Twenty years ago I started to work professionally as Forrest Gump. Here is that story.
With a modest amount of looks and talent and more than a modicum of serendipity, I’ve managed to stretch my 15 minutes of fame into more than half a century of good fortune.Robert Vaughn
- Part 1 – The Start & Big Picture
- Part 2 – Becoming Forrest
- Part 3 – The Need to Get Good
- Part 4 – Crowd Control
- Part 5 – Jokes & Gags
- Part 6 – Crossing the Line / Mistakes
My 15-minutes of fame repeated itself with every new grand opening. Twenty-two USA locations. Eight International locations.
Despite the movie being two, three, five, and ten years old, the media loved having Bubba Gump Shrimp and Forrest appear on their shows. Bubba Gump Shrimp always hired a top-notch PR firm in each new city. I appeared on about 200 TV and radio shows over the years. It was fun.
It also required a different skill set than sitting on the bench telling jokes, controlling the crowd, and trying not to cross the line.
The media wanted a story. A hook. Something fun and amusing. We gave it them. Over and over and over again.
The first few times I appeared on television it was pretty heady stuff for me. I thought I was pretty special. I liked the idea of appearing on the small screen. It made me feel like a celebrity.
But after a while, I realized that studios are actually pretty boring places. There are no crowds. There isn’t a lot of interaction occurring. Rather, there are a few technicians, a camera operator, and the anchors … who always looked artificial from the amount of makeup they wore. So my shtick needed to be toned down to match the pace of the studio. After a dozen or so times, my media routine became routine.
- Be visible and energetic, but wait for them to be ready for me
- Listen to their ideas, let them make the first suggestion on how the segment should work
- Once they shared their idea, add in a few of my own suggestions
- Nine out of ten times, they’d adopt what was suggested
What was actually occurring was this:
- The Bubba Gump entourage would show up prepared
- We made it easy for the TV people
- We made them to look good
- They made us look good
The television studios loved when Bubba Gump came to the set. We brought food, chocolates, and made them look good – they didn’t want or need anything more than that. They would say, “It’s a pleasure when we get to work with professionals – this was fun. Thank you!” Win-win.
Radio was similar except I didn’t have the advantage of my Gump look. Radio is strictly audio. I was initially self-conscious about this. I only had my voice and sound. I never considered myself as good of a sound-alike. I considered my look as my wheelhouse – not my sound.
But the DJ saw me and their enthusiasm came through. Bubba Gump always provided a spokesman to handle all of the questions about the restaurant. I simply added the silly gump lines. It was a classic straight-man and side-kick routine. They loved it. There were always lots of laughter.
Doing media required a different mind set. It wasn’t about improv and non-stop interaction. It was about remaining calm and then performing at a high level when the lights came on. It was about delivering the two or three prepared lines/talking points at exactly the right moment. The minute the lights went off we were done and we’d walk out the door.
Sitting on the bench was a symphony. There were many movements. Slow buildups. Cresendos folllowed by frenzied passages.
Doing media was a 2-minute rock-n-roll jam. Screaming guitars. Simple lyrics. Repeat the refrain. Cymbal crashing finish. Walk out the door.
Media became a fun break from my routine of sitting on the bench.
Sitting on the bench was a marathon.
Media was a 100-yard dash.
Next up. Part 8: Theatrics