TV Tonight begins the first in a new series of feature “Spotlight” articles that will appear from time to time, in which Q&A style questions will be put to a group of individuals who all have the same job in the industry.
Today 6 of television’s “Warm-Up Men” are asked what it’s like to work with an audience, in that all-important role of ensuring a crowd is ready to pop when the cameras roll. There’s nothing worse than a dull audience on a live show, but how do they make it happen?
Answering the questions for this Spotlight article are: Pete Smith (pictured, middle), Jeremy Kewley (pictured, top), Steve Philp, John Deeks (pictured, bottom), Michael Pope and Brian Nankervis.
It seems the men have this role cornered, I couldn’t find any females currently working in this position (Chrissie Bray once worked on Ready Steady Cook).
That said, these guys have some great yarns to share (including several being yelled at by stressed producers).
1. How long have you been doing audience warm-ups? What shows have you worked on?
PETE SMITH: I started doing warm ups for Graham Kennedy’s In Melbourne Tonight when I joined channel 9 from the ABC in 1964 I have been involved in such live shows as the Bert Newton Show…the Paul Hogan shows….the Ernie Sigley Show….New Faces…. The Logies…..and Sale Of The Century among many others over the years.
JEREMY KEWLEY: 25 years. First Warm Up gig was on “Young Talent Time” in 1988. 16 years with “The Footy Show” in Melbourne including the live broadcasts from London and Munich; “Temptation”; “1 VS 100”; “Candid Camera”; “UnReal TV” with Tim Ferguson; “AFI Awards”, “Good Friday Appeal”; “The Marngrook Footy Show” and dozens more.
STEVE PHILP: 9 years. Worked on Ready Steady Cook, NRL Footy Show, Minute to win it, Battle of the Choirs, So you think you can Dance, Australia’s Next Top Model etc etc.
JOHN DEEKS: Every week for the past 33 years starting with the Price is Right at Festival Hall and .. well pretty much every show on Seven since I guess.
MICHAEL POPE: I started in 1990 on Perfect Match and have done almost every show since! Certainly in all genres. It dawned on me recently that I would be the most clapped out person in Australia. That is, no one has clapped their hands together more than I have. 4 or more hours a week over 23 years!
BRIAN NANKERVIS: I began around 1994 on the Jimeoin show on Ch 7. I was an actor on the show and one night the regular warm up man was sick and a producer asked if anyone could step up. At that time I was appearing regularly on Hey Hey as the poet, Raymond J Bartholomeuz, so I did some poems and generally mucked around. I got the gig each week. I taped the beginnings of some songs and divided the audience into teams to guess title and artist. I’ve worked on The Panel, Thank God You’re Here and Pictures Of You for Working Dog. Lano and Woodley, Shaun Micallef. Denise Drysdale’s daytime show, Four Quarters at Ch 7, Comedy Inc at Ch 9, a couple of years of Fridays with Bert Newton. Hessie’s Shed. Lots of one off shows, fill ins and more I can’t remember right now! Currently Slideshow for Ch 7 and Lawrence Mooney’s Dirty Laundry.
2. Which has been the most fun and why?
PETE SMITH: Without doubt the shows hosted by Bert Newton…always hilarious to be involved with Bert and the last time we worked together was when I handled the warm ups for his series of the classic Family Feud.
JEREMY KEWLEY: “Temptation”. Ed Phillips and Livinia Nixon and the entire crew were incredibly relaxed and enjoyed doing the show, and Ed & Livina (and the crew) would often join in with my audience chat and games. Good sports, often at their own expense.
STEVE PHILP: I love Ready Steady. I’ve been there since day 1 and love how it’s evolved from a cooking show to a weird little show where the audience lose their mind over a carrot being taken out of a bag. I also love the audience. I’ve been given Xmas gifts and presents for my daughter before she was born from people I’ve literally met twice. Strange but sweet.
JOHN DEEKS: Tonight Live was a blast but Andrew O’Keefe is 100% joy.
MICHAEL POPE: Too many to pick a favourite – but the ones where the cast are willing and able to connect with the studio audience are clearly the best – for me, for the audience, and ultimately the show. Shaun Micallef and Larry Emdur immediately come to mind, but also – Grant Denyer, Daniel McPherson, Steve Vizard, Frank Holden – it goes on and on.
BRIAN NANKERVIS: The Working Dog shows are always great. They look after me, give me freedom and recognize the need to keep everything moving. Thank God You’re Here had big audiences who were already very excited. The Panel was great … it was live and because we did it every week, we knew what we were doing and could take risks within a framework. I loved watching Bert work his magic. On Hessie’s Shed, the warm up grew to the point where I was part of the show. I suppose I warm up the audience at the RocKwiz shows, selecting the contestants and preparing for the main show.
3. And the hardest?
PETE SMITH: The most challenging was working on the specials created by English funny an Ronnie Corbett of The Two Ronnies fame. The diminutive Ronnie was a perfectionist and left nothing to chance. His success illustrates how that working regimen paid off.
