As the saying goes, “Kids say the funniest things.” As kids learn to behave in socially acceptable ways, they will sometimes innocently do adorable and hysterical things. Teachers and school assembly performers are on the front lines when it comes to witnessing situations that, if not handled properly, can be embarrassing to the child. If a child says something innocently and laughter erupts they could be embarrassed, but they don’t have be. What happens next is critical in helping a child manage and accept the results. Lets explore two instances of kids becoming possibly embarrassed in front of their peers and how a seasoned performer or teacher can handle it.
Once, during my MagicBookshelf reading show in an elementary school, I asked a child, “What would you do if you had a problem?” I was expecting the child to answer, “I’d go the library and get a book,” because I had already planted the seed that this was the answer I wanted. Instead the child said, “I’d watch Dr. Phil.” The audience erupted with laughter and so did I.*
Immediately, I could see embarrassment on that child’s face. Uh, oh! Red Alert! Red Alert! The last thing I wanted was to embarrass that child.
After I stopped laughing myself, I looked at the audience and said, “Jimmy, has to be the funniest boy I have ever met. He just made us all laugh and he should be proud of that. It’s hard to make people laugh, but you’re a natural. Maybe one day you’ll be famous because you’re so witty and quick on your feet. Let’s give Jimmy a round of applause for making our day even better.” Once the applause died down I followed up with, “Thanks Jimmy. We needed that,” and I gave him a high-five just to reassure him that he said the perfect thing.
Certainly, my followup comment didn’t take away this boy’s initial embarrassment, but it helped to acknowledge that everyone enjoyed his remark and he should be proud, not humiliated. His embarrassment was real, but I was able to quickly reduce it and move on. The last thing I wanted was to have kids later make fun of him because of his innocent comment. I just gave him praise in front of 400 kids and a boost to his self-esteem.
Probably one of the most embarrassing things for a child to do is to lose bladder control in front of their friends. While this is never funny, kids think it is and some could use it as a tool for shame or teasing. I know this all too well, because when I was young I had this problem all the time. My dilemma was the result of a bladder issue that surgery fixed when I was only 6 years old. So my compassion for a child who has “an accident” is immense. Sometimes, kids get so nervous or laugh so hard that they lose control. I’ve even had teachers confess that while watching funny moments in my assembly show, they too have a hard time controlling themselves.
Recently, I asked some school show performer friends to share instances of kids having accidents on stage and how they handled it. This first story is from Canadian magician Leif David www.BCmagician.com and shows compassion and some quick-witted professionalism.
“I had a boy on stage during a family night assembly, and everything was going fine, but apparently the boy had to go to the bathroom. I heard the mom say to him, “You can leave and go potty.” I had no idea because I didn’t notice any of the signs. So I just turned and said, “Yeah that’s fine, go on,” and he left. It wasn’t until the trick was over that I noticed a circle of pee on the floor. Once I saw it, a couple of kids in the audience noticed it too and began to point. I just said, “Oh, somebody spilled their apple-juice”. The audience had no idea what really happened. I made no further comment about it – not wanting to cause any embarrassment to the child- but those words secretly signaled to the adults that there was a mess on stage and I needed someone to come up and help. I continued onto my next routine performing in front of the wet circle and a parent came and discretely wiped up the mess with some paper towels while I continued the show.”
Fortunately, sometimes kids are just too young or distracted to even be embarrassed and some great comedy can result. This story came from yet another assembly presenter: “I did a show once where I had a little boy volunteer and I had dressed him up as part of the routine. Halfway through the routine he says “I have to go to the bathroom” and he runs toward the gym doors. His teacher shouts “the costume!” Without missing a single step, the boy continues to run down the center aisle pulling off the costume pieces and tossing them into the crowd as he made his escape. It was a very funny moment. Fortunately, the child was too focused on the emergency at hand to be embarrassed.”
Former Principal of Jackman Road Elementary School in Lambertville, Michigan, Jim Shear, once made a funny but astute observation. He said, “I can usually tell how good an assembly performer is by the number of kids who need use the restroom during the show.” While it’s true that boring presenters can drive kids to find more ‘entertaining’ things to do, like using the restroom just to get away for 5 minutes, especially young kids will falsely sense a growing emergency if they are reminded that the bathroom is nearby. The simple remedy for this problem is to have students make a quick pitstop before entering the assembly room.
Lise Lacasse of Scheer Genius Productions has this story to tell. “We were set up at one far end of a gymnasium for our Superhero Math assembly show at a school one afternoon and the boys and girls restrooms were off to our immediate left. We had a group of preschoolers in the front row and one of them decided he had to go. Typically, that’s not a big deal, but because of the layout of the gym, that boy had to cross through our performing area on his journey. This started an immediate parade of kids, one at a time, crossing through the show to take their turn. It was quite comical but we had to finally put a stop to the interruptions and we vowed to never set up next to the restrooms ever again.”
But this blog would not be complete without mentioning that performers have also had what look like accidents on stage. Mike Roberts, a live animal presenter shares this funny story about an accident he had during an elementary school show: “I use a squirt gimmick to do an alligator peeing gag. I put the tiny bottle of water in a different pocket than normal and I forgot it was there. I squatted down and set the darn thing off. It wasn’t much liquid but enough that I panicked and thought, ‘If I stand up everyone is going to think I just peed myself.’ It was miraculous in that most of the hidden water squirted out my shorts pants leg and didn’t get my actual shorts too wet. I had a small damp spot that I quickly covered by ‘accidentally’ spilling water on myself when I put my animal back in his cage. Extreme embarrassment was averted.“
As for this author, I’ll never forget being ready for an assembly performance and the principal came backstage to check on me. The audience was almost done filing in and he was looking for my microphone to introduce me. Instead, the principal found me frantically wiping water off the front of my khaki colored pants. I had just returned from the bathroom and when I pressed up to the sink to wash my hands, the crotch of my pants immediately absorbed the water that had been splashed onto the counter. It looked like I had an accident. This principal told me not to worry. He said he could stall for five minutes to give me time to keep toweling off. Laughing as he walked away he immediately introduced me to a round of applause. This guy got me good. He was a fun loving, practical joker and couldn’t resist the temptation of throwing me to the wolves (he was a regular customer whom I had known for about five years). As I sheepishly walked on stage, I immediately told the whole audience what happened, trying to explain the obvious large water spot on my pants. Everybody thought it was a riot. The principal stood along the wall, buckled over with laughter and tears streaming down his face. Later, I learned that this practical-joker principal became the superintendent of his district! I wonder what other fun he was able to create as the big man in charge.
Whether it’s an accident from nervousness, extreme laughter, or just a mishap, school show performers affectionately and comically call these “Golden Circle” or “Peeples Choice Award” moments. By experiencing these moments and sharing them with our colleagues we can all learn how to be better performers and learn from others’ examples. Best of all, we can use them to laugh at ourselves – a very healthy thing to do.
*The best moments on stage usually happen spontaneously like this Dr. Phil comment. Eventually, I was able to make this line a part of my show by secretly telling my volunteer what to say. Click here to see how I later incorporated a spontaneous moment into a fun, regular laugh in my Magic Bookshelf reading show: