Saturday, August 22, 2009

New York Performers

Sometimes it seems every other person in New York City is a performer. Which, in a way, isn't too surprising, as there are probably more professional performers per capita in New York than anywhere else in the country. You also notice them more in New York than in other places. For one thing, there is a lot of impressive, professional performing going on in the city. There are scenes for movies, TV shows, and advertisements being shot all the time. I think everyone who lives in New York has run across these film crews repeatedly. There are also the musicians, some of them quite good, trained at Julliard and other fine schools, who station themselves wherever people gather – parks, subways, busy sidewalks. There are singer-songwriters and string quartets and percussionists and one-man bands and acappella singing groups, the list goes on and on. We encountered an unusual group of 4 musicians in Central Park recently – 3 cellos and a drum – called Break of Reality. They were so good we bought both of their CDs! So there is a lot of genuine talent on display in all parts of the city.

But there is also a lot of bogus talent out there. People who think they are entertaining you and want to entertain you but who really don’t. Just the other day I watched a threesome on the train who were recounting stories and cracking jokes just a little louder than necessary. They seemed to think they were the cleverest thing going and that everyone around them was looking for the kind of diversion only they could provide. But I swear not only were the passengers not laughing, they weren’t even smiling.

Or I’m thinking of those five black guys who always appear where the biggest crowds are gathered – the steps of the Met, certain sections of Central Park, where the ferry to the Statue of Liberty disembarks – and who use their charm and their outlandishness to cover up the fact that they really have only thing to show off, the fact that one of them can leap over the other four while they’re all standing in a line. Everything else is patter, come-on, time wasting, to make this 5-second thrill seem like a 10-minute event.

But I think my favorite bogus performers are the ones who somehow scratch out a living by not doing anything at all. I am referring, of course, to those fine folks who in some cases attract large audiences by dressing up in funny costumes and then proceed to sit, stand or kneel in perfect stillness - the human statues. The challenge they pose to their audiences is the waiting game – how long can they actually hold their pose without stirring? Those with the most talent (?!) are the ones who can hold still for minutes, hours (who has that kind of time?), or even days (wow!) without twitching an eyebrow or quivering a muscle. Of course, there’s no world record for this, because, after all, no one ever really holds themselves entirely still. No way to say how much movement is okay, etc. There would be endless disputes about who was still the longest. That’s a shame, though, don’t you think? These people who work so hard doing nothing to attract our nickels and dimes should at least be eligible for the Guinness Book of World Records. Say, speaking of the Guinness Book of World Records, did you know that there’s a record for the longest ear hair? Yup, that’s right. The record is held by Anthony Victor of Madurai, India. His ear hair grew to a length of 7.12 inches, which, you have to admit, is really a spectacular amount of ear hair. You know, if I could choose between two New York street performers – one a frozen statue and the other flaunting his excessively long ear hair, I just might go with the latter. What do you think?


  1. Tough call, but I'm going with the statue. ("Frozen statue" is redundant, no?)

  2. Well, thanks, John, for registering your preference. As for frozen statue, I'm just a little surprised that you are not aware of the rare exception for this particular usage. This apparent redundancy is reserved strictly for humans attempting to "freeze" themselves like "statues."

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  4. Yeah, I have seen "frozen statues", which is how I know I prefer them to guys with long ear hair. I would just feel more comfortable calling them "human statues" or "frozen humans" rather than "frozen statues". Maybe it's just me.

  5. Maybe long nose hair? Remember Fester Bestertester, one of the twisted off-spring of Don Martin's Mad Mind? He stands in front of the mirror with a wild mustache and jar of mustache wax. Three times he scoops up wax and creates an impressive handlebar mustache only to have it go 'sproing!!' back to chaos. In the last frame he says, "I guess it's true, you can't train nose hair."