Last night I had the treat of seeing Barry Manilow perform live at the Las Vegas Hilton. What a show! A great singer and entertainer. And he’s skilled in the use of humor. Anytime I see a celebrity onstage I always analyze their style to see why it has power. Here are some observations from his performance.
1. His smile. He has an infectious smile. He smiles with the eyes. A great, natural smile made the audience feel like he was having a good time. It made it easier for the audience to have a good time and to laugh.
2. His eye contact. One of the first things he did was to speak directly to, and make eye contact with, the people in the balcony. He was connected to the audience throughout the show, whether singing or speaking, through one-on-one eye contact.
3. His natural delivery. His style is very conversational and relaxed. That builds trust and increases the impact of the humor.
4. Story telling. Almost every joke was told as part of a story. Stories about growing up, playing lounges and piano bars, being a guest on American Idol. Stories are the perfect vehicle for humor. It gives structure and a reason for the joke. If you tell jokes without a story structure, you’re probably a comedian or you’re probably not very funny.
5. Personal contact with the audience. He literally reached out and touched the audience. In one case he danced with a woman from the audience while he sang. Her hands got a little friendly on his backside. He went with the flow and laughed along with the audience.
6. Poking fun at himself. Commenting on the contestants on American Idol: “The good news is that they’re very talented. The bad news…they didn’t know who I am.” This line is funny because he was directing the humor at himself, and also because it was current and fresh. It was obvious that most of the audience had seen the recent American Idol show on which he was featured. Then, telling a story about his early career as a piano-bar entertainer: To a customer who said he was ill and was starting to leave. Barry Manilow: I hope you get better soon. Customer: I hope you get better too! There were other examples. Watch for them when you see him perform live.
7. Clean humor. It was refreshing to see a full-length evening show which was funny and also totally clean. It was suitable for all ages and the family with four young children sitting in front of us had a great time.
The next time you see a professional speak or perform, go to school. Watch the elements of his or her delivery. Study what works well. Learn from it. Apply it to your own speaking or performing. Barry Manilow, Music and Passion, will be at the Las Vegas Hilton through the end of 2006. If you’re in town, don’t miss him. You’ll love the show.