Some years ago I saw an extraordinary documentary about Danny Kaye, the late comedian who was also a formidable actor, dancer and singer — one of a lost breed of all-around entertainers.
With his exceptional talents, and a string of successful movies and Broadway shows behind him, Kaye should have had every reason to feel confident about his London debut, his first appearance before an English audience.
But Kaye took nothing for granted. He arrived in London a week in advance of his opening night, and spent that week sitting — in the audience. He didn’t watch the shows so much as watch the audiences themselves: what made them laugh? What songs did they like? What flopped with them? What soared?
The result? Here’s what the Wikipedia entry says:
When he appeared at the London Palladium music hall in 1948, he “roused the Royal family to shrieks of laughter and was the first of many performers who have turned English variety into an American preserve.” Life magazine described his reception as “worshipful hysteria” and noted that the royal family, for the first time in history, left the royal box to see the show from the front row of the orchestra.
In marketing, we often bow before the idol of “creativity.” Dozens (maybe there are hundreds) of award programs honor allegedly creative work. But Danny Kaye reveals an aspect to SUCCESSFUL creativity that’s too often overlooked: Talent isn’t enough. Even experience is insufficient.
You have to know your audience. Sit with them. Listen to them. Feel with them. Because it’s your ability to truly understand your audience that makes the difference between travesty and triumph.