however, are usually not even made of rubber, and are instead constructed out of a latex mixture of varying degrees of flexibility.

The main problem one encountered with the traditional, all-rubber rubber chickens was that they would tend to deteriorate after a while, slowly crumbling away over the years in a weird display of rubberized leprosy. Hence, in an attempt to improve the quality, as years passed and technology advanced, rubber chickens began to be produced out of the already mentioned latex. A latex whose consistency was much firmer than that of the original chicken and therefore caused the legs to be stiff and rigid in most cases. And, in most cases, that wouldn’t necessarily lessen the laughs the chicken would receive once it made its appearance. But in my routine described earlier, I needed the legs to shake in a comical way during the Strauss piece and when replacing my prop over the years, I found that most latex chickens just didn’t make the cut.

And that was exactly where I currently found myself.

The magic shop employee assured me that his rubber chickens’ legs were flexible and he told me he had a number of them in stock. I grabbed my car keys and was on the road in minutes.

Unfortunately, it was all for naught. As I had feared, in examining the chickens hanging there on the peg-hook on the wall of the magic shop, I found that while the overall quality of the chicken was pretty good, the legs were just not flexible enough, and therefore not suited for my needs. Thus I was back to “rubber chicken square one.” As I drove back to the apartment I was staying in that week, I contemplated my options.

Then it hit me! I’ll call a friend of mine who is a clown.

Yes… I have friends who are clowns.

Upon my return to the apartment, I placed a phone call to my friend Eddie Medrano who performs under the stage name of Funny Eddie. A stout, ex-marine whose antics onstage and off belie his many years of serious service to our country. Eddie takes his clowning seriously and is a force to be reckoned with in performance. Those antics can spill over into his personal interactions with you, but you are always aware of the sense of fun from which those antics spring, and the gentleness that underlies all that he does.

Luckily, Eddie picked up the phone and I began to explain my dilemma. “I have three more days and nights of shows,” I told him, and I needed a new rubber chicken badly. I began the explanation of how the legs needed to be soft, pliable, and floppy, and was launching into the specific criteria for the legs when Eddie cut me off. In a very serious tone (like we were engaging in a drug deal, or something) he simply said, “I have what you need.” He spoke these words with such authority that an immediate sense of complacency washed over me. A complacency that assured me that he spoke the truth—that he indeed had exactly what I needed—and that continuing to speak was pointless. All would be well. Eddie explained that he was not at home at the moment, and probably wouldn’t be able to get the chicken to me before the night ended, but he’d see what he could do. I thanked him and hung up the phone, content that the situation had been solved. The clown would make everything right.

 

Funny Eddie

“Funny Eddie” Medrano (Photo: Clarence Alford)

 

At approximately 10:45pm that evening, with two shows done, I was sitting in my dressing room when I heard the backstage door open and close. A booming voice called out,”Mr. McMaster?” I looked out my dressing room door to see Joey, the Magic Castle’s doorman, carrying the chicken you see in the picture below by the neck. Noticing my head emerge from the doorway, he walked stoically up to me, offered me the rubber bird clutched in his fist and said, “This is for you, sir.”

 

Rubber Chicken - Funny Eddie

The perfect replacement chicken

 

I was informed later that evening from witnesses that Eddie had pulled up to the front of the Magic Castle around 10:40pm in his Smart Car (the modern day equivalent to the Clown Car, apparently), rolled down his window, thrust the chicken outside, and shouted, “Get this to Shawn McMaster in the Palace, STAT!”

Just in time for my 11:15pm show! The legs were perfect. Thanks, Eddie. You’re a life-saver.

 

 

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