Twenty years ago I started to work professionally as Forrest Gump. Here is that story.
“I don’t really like jokes in a way. I mean gags are fine but I like weird moments where what you have isn’t really a joke, just tiny moments.” ― Noel Fielding
- Part 1 – The Start & Big Picture
- Part 2 – Becoming Forrest
- Part 3 – The Need to Get Good
- Part 4 – Crowd Control
Jokes & Gags
That is what sitting on the bench talking to people ended up being – tiny moments.
For me, it was 500 to 1000 tiny moments compressed into a 5-hour time period. Three days a week. Fifty weeks a year.
The movie is chock full of one-liners. Just saying the lines was enough to get a laugh.
- Life is like a box of chocolates
- Stupid is as stupid does
- Fried shrimp, bar-b-que shrimp, shrimp soup …
And modified lines worked equally well:
- Is that all you’ve got to say about that?
- Get your buttocks over here and sit down on this bench
- Did he propose marriage by saying, “I’m not a smart man, but I know what love is!”?
In Part 4, I mentioned how a typical interaction lasted from 20 to 40-seconds. We weren’t going deep. We were just interacting, having fun, and doing a lot of laughing. For the most part it was child-like play. Silliness. Tiny moments.
None-the-less, I took my jokes and gags seriously. Since there were hundreds of interactions occurring each day, the opportunity to perfect the set up and punch line was non-stop. I didn’t want people to hear the same joke over and over, so a whole repertoire of jokes and gags was developed. And since the crowd turned over completely every 10 minutes, recycling lines regularly was possible. The goal was to make each joke feel fresh to each person.
What I was doing was improv. No matter what the person said, I had an answer. That answer was often a setup line followed by the punch line. Because people mostly behave in a predicable way, the conversations all took the same form.
- Question – Where are you from?
- Their answer
- Reaction to their answer – There is only one thing I have to say about [their answer] (the setup)
This pattern repeated itself 500 to 1000 times each day. It was reacting with crafted lines that sounded spontaneous. I created hundreds of questions, standard answers, and punchlines. In a way, my brain was working like a computer and Boolean logic. If they say A, then I give answer A-1, A-2, or A-3. If they ask B, then I respond with B1, B-2, or B-3. If they answer C, then respond with C-1, C-2, or C-3. Etc, Etc.
Every once in a while, something special would happen. An unexpected question or response from a visitor would prompt a new answer from me. Bingo! A new joke. A new answer. Over the next few weeks, I’d perfect the setup and punch line so the new answer became part of my routine. Multiply that by months and years and I had many hundreds of jokes and gags.
In time, I’d get bored with a certain joke and it would leave my routine for a few months. Only to resurface at some future time. While I was systematic in the way I collected and perfected new material, I wanted to be spontaneous and specific in the way that I interacted with each unique visitor. The interactions were allowed to ebb and flow with whomever happened to be visiting Forrest on the bench.
It was the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to being-in-the-moment. Or flow for those familiar with Csikszentmihalyi.
The majority of the time, I was in a machine-like operating mode:
- Directing traffic
- Setting up gags
- Delivering punchlines …
- Over … and over … and over again
Magical moments occur every so often. I guess these moments occurred once every few days. There might be 1000 to 2500 interactions between these magical moments. They happened when a combination of things all occurred simultaneously:
- I’d be on a good roll with lots of people surrounding me
- Everyone was enjoying the experience
- People would be moving on and off the bench in rapid fire
- Someone would say something so ridiculous, so over the top … that I couldn’t contain myself any longer
- I’d burst out laughing
- Some times, I was even the person who said the outlandish thing … I cracked myself up!
It was a total break from being in character. Everyone knew it. I know it. The pure joy was heartfelt and deep during those moments. It was magical.
After a few seconds of just allowing that moment to be, I’d return to my character and start the whole process over again … and over again … and over again.
It was pure joy. It was also hard work. It was non-stop jokes and gags.
Next up. Part 6: Crossing the Line / Mistakes