JEREMY KEWLEY: 2007’s “National Bingo Night”, recorded at Fox Studios in Sydney for Channel 7. Host Tim Campbell was a great, friendly host and worked hard, but the show was technically difficult, and took hours to record a single episode.
STEVE PHILP: I worked on a horrible show hosted by Big Brother evictees where they would review internet clips such as a football mascot dressed as a dog catching on fire and the host came out with the line ” Oh Hot dog” and the producer yelled at me because the audience weren’t laughing! I also worked on a Better Homes and Gardens live show in a Bunnings! Try doing crowd warm up in a Bunnings! My mic went thru the whole store so i was mucking around saying stuff like ” Attention shoppers, for the next 5 minutes everything is Free!”
JOHN DEEKS: The Bert Newton Show.
MICHAEL POPE: The shows where the Producer insists on putting the VIPs in the front are the hardest. They tend to not ‘give over themselves’ as easily – so the show doesn’t lift as it should. Fill the front rows at the Logies with punters and you’ll have a night to remember!
BRIAN NANKERVIS: Probably the hardest warm up was a comedy recorded at the Ch 10 studios in Nunawading. It was a long series that the audiences didn’t know (or really like) and as the nights went on and on and on I had to literally stop people from leaving. They were running out of the studio, while tense producers yelled at me to make them laugh and keep them in their seats. One night after a few hours, a couple walked from the back of the seating and when I asked them what they were doing, the man grabbed my microphone and said, “This show is complete rubbish and I refuse to be involved in it!”
4. Describe your “routine” or schtick (comic routine).
PETE SMITH: My routine is tried and true and based on some of the tricks of the trade I learned from such Channel Nine comedy masters as Johnny Ladd and In Melbourne Tonight principal comedian, the late great Joff Ellen.
JEREMY KEWLEY: It really changes from show to show, depending on the audience, the age and background of the audience and the show’s requirements. I am flexible and quickly adapt to whatever is required. But, in the main, I “get to know” the audience, chat with them, explain the show (particularly if it’s a new show or has new elements), tell jokes (often a string of jokes around a common theme and suited to the show or style of show), play games, pluck audience members out to come on set during breaks and have a competition with them or encourage them to do their party trick. It’s amazing the untapped talent you can find in an audience! They are often my best resource of material!
STEVE PHILP: I generally try to take the side of the audience member. Once they like you, you can pretty much do whatever you like. But generally it involves me doing bits of my stand up that I relate to the show so it sounds like it’s been tailored for the show.
JOHN DEEKS: Anything it takes to have the audience feel engaged in the production process, have a good time and feel some ownership of the production through their involvement .
MICHAEL POPE: I still enjoy the job after so long because I improvise myself through most of it. “Any questions?” is something I constantly ask – so about 20% is housekeeping I have to do – but the rest is as fresh to me as it is to the room.
BRIAN NANKERVIS: I try and greet the audience as they arrive. Make sure there is loud music playing in the studio and encourage the production team (who are almost always fabulous) to make sure I have plenty of lollies to throw. I have a series of set pieces which vary depending on the length of the breaks. I might juggle, dance, perform silly magic, tell a few jokes, run music quizzes, ring someone’s mum, recite poetry … try and maintain a happy vibe. I try and make it like a show within a show. I do love to perform and warm ups are a great chance to do just that.
5. What’s better, Live or Pre-Record shows?
PETE SMITH: Definitely live shows……. Performing live with no second chances puts an edge on an entertainers performance which is there for all the audience to see.
JEREMY KEWLEY: Live is so much better and easier. You know when the show will end (unless it runs overtime), you know how many breaks there will be, and how long the breaks will be. Pre-recorded shows can often stretch out over a very long time, and I often have to “fill” for what seems like an eternity. But if I have to “fill” or “stretch”, then I do!
STEVE PHILP: Live in the sense that it’s easy and short. Pre-recorded tends to be hard work especially on big budget shows. When I worked on Minute to Win It we would run 2 hours over and just expect the audience to be ok with. That’s when you turn into a herder of sheep as opposed to a warm up act. People don’t want jokes when they’ve had enough of being there…but try telling that to a producer!
JOHN DEEKS: Live…. every time!
MICHAEL POPE: Live TV always ‘lifts’ everyone. The 3Cs; the cast, the crew, the crowd. But having said that – if the show is run professionally, people knowing what they are doing, then you almost forget that it is not live to air. Pre-recorded usually means I have more time on stage – so that’s fun (at least for me!).
BRIAN NANKERVIS: I love the excitement of a live show! The pre recorded show can be very daunting. We’ve been there for hours and hours, my bag of tricks is completely empty, we’re delirious with exhaustion and boredom and the floor manager says, “we’re just having a problem with a camera/microphone/wardrobe/set/script blah blah blah … we’ll probably be about twenty minutes, so keep them fired up. Oh, and the producer reckons they’re not laughing enough”. Aaaarrgh!
6. What makes a good audience member?
PETE SMITH: A good audience member is one who has been waiting for maybe up to an hour to get a good seat. They’re the one’s most likely to appreciate your efforts having waited outside in sometimes chilly weather. Hence “the warm up”.
