This is day 2 of 15 days of writing exercises that PoeWar prompted. Today’s prompt is: Record five minutes of a talk radio show. Write down the dialog and add narrative descriptions of the speakers and actions as if you were writing a scene. For my selection, I have chosen a snippet of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, a show I strongly recommend checking out. I chose an episode from July 22, 2011 entitled “Poseurs, Plate-Spinners, and Six-Bucks-In-Pennies.” The segment on talent shows is about ten minutes long, and it is definitely worth a listen. I also made some slight modifications to simplify and better fit my scene, but the integrity of the segment remains.
This was a fun exercise, and I found it a bit exhilarating because it was like writing a fiction story, but the dialogue was already written for me. This goes a long way in treating writer’s block, and I would say to any writers who are stuck, it’s worth a try. Just for exercise, though, not for publication. That’s called plagiarism and it’s frowned upon. Now, onto the show:
“America’s Got Talent!” cried Linda, as the television in the chilly warehouse suddenly howled to life. The senior artists all let out an enthusiastic cheer. Shane groaned inwardly. He had moved to New York City to meet worldly and interesting people, not people who got excited about America’s Got Talent, or Grey’s Anatomy, or any other mass media bullshit. Those were the people he left behind in Texas, where the ignorant political opinions and rampant homophobia finally got to be too much to deal with.
He couldn’t believe his luck in landing this job with a furniture gallery run by a supposedly famous artist he had never heard of. Working with artists would certainly guarantee stimulating conversations and insights to broaden his world! He worked in the warehouse assisting the senior artists with building furniture pieces as well as packing and shipping, and today was his second day. Since he was new, he didn’t dare express his disappointment openly, but prepared himself for the brainless commentary on celebrities he didn’t care about that was sure to commence shortly. He didn’t know he was about to be happily proven wrong.
Linda looked at him, possibly reading an escaped look of disappointment on his face, and said, “I like America’s Got Talent because, unlike all these other singing shows, brings us a bunch of people with other obscure talents, other than singing, for which there likely isn’t any market that we know of.” This was already more interesting than Shane had expected, and he opened his mind again, just a little.
“Actually, there are a bunch of them that have a surprisingly large market, as I mentioned a week or two ago, about the gay country music line dancing thing?” said Glen, overhearing.
“Yes, I remember,” Linda said, smiling, then turned to Shane and rolled her eyes in a here he goes again way. She had introduced Glen to him the day before as Mr. Anecdote, saying that no matter what the topic of conversation was, Glen would have a minimum of three stories or facts to share on the subject.
Glen continued, “There’s a dance troupe, a sort of performing Broadway style slash country music cowboy hoedown group here in New York who actually made it several rounds into the show.”
“Yeah, well, dance groups certainly have more of a market for this sort of thing than other-”
Glen interrupted, never satisfied unless his audience received him as unique and profound. “But the point I was making was that these guys can actually make a living performing at events around here, and that show helped.”
“Right,” Linda said, “but I’m talking about your plate spinners, your fire eaters, your…guy who juggles tasers. These people don’t necessarily have a home.”
“Like, literally” said Trey, as he helped Glen turn a sofa they were assembling upside down. Shane laughed out loud.
Linda threw him a playful glare and continued. “So I was thinking about how these talents have been revived, or could be revived through some combination of variety shows and YouTube and reality shows as a marketing push. Then we could bring some of these old-timey talents back to the forefront. So Glen, give me a talent with the right combination of marketing and exposure and viral hoo hah.”
Shane was in heaven. He had never been around people who talked to each other like this before. Glen considered the proposition and opened his mouth to answer when Trey interjected. “Speaking of viral hoo-hah, did you guys see the video of the group of acrobats performing for the Pope?”
Glen hated being overruled in a conversation, but laughed anyway, “No?”
Trey continued, “In the video are these four strapping Italian acrobats performing some sort of Christmas celebration for the Pope. They step up to the throne, where the Pope is, they, uh,” he paused for dramatic effect, “strip to the waist, which, for the record, is my favorite phrase in the English language; so they strip to the waist and proceed to do all manor of acrobatic feats. Now, when you see this video, it cuts between the shirtless muscular acrobats and the Pope. So you have some very impure thoughts about these acrobats, and then suddenly there’s the Holy Father. Shirtless muscular acrobats, then the Holy Father. Shirtless muscular, Holy Father-”
Linda laughed as she stitched a throw pillow she was designing. Shane was also laughing and making a mental note to look for those acrobats on YouTube as soon as he got home. Glen laughed appreciatively at Trey’s story, but he was impatient and wanted to make his point.
“Okay, Linda, so to go back to your point, I was thinking about the plate spinners you mentioned. Plate spinning. If you need a better metaphor for our crazy, mixed up, fast paced, modern world in which we live, what better than plate spinning?” Shane giggled again after Glen said this, but then noticed that Glen did not mean this as a joke. Shane looked back down at his shipping forms, and Glen continued, “Also what better chance would we have to hear Sabre Dance! Remember Sabre Dance?” He began to scat the tune: bah-da bop bop bop bop bop bop, bah-da bop bop bop bop bop bop bop bop… The group was laughing again.
Trey said, “I think any genre of performance that requires madcap music is key. Plate spinners…that would be a lot of fun.”
Glen took his cue to impart useless knowledge. “The first ever pairing of plate spinning and Sabre Dance was on the Ed Sullivan Show.” Shane silently wondered how the hell this guy knew that. Glen said, “These talents we’re talking about, animal acts, juggling, acrobats, ventriloquism, found their success on variety shows, and the Ed Sullivan Show really was the last great variety show. Then these talents eventually got away from variety shows and became sketch comedy and music acts.”
“Like the Brady Bunch Variety Hour! That was the best ever!” Linda said, only half-joking. The guys groaned.
“I’d like to throw something out there,” said Trey. “Something happened to a lot of these variety show acts, and that was the Gong Show. That’s when a lot of that stuff became identified as cheesy and stupid. Like an incredibly talented plate spinner, on The Gong Show, would be equated with the guy playing the nose flute, or the guy who can fart the alphabet.”
“Alphabet farters, huh,” said Linda.
“That’s the perfect segue to my story…” said Trey, and they all turned him with their eyebrows raised. “Nah, I got nothin’.”
Glen said, “Ha! Well the Gong Show was evil, and it took away our plate spinners, and now we have to get them back.”
“Good for you, Glen! Get ’em!” Linda smiled as she lost herself in her stitching for a while. All three of them seemed lost in thought for the next several moments, and though the television was still blaring in the cold drafty warehouse, no one was paying attention to it. It was simply a catalyst for a hilarious and intelligent conversation where no one mentioned any characters from Twilight, Grey’s Anatomy, or King of Queens. Shane felt validation for his life-changing mood, thinking that he would like it here just fine.