I thought I might tell you a story his week. A true story, about a friend of mine that passed away a few days ago.
John Vincent was, in every sense, a legend of Adelaide radio. When I packed up my bags and headed to SAFM from the heady heights of Sydney’s 2DAYFM breakfast show, Vinnie was one of the first people I met.
I jetted into town convinced that I’d hang around for six months or so, become a star, then head back home to take my rightful place on air in the big smoke. Over the next six years I learnt that radio is about connecting with people, establishing a relationship with the listener – and Vinnie was very much responsible for that.
I could tell you a plethora of stories (yes, I know what a plethora is) but there is one that sums up the man and what he taught me. It was the day Barry Manilow came to town.
The day before Barry arrived, my co-host Toni and I had racked our brains, trying to work out what stunt to pull. In those days SAFM was “Good Times and Great Rock n Roll”, so for us, Barry Manilow was supposedly the anti-christ.
After throwing back and forth a number of ideas, all of which “pulled the piss” out of the great man, Vinnie (who was our on-air partner) came up with a suggestion.
“Why don’t we go the other way?” he said. “Everyone makes Barry Manilow jokes. Why don’t we celebrate him instead?”
“Like how?” we asked.
“Well, we could send a flat bed truck full of Barry Manilow fans to his hotel, where they could spend the entire morning singing “Copacabana”out front. It will still be funny, it’ll make good radio, and we’re not making fun of anyone”
We agreed, and the plans were put into motion. What we didn’t know however, was that while all this was being organised, Barry Manilow had arrived at Adelaide airport, and had told a journalist to “Fuck off” because she asked him “What’s the best Barry Manilow joke you’ve ever heard?”
That night, the first story on the news was Barry’s outburst.
The next morning we interviewed Barry on air, and told him of our plan to send a truckload of Fans, or “Fanilows” as Vinnie dubbed them, to his hotel. He seemed suspicious, wondering when we were going to hit him with the punchline.
Then, between the hour of 8 and 9 am, thirty Fanilows stood on a truck outside Barry Manilow’s hotel and sang “Copacabana”, over and over and over. The punchline was – there was no punchline.
When everyone around you is taking the piss, it is funnier to uplift. When cynicism and put-downs rule the day, celebration becomes funny. When negative energy is the easy way out, a positive punchline comes out of the blue. And comedy is all about surprise.
Later that day we received a call from Barry’s publicist to say he loved the stunt, and the publicity we gave him, and that he had asked her to pass on his thanks.
I took from that experience what is possibly the most important lesson of my life, both comedically and personally. Comedy doesn’t need a victim to be funny. In fact, the comedy of celebration can be more powerful than any other type of joke. In life, as on stage, searching for the positive will always lead you to the joy.
Those of you that have seen my shows, whether on Spicks and Specks or live on stage will know that I have carried this philosophy with me to this day. And it’s all because of John Vincent.
I visited Vinnie in hospital when I was in Adelaide last week, and I told him this story. I told him, and his family, the effect he had on me and my career. It is a lesson well learnt, and I am very lucky to have had it passed on to me. I’m glad I got to let him know how important that moment was before he went.
So as you go about your life this week, please spare a thought and a smile for one of life’s true communicators. A gentle, genuine man, who quite simply loved making people laugh.
Percy the Pensioner, Ken Oath, John Vincent – they were all good people. See you later listener.