The closest I ever came to being struck stupid when meeting a real star was when I wangled a backstage interview with Sid Caesar. He was in
appearing onstage in LITTLE ME. I was a new stringer for the Fresno Bee and
the minute I walked into his dressing room I knew I was out of my league. San Francisco
I pulled out my steno pad and fountain pen and promptly dropped the pen. It rolled over to Caesar's chair. He picked it up and handed it to me. I looked into the bluest eyes I had ever seen and was struck stupid.
I kept a death grip on my steno pad but didn't take a single note the whole time. Every time I stumbled through a question, Caesar would open his mouth and his "handler" would reply. Only once did Caesar actually get a word in edgewise.
I asked him why he was so much funnier on stage than on TV. He raised one of those expressive eyebrows and offered a simple explanation for the magic of live theater. He said that because I had bought a ticket, dressed for the occasion and made an effort to get myself into a seat, I was primed to think he was funny. In short, performer and audience worked together. We expected to be entertained and we helped to make it happen.
That’s a lesson I never forgot and I pass it on to anyone who quakes at the prospect of appearing before an audience. What the great comedian told the green reporter is as true as ever. The audience is not your enemy. The audience is part of your presentation. Whether they know it or not, the people behind those smiling faces want you to succeed. The interaction that Caesar described is 99 percent of a successful program. With a little preparation and practice you can handle the other one percent.
**Adapted from my post to the DorothyL list serv on Dec. 19, 2013, and my article in the SouthWest Sage of August, 2007.
**Photo scanned from a PR handout when I met Sid Caesar.