Buy the Book - Silver Tongue - Secrets of Mr. Santa Barbara


Secret #15: Keep the Material, Change the Audience

"Have I told you this story?"

This is one of the most used questions in Larry's verbal arsenal. And it has nothing to do with short-term memory loss. He asks it for two reasons:

1. He loves recycling stories and jokes.
2. He doesn't want to get caught doing it.

"This will shock you, my son," he's told me, with a dead earnest look on his face. "But if the situation's different, I have no conscience about using the same material. Give me a hundred different situations and I can be original without thinking of a single new thing."

When Larry and Marcy were Grand Marshalls of the Santa Barbara Fourth of July parade down State Street, he felt very proud. There were marching bands and floats. People rode well-groomed horses. Red, white and blue bunting was draped on everything stationary and most things that moved. In the midst of it all, Mr. and Mrs. Santa Barbara rode in the back seat of a large convertible – taking pride of place.

It was great, but Larry wanted to add his own touch to the patriotic occasion. When the parade paused every 100 yards or so, Larry would stand in the car and shout out, "Viva La Fiesta!" All the children lining the parade route would hasten to correct him, informing him that this was our nation's birthday, not Santa Barbara's Old Spanish Days.

Larry would act the fool and trade wisecracks and jokes with the onlookers until the parade started to move again. As soon as the procession had advanced to a new group of people, Larry would stand and shout out, "Viva La Fiesta!" The new group of children would immediately chide him for his ìmistake, and the fun would start again.

Three words in Spanish, expertly misplaced, got him big reaction after big reaction. Larry loved it. And as the parade never covered the same ground twice, repetition held no risk. It is perhaps the most striking example of how a new audience can make all the difference.

"There are no old jokes, only old audiences," says Larry, appropriately quoting an old saying. "I don't need to be a pioneer. I'm looking for results."

Larry can make this strategy work in part because he can cope when it fails. He is so good at ad-libbing that he can create humor from the fact that he has been caught repeating a story. In fact, stories about his own foibles and mistakes fit right in with his "I don't take myself seriously" persona.

You see, Larry takes pride in his humility. As he once said to an admirer, "I don't think I'm half as good as I really am."