With my bible in hand (Chip and Dan Heath's majestic Switch) and swagger in place, the mandate coming into my second debut at Just For Laughs is "Change Everything":
- The theater stage set
- The way we do our Galas
- The TV shows we produce
- The places we present our shows
- Our marketing from top to bottom
- The Festival dates themselves
- Maybe even our URL (Do we ditch hahaha.com for JustForLaughs.com?)
- Keep adding here...
Way easier said than done, I'm beginning to discover.
The path to change is indeed a gorgeous one; freshly paved with shimmering blacktop and a clear view to a glowing Utopian destination.
But start to walk said path and barbed-wire-wrapped roadblocks rip through the pavement like spring-loaded razor blades.
Yeah, everybody loves change...Until you actually change something.
That screech you hear is dozens of brakes all being slammed at the same time.
Here's what I'm starting to realize--change is an irrational state of mind. We're wired for routine and regularity and rationality. Getting to that copacetic state takes a bit of time, and once nestled within it, the idea of change from it is exciting...but just that. An idea.
Another gnawing realization?
People don't want to effectuate change...
They want others to react differently to the status quo.
In other words, I ain't gonna change--you are.
Sorry folks, change is a dance that Fred's gotta lead, not Ginger. (If this uber-old school reference is way above your head, click here.) Once your public or your customers make the first move, it's too late. There's some other partner already waiting for them on the dance floor. Enjoy your newfound status as the lonely wallflower. Buy yourself a drink. You're gonna need it.
Last realization (and a key one with light at the end of the tunnel): the only time change is easy is when it's forced, like when someone dies, or quits, or moves away, or a factory closes, or something burns to the ground. These emergency situations, while dire, force the hand of change and, sad-but-true, actually bring out the best is us.
So I guess the best way to change things up is to create a scorched-earth situation...without actually dropping the bomb.
I'm strapping on the helmet and tightening the jockstrap. Stay tuned for details.
On another note, an email conversation with Cameron Archer led me to re-discover the Mike MacDonald/Just For Laughs video below on his blog URBMN. What makes this archeological find so special is that it's the first piece of live comedy I ever directed in my life.
I was in my 20s at the time, and was quite familiar with Mike's "Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy" number, with which he closed his comedy concerts for years. While Mike always used the glasses, tennis racket and jacket props in clubs, it was my idea to choreograph it and blow it up to stage-level with hanging windows, rock posters, lightbulb microphone, basic pyrotechnic blasts and--la piece de resistance, merci!--the chest of drawers that spun to reveal a Marshall amp.
I'll never forget the buzz I felt when the curtain rose as Mike cooed "Then I'd sneak upstairs to my room..." and the audience took in stand-up comedy with a rock-and-roll/theatrical infusion.
Primitive, but hey, we all gotta start somewhere. Got lots more video and behind-the-scenes stories where this came from, and if the reaction to this one is favorable and plentiful enough, maybe I'll unveil others from my private JFL DVD collection, which includes some never-before-seen stuff from folks like Tina Fey, Kelly Ripa and the infamous Tom Arnold-led "Abu Graib, The Musical" song and dance number.
But for now, from our Showtime and CBC shows of 1987, here's Mike MacDonald: