There was this one Ally McBeal I saw (shut up, you guys) where she was hired to represent this guy Malcolm who was suing a girl who promised to go to prom with him and then refused. Malcolm's minister gets all up in this case and says the girl has to keep her promise so that Malcolm can go to the prom and sing a song for all his classmates. The hearing ensues and everybody talks about how Malcolm is socially inept and introverted and going to prom would be a huge social risk he was taking so it was vitally important that this girl go with him. The judge refuses to grant the order and dismisses the case (which really should have happened more often on that show; Ally McBeal was an extended study in bullshit legal proceedings), but Ally feels sorry for poor, awkward Malcolm and convinces him to go anyway and she will be his date. He's reticent, but she puts on an age-inappropriate dress and shows up on his doorstep, so how can he refuse? So they go to the prom and then this happens: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=slGrRxp88xE
It's significant to mention here that this is Groban before he was Groban. Evidently, David E. Kelley (the creator of Ally) saw Groban in a bar, or something, and so impressed he wrote a show around him. Groban didn't have a record out yet or anything, so nobody knew what he might sound like until he opened his mouth on that show. I don't know, perhaps something doesn't translate here, since Groban is now an easy listening staple you can't get away from, but when I first saw this on television ten years ago it was shocking. You don't expect that perfect, operatic man-voice to come out of that awkward, scrawny package (and he's got to be Jewish, doesn't he? How does he reconcile that will all the Christmas albums?). And it's not as if I've become a huge Groban fan since then (quite the opposite, in fact, I really can't buy what he's selling), but I'll always remember how perfectly that episode captures that “You've defied all expectations and I'm unbelievably impressed!” feeling.
Maybe it's just wannabe performers who get this feeling, but doesn't everybody at some point in their life want to do something with such excellence that everyone is stunned into silence and then raucous applause? I sure do, which leads me to my new Dream.
Dream: Have a “Groban on McBeal” moment of my very own.
Goal: Achievable, because I've seen it happen lots of times. For instance, I was at a piano bar a few weeks ago (shut up, you guys!) where this timid guy (just like Groban) awkwardly approached the stage (just like Groban) and started with a little preamble before he song. He explained that what he was performing was from the failed sequel to Phantom of the Opera (Son of the Phantom, I think it was called, or Phantom 2: Surf's Up!) and undoubtedly the audience of musical theatre geeks stifled a groan. The people before him had sung stuff from Hairspray and Adele covers, stuff the audience knew and could sing along to, but not this dude. So the unfamiliar music starts up and he blows the roof off the place! He Andrew Lloyd Webbered the shit out of that song! The audience collectively leapt to its feet, cheering and applauding, and the emcee couldn't get the room back for several minutes afterward.
For me, it can't be singing. I can barely carry a tune and unless the band Naked Eyes is playing a concert and their lead singer suddenly falls ill and they need someone to sing their hit “Always Something There to Remind Me” who knows almost all the words and kind of the melody, then maybe. Otherwise, I need something else in order to properly Groban this bitch.
Plan: Orchestrate the opportunity to defy all expectations and unbelievably impress a group of persons with the flawless execution of a thing, like:
Athleticism. There's this old turtle of a lady who comes into my store and buys three kleenex boxes every day. She moans, “Hi there” when she walks in, then “Bye now” when she leaves, carrying two boxes in an old bag and the third in her other hand. I don't know what kind of spill she has in her house, but it's always three boxes every day with a permanent scowl and very minimal chatter. Anyway, what I've organized is this: over the speakers sometimes, our store plays the Kenny Loggins hit “Highway to the Danger Zone.” Loggins is an even bigger “lite favourites” staple than Groban, so it plays a lot. The next time “Highway to the Danger Zone” plays and Old Turtle is in the store, here's what's going to happen. I will run full-force towards Old Turtle while someone inexplicably cranks up Loggins. Then, she will drop her kleenex and lock her hands together palms-up, making a kind of step for me. I will step into her hands and she will lift upward so I will do a backflip (in the air!!!) and land right side up. Then I will lock my hands and flip Old Turtle. Wouldn't that be the most amazing thing you ever saw? She had better start training now because I'm hoping not to be working there forever.
Comedy. Standing up is as difficult for funny people as it is for paraplegics. I've tried a few times at some different open mics and have garnered reactions from mild titters to blatant heckling. Once, I tried telling the joke, “Maybe I should put all the money I spend buying jeans in a larger size towards gastric bypass surgery” and got as far as “Maybe I should-” before a drunk shouted, “Maybe you should shut the fuck up!” He got my biggest laugh, which he barely earned. I tried to play up the laugh, applauding him and saying, “That's the best line you'll hear all night!”, but it came off as desperate and sweaty as I'm sure I looked and felt at the time. The heckling times scared me off so much that I've tried other ways of writing jokes (follow me on Twitter, if you want here: http://twitter.com/#!/BigCityJames) and will get back on horse soon enough, but at some point I want to Gaffigan it up good, then drop the microphone Chappelle-style and head back to my Sprite, victorious. By the way, at all the comedy clubs I visited, Sprite has been at least four dollars! They would really rather you drank alcohol there, I guess.
Heroism. At least once, I'd like to blow-up some kind of invading space craft. I wouldn't be able to fight an alien militia in hand-to-hand combat, but I could get comfortable enough with one of those fire-spraying guns and blow up their vehicle while they're trying to park it. The best part would be when the people in the neighbouring town heard the loud explosion and they would wrongfully assume it would be the human army that perished, and not the aliens. But then a small, tanned boy would see something out on the horizon from the window of his trailer and scream, “Jon! Jonny come look! Come see!” and Jon would come out on the porch, wearily, drying a dish with a rag wrapped around his head (I don't know why we live in a trailer now or why a small boy is there, but I don't know why aliens would invade either so just go with it). Anyway, as the sun rises over the desert, I would emerge on the horizon, tired but muscle-y, and Jon would drop the dish he was drying, scream something in Spanish and run towards me. I would assure him that everything would be alright from now on, and the small boy would say something funny (because it would be such a childish and wrongheaded observation) and we would tousle his hair and laugh.
The more I think about it, the more I think I'm missing the point of the experience. I don't need the glory of defying expectations and thrilling everyone, I have enough people that like me as I am and don't require me to perform gymnastics for their approval. The pleasure from the Groban scene, and the performance in the piano bar, was witnessing greatness. I take more pleasure in watching my friends onstage, or seeing them karaoke with finesse, or when Nikki Payne followed my set at the comedy club and fucking killed, then when I try to do those things by myself. We all have stuff that we're good but maybe not great at, and we should be allowed to do them at work, at home, or in public. We should get paid for that shit. Somebody take that case to court.