But I’d hate to have to paint it

July 28, 2010

in The BEST of TRC

The Smoking MimeI once made a living as a mime.

This was a long time ago – 20 years and 20 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.

Maybe some other post, because today I’m going to tell you about Michael and Saj. 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 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 teenage 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 of them 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 in my inspiration and let it 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.

That was in 1988.

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

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

Turns out it was while on spring break in 1988.

I’d told Saj 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 virtually 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.

Saj, 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 Saj 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 coffeesister 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.

Tell the WORLD..
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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Eric August 18, 2008 at 3:52 pm

Great story. I can relate to much of it. I was the mime in Ohio for much of the eighties. I knew Mr. J., but not well until he moved to Philly.

Always a great and talented guy. I hope he’s doing well.

Thanks for a great story.


2 Leann August 18, 2008 at 4:21 pm

It is indeed a small small world. Great story!


3 RhodesTer August 18, 2008 at 5:07 pm

Eric -

Leann – wasn’t that funny, what I said to Eric. It was in mime. HAHA! I knew he’d understand, since he was one himself.


4 Kimota August 19, 2008 at 4:43 pm

I love this story. What it illustrates for me is the difference between the amateur and professional entertainer. Whether you can still perform with inspiration when it’s wet, you have a headache, your wife just walked out or the audience is reminiscent of Nuremberg is what separates those who go far from those who give up.

The same goes for writing too – being able to produce professional work every day, regardless of circumstances. I get asked all the time by people about becoming a professional writer. I explain that it isn’t about writing your dream project on the weekend when you’re ‘in the mood’ but about writing something you have no interest in when you’d much rather be doing something else entirely. That’s when they glaze over and decide to do something less frustrating instead.

Having said all that… he he he, you were a mime! That takes an extra level of courage.


5 RhodesTer August 19, 2008 at 5:27 pm

Well, of course the POINT of the story was running into Saj ten years after having been told about his visit to SeaWorld, but yeah.. I agree.

And yes, it does take courage. I went for a swim a couple of times, which I don’t care to talk about.


6 Karen Putz August 22, 2008 at 7:37 pm

What a cool story! Too bad that lottery ticket didn’t pan out.


7 RhodesTer August 22, 2008 at 7:41 pm

They never do, Karen.


8 Mark Wenzel June 4, 2010 at 5:45 pm

I was the original Mime at SeaWorld.
Please visit my website for Photos and Videos.
Nice to know what I started has changed peoples lives.
Thanks, Mark


9 RhodesTer June 4, 2010 at 6:41 pm

I know Mark, we’ve met. About 20 years ago in Fresno I saw you perform at the Fresno County Fair – called you afterward for a dinner invite but it just never happened. Then my wife and I ran into you in New Orleans Square when you worked for the mouse.. you stopped and chatted with us for a few minutes.

We’re in San Francisco now – I’m sure you must make it up here now and then, so maybe we’ll cross paths again. Best of luck!


10 RhodesTer June 4, 2010 at 6:47 pm

Mark, did YOU ever end up in the moat? If you ended up in the moat I wouldn’t feel so bad over the couple of times I did :-P Stupid drunk college students.


11 Scott Roche July 28, 2010 at 5:32 am

You have a gift my friend.


12 RhodesTer July 28, 2010 at 11:59 pm

So I saw.. thanks!


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