Day 135. I’ve Burnt My Shoulders Before, but Never Like This

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The ice cubes weren’t working, the mashed potatoes were still scalding my shoulders.

My friends, JJ, Jodie, and I were all set to do be the entertainment for Castaway Club, a Young Life camp in Minnesota. This meant that one week at a time, for a month, we would be in charge of the schedule and the entertainment for a few hundred kids a week at this idyllic lakefront property. Usually, they would have at least one experienced person in the group, but this time, they just went with us, three people in our early 20s.

That spring we got together and planned, somewhat blindly, everything we would do at the camp. We were funny, but not necessarily the most detail oriented. This was the same JJ that lived with me in this place.

Eventually, we got everything together. Our obstacle course was set, the opera had come together, and we had our characters ready to go. JJ and I did the “game sell” characters, meaning the characters that came out and got kids pumped up and introduced the next physical activity they were going to do. Those characters were named Lumpy and Porkchop and were boxers. Basically, our entire premise for these characters were that they had Brooklyn accents, wore boxing gloves, and actually punched each other. Yes, actually punched each other.

The half hour before we were to go on the first day, we stood outside the building toe to toe and alternated hitting each other in the face, in order to convince ourselves that it wasn’t that bad. It really wasn’t. I did get bloody a couple of times later in the month when I got punched into the mic I was holding.

Our brilliant plan for one of the game sells was to do a cooking show that eventually devolved into a food fight. About a half hour before we were set to go on, we asked the people in the kitchen if we could get some mashed potatoes. They said, “Sure, but we have to get them really hot when we make them, and it will take awhile for them to cool down.”

We replied, “No problem, we’ll just add some ice cubes to them.”

Right before we’re about to go out, we try putting our hands in the potatoes. We can barely touch them, they’re too hot. We tell each other to be careful with the potatoes.

Everything is going great on stage, we’re throwing potato salad, spaghetti, cool whip. The crowd is loving it, they’re cheering and laughing. Then, JJ puts his hands in the vat of steaming impenetrable to ice cubes, scalding hot mashed potatoes, scoops up two handfuls and splats them on my bare shoulders. I was a boxer, so I was wearing a tank top.

I knew the potential gravity of the situation, but my first thought was, “Oh, that’s bearable.” In a split second I went from, “Oh, that’s bearable,” to “I can’t stand it, it’s burning me.” I really felt like a cartoon where the character’s face gets red, their eyes bug out, and steam shoots out of their ears. I was panicked, but I remembered, somehow, that there was a big serving bowl filled with red Kool Aid behind the back curtain. I ran and dove shoulders first into the bowl trying desperately to bathe myself of the scorching heat. As I splash more red liquid on me, the pain subsides and we turn and excuse the stunned teenagers to their next event.

Doing the entertainment at the camp was the first time I realized that I really really loved being funny in front of people. The hardest part for me getting a Brooklyn accent down. I say Brooklyn, but it was Bronx/Queens/Brooklyn/Jersey all rolled into one. I used to drive around the Iowa countryside practicing until I finally got it and it became second nature.

Accents are not really my thing. So, I was pleasantly surprised today when, at my audition, I was able to maintain an Australian accent throughout the audition. It was a kind of sketchy audition put on by a really shy, really socially awkward guy. It was an audition for a comedy sketch.

I like comedy.

Whenever I do a comedy audition I’m reminded that comedy is in my wheelhouse.

I know how to do it.

I know what not to do.

I know to avoid mashed potatoes.

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