JEREMY KEWLEY: They want to be there and they understand why they are there, and their role in the show. If you need volunteers or people to ask questions or get involved, they are happy to put their hands up and/or have a go. And if they are not required to get involved, they are still happy and excited to sit in their seats and just watch what is going on and applaud, and cheer, and laugh and so on.
STEVE PHILP: Generally teeth is a good start. Some shows they recruit audience members from nursing homes thinking they’ll love to get out! Truth is they’d be far more happy at Bingo or the RSL and they haven’t clapped since the last time their pension cheque came through. At Ready Steady we often get people who nod off for most of the show only to woken up startled by me doing the 10, 9, 8, 7 countdown! (one of my fav parts…they wake up like they’re back in Nam”).
JOHN DEEKS: One who is there for the fun and to experience a television production. They used to thank us for allowing them to come to a production .. but now we thank them for turning up!
MICHAEL POPE: Someone who is there to give back. If you plan to sit in the same way as you do at home – stay home. But if you want to participate – play your role – respond and get involved – then you’re welcome.
BRIAN NANKERVIS: It often helps when audiences know the show and are excited to be there. But sometimes it’s great when they come in without expectations and can be happily surprised by a new and exciting experience. Ideal audience members are quick to laugh, enthusiastic, attentive, have fabulous senses of humour and are prepared to clap until their arms and hands are aching. And then clap some more! One thing I have noticed lately is that some people use the breaks in filming to check their phones and do some texting, emailing, tweeting and facebooking. They’re not listening to the frustrated warm up person and it breaks our hearts! The modern world.
7. Looking back over the years, what’s the wildest or most bizarre moment?
PETE SMITH:Without doubt appearing with the D Generation, with Tony Martin,Mick Molloy, Rob Sitch and their great team, appearing on The Late Show on ABC-TV. To this day they never let me forget the crazy things we did on those shows like the Aerosmith send-up when I reformed Dude Looks Like A Lady.
JEREMY KEWLEY: Had a big group of school kids (from various schools) in the audience for the daytime recording of an episode of Channel Ten’s “Australia’s Brainiest Kid” at the ABC Studios at Ripponlea in Melbourne. There was a major technical problem that I knew would take a while to fix, so I took the entire audience out for a one hour guided walk around the sunny streets of Ripponlea and Elsternwick where we all chatted and ‘bonded’.
STEVE PHILP: Watched a guy I was training almost decapitate an audience member with a fun size Mars bar! The poor guy wasn’t even paying attention. The trainee threw it that hard that when it hit the gentleman it looked like the JFK assassination! Let’s just say that was training over!
JOHN DEEKS: Fainting big bosomed ladies with tops that won’t stay up!
MICHAEL POPE: It’s a good question – but a poor answer. As everyone in the studio is a professional – there are very few ‘hiccups’. If something that ‘wasn’t meant to happen, happened’, it probably ended up on the show.
BRIAN NANKERVIS: So many that it’s hard to pick just one. One I remember clearly was during a warm up at Etihad stadium, for a televised event involving Nelson Mandela, Hurricane Carter, Sigrid Thornton and Paul Kelly. There were numerous delays, a huge audience who were miles away from the stage and a producer in cowboy boots who screamed at me for kicking a football into a group of VIPs. Just as he’d finished his tirade of abuse, Michael Long appeared with the football he’d marked, gave me a hug and said “thanks brother, let’s have another kick!”
8. If a Producer is looking to book their next warm-up man, why should they call you?
PETE SMITH: Tell ’em to call Michael Pope….. He’s full of fun and knows how to keep an audience on their toes.. and then some. These days I look after Community Affairs at Channel Nine and regular do talks on my experience over fifty years at 9 for charity groups and the like. Among my many interests I am a patron of the Epilepsy Foundation, Citizen Advocacy and CATHS which is the Cinema and Theatre Historical Society. My honorary role as a Justice of the Peace also keeps me busy with work in the community.
JEREMY KEWLEY: I enjoy what I do. I’m happy to work with the host/s, the producers and the crew to create the right environment for the show. I can think on my feet and adapt, and I’m never lost for a word! I’m not there to be the focus of the show, but it’s important that the audience “likes” me as they will often hear and see more of me than anyone else, so if they don’t end up liking me, they’re going to be disappointed and frustrated by the end of the show!
STEVE PHILP: Experience and the fact that I now have a 1yr old daughter to feed….please book me!!!
JOHN DEEKS: I work cheap, do my own voice overs and bring my own lunch.
MICHAEL POPE: They know.
BRIAN NANKERVIS: I’ll do my very best. I like to work with crews, to be part of a team to help make a little television magic. All up, warm ups are challenging and rewarding. Having to entertain large groups of tired, hungry people in strange environments for long periods of time has made me a better performer. I’ve had to find new material and develop skills that I’ve taken into all other areas of my work. The warm ups often lead to other jobs as well as keeping you in good performing shape. Match fit.