Friday, January 29, 2016

Storage Auction Action: The Glory, The Glamour, and The Groupies

The participants in the “reality” Storage Wars shows are modern-day treasure hunters. As Forrest Gump would say, “When you buy a storage locker, you never know what you’re gonna get.”

I recently went to a few auctions and ran into an old comedy friend who stocks his thrift store with material he gets at the events. I was surprised to learn that there are people who go to auctions who never buy a storage unit or even place a bid on one.

These are the storage auction groupies, people who have gotten caught up in the glitz and the glamour of the lifestyle. People who find it energizing to just be around the auction tycoons. I’m more of a doer. I actually placed the winning bid on a locker. 

It only takes a few moments for the auctioneer to cut through a lock, but the odor from the grinding, which is distinctive, lingers. For people at storage auctions, that’s the aroma of possibility. When the auctioneer opened the door to the locker I bid on, it was just like Storage Wars except that nobody said, “Ooh, aah.”

I spotted something of value that nobody else seemed to notice. There appeared to be some pest control supplies! When you live in Florida, like I do, you’re going to have to deal with pests. This locker looked like a winner to me.

“Can I get twenty-five dollars?” the auctioneer asked. A guy next to me piped up, “How about ten?”

“We have ten. Can I get fifteen?” asked the auctioneer.

I waited a few moments and then said, “Fifteen.”

Silence. There was no competition.

“Fifteen going once, twice, and sold,” the auctioneer said.

I put a lock on the door and went to “pay the lady.” Then I went back to see what treasures were inside. That’s when I experienced the reality of the storage auction business. There was no red carpet. Just a gritty concrete floor. The storage auction business is not all champagne and supermodels partying in the back of a limousine.

Organizing my own junk is hard enough. Sifting through someone else’s abandoned stuff was not fun at all. I wondered what happened to the lady who had rented the unit. Renting the space and storing every item in there must have made perfect sense to her at some point.

However, I saw lots of stuff that didn’t make sense to me at all. There were bags filled with bills and receipts. Bags full of bags. Old newspapers that were not collectible. A little M&M container, empty. A small bag of potting soil, full.

One of the rules at storage auctions is that buyers have to empty their units in a short period of time. Dumping unwanted items in the facility’s dumpsters is not allowed.  When management catches someone doing that, the person is banned from future auctions. I loaded junk on a cart, rolled it down a long hallway, onto an elevator, out to my SUV, and loaded it up – about fifty times.

I began to understand why there had been no competition for the unit I had placed a winning bid on. People who understood the business don’t just look at the potential treasures. They calculate how much work it will take to get to whatever might be in a unit and to get rid of everything else. I took the stuff I didn’t want that was still useful to a nearby Salvation Army. I also hauled many loads of trash to my house. After a while, the possibility of being banned from future auctions didn’t matter to me anymore, and I put trash in the facility dumpster.

Lots of books, including a few on recovering from cancer, were among the items I had purchased. It made me wonder if the renter had gotten really sick and had fallen on hard times. There was also a treasury of books and audiobooks on how to be successful by people like Wayne Dyer, Kenneth Blanchard, Deepak Chopra, and other popular authors.  

The books and the audiobooks at least made my little adventure interesting. I’m going to listen to some of the tapes and read some of the books before I sell them. Maybe I’ll find some of the buried treasure I was hoping to uncover in one of them.
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Sunday, January 10, 2016

Learn how to tell jokes from the masters

None of the people who have done well in comedy have gotten there on natural ability alone. The people at the top are talented but they have also worked hard and learned a lot along the way.

Brian Regan is one of my favorites to watch and I got to see him twice when he was working comedy clubs. I laughed so hard that my ribs were actually sore by the end of his sets. (Those were the only two times in my life for that to happen.)

If you want to tell jokes like the masters, don’t just sit back and watch. Analyze what they do. Go to live comedy shows if you can and watch how the pros use the various devices of comedy. Here are three of the obvious things to watch for: 

  • Energy level. Some comedians are very energetic and others not so much. Be mindful of what might work for you in your public speaking situations.
  • Gestures and movement around the stage.Most comedians are very aware of the space available and how to use it. Some move around a lot and some stay right by the mic stand. Some mix it up.
  • Comedic timing. Comedians have a sense for how much of a pause to leave between the setup and the punchline. They also have a sense for when to move into the next joke. I’ve seen public speakers who didn’t give the audience time to digest the setup or the punchline and how moved forward a bit too quickly. It’s a serious mistake but it’s one of those things that gets better with practice. 

I used to go to a comedy club nearly every week on a night that was sponsored by a country radio station. It was particularly interesting and educational when there was a black performer for the predominantly redneck audience.

One of the best opening jokes I’ve ever seen was by a very good comedian named Special K. He came to the microphone, took a good look around at the nearly all white audience, and said “Rooster Country. Not a very popular station with the brothers, is it?” 

Just like that, he addressed the fact that he was a black performer for a mostly white audience. It was a very funny joke and it got a good laugh. Special K had a very good set. What did I learn? If there's some potential issue at a speaking engagement, deal with it up front with some humor.

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If you liked this tip about telling jokes, you can find many more in Humor 101: How to Tell Jokes for Power, Prestige, Profit, and Personal Fulfillment. Check it out.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

3 Keys for Using Sight Gags

A good sight gag can really help a public speaker to get the attention of an audience. What is a sight gag? It’s just a joke where some object is the punchline. Carrot Top has made an excellent career out of sight gags. People look at what he does and think it’s easy. Carrot Top may make it look easy, but it’s not. Here are 3 tips to using sight gags effectively.

  • The sight gag is the punchline. Timing is just as important with a sight gag as it is with any other joke. Remember that the punchline follows the setup, and don’t get ahead of yourself.
  • Sight gags have to be big enough for everybody in the audience to see. It’s not very good if the people in front get the joke but the people in back are clueless. Test the sight gag. Get somebody to hold it up where you’re going to be standing and then move around the room where audience members will be to make sure everyone will be able to see it.
  • Keep it simple. Sight gags have to be visually funny and self-explanatory. People aren’t going to laugh just because you pulled something out of a box. If you can’t count on most of the people in your audience getting the joke without having to explain it to them, you’re probably better off not using it.

If you can use yourself as a sight-gag, that can work very well. One of my comedy friends was a fat black guy named Ace. “Now, I’d like to do my impression of the number 10,” he would say. Then he would stand next to the mic stand. “And now, for any dyslexics in the audience…” Then he turned around and stood on the other side of the mic stand. It was hilarious.

When I started out in comedy, I used lots of sight gags because they set me apart from the other comedians in the circles where I was performing. Very few used props. One of the best sight gags I came up with was also one of the dumbest. Whenever there was a Star Wars movie in the theatres, I would ask “Do we have any Star Wars fans in the house?” Then I would hold up 2 posters with the number 4 on them. “May the 4s be with you.” Simple, stupid, and it worked every time.

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If you liked this tip about telling jokes, you can find many more in Humor 101: How to Tell Jokes for Power, Prestige, Profit, and Personal Fulfillment. Check it out.