Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Warm Up: The Stars Get Benefit of a Pre-Heated Audience - TV Guide - January 1954

Here is an enjoyable and extremely insightful article that appeared in TV Guide, the last week of January 1954 (pictured).

The Warm Up - Stars Get Benefit of Pre-Heated Audience

An occupational hazard and one of the major causes of trauma among comedians is that dreary audience that refuses to laugh. It has long since become dogma in the radio-TV industry that a studio audience must be on hand to be insulted by the comics and cued by off screen claques so that folks at home will know when to laugh.

And if a studio audience doesn't laugh? As a precaution against such disasters, most shows employ a pre-show audience warm up so that when airtime rolls around, the audience will be giddy enough to laugh at anything.


The kingpin at audience priming is of course that old pro Bob Hope. Approximately a minute before air time, he reads from the script what is allegedly the first joke on the show. He then ceremoniously rips the first page off, crumples it in a ball, throws it on the floor and kicks it. Mr. Hope has this timed so well that the audience will be in gales of merriment at precisely the moment the show goes on the air.

Announcer Jack Lescoulie does the warm up on the
Jackie Gleason Show. A typical warm up involves lining up Jackie, Audrey Meadows, Art Carney, June Taylor on stage, then going into the following spiel: "Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce you to the cast. Cast, meet the audience." With this, the cast runs out into the audience, shaking hands all around. The cast then rushes onstage just in time for the show.

Milton Frome, one of Milton Berle's alter egos, does the warm up on the Berle show. In line with the theory that a studio audience is several cuts lower in intelligence than the one at home, Frome goes out on the runway at the Center Theater wearing a preposterous toupee. He then rants at the audiece, "If you don't laugh tonight, I'll tear my hair out," then, "I think I'll do it anyhow." With this he tears off the toupee. They are then ripe for Uncle Miltie.

Ed Sullivan does his own warm up, with Art Hannes, the announcer, filling in when Ed is on vacation. They begin with greetings from Lincoln-Mercury, tell the audience to relax, ask out-of-towners (most studio audiences are chiefly out-of-towners)to raise their hands and then advising them to "be sure to laugh when the cameras are turned on you. You don't want to disgrace your grandpa back home in the corner saloon. If he sees that you're not smiling, he'll think you're not having a good time."

The Bishop Sheen show has a problem that is peculiar to that show alone. The warm up is handled by one of two announcers, Fred Scott or Bill O'Toole. The audience is told to enjoy itself, applaud when it wishes and to remember, above all, that it is not in church.


Ed Herlihy (
Your Show of Shows)is also on the spot. If he's too funny he'll cramp the styles of Caesar and Coco. He goes through the usual bits about putting an audience at its ease, tells them to take off their shoes, who's going to be on, and so forth.

Walt Framber, producer of Strike it Rich and The Big Payoff, frequently does the warm up on those shows himself. Walt is not averse to a little flag-waving. On Strike it Rich, he leads off by saying, "We all struck it rich when we came to America," making his audience brim over with good feelings.

Eddie Fisher
's audience is warmed up just at the sight of the boy. Consisting chiefly of teenagers, it bursts into squeals the moment Eddie puts in an appearance, approximately a minute before air time.


Mark Goodson and Bill Todman, producer of
What's My Line, I've Got a Secret and other shows, manage some 100 warm ups a year. The boys are loaded down with various routines to get the audience gay: "Do we have anyone in the audience enjoying their honeymoon here in New York? Stand up, please." (Blushing honeymooners stand). "All right now, anybody here not enjoying their honeymoon?" (This brings the house down). "Okay, everybody, get comfortable. Men, take off your jackets, if you want. Ladies - well, do the best you can."

Jane Frohman has the best routine. While her announcer chats amiably with the audience, Jane, her dressing room very close to the stage, can be heard chirping away on that night's songs. And the way Miss Frohman sings, by the time it's air time her audience is so warm, it's glowing.

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