Monday, August 01, 2011

Everything you never realized you wanted to know about emceeing the dragon boat festival

This past Saturday morning after breakfast my wife and I headed to Marine Stadium in Long Beach for the 15th Annual Long Beach Dragon Boat Festival. As some of you know, I was an active participant in the sport of dragon boating from 2000 through 2006, but I haven't held a paddle in nearly five years. My participation in the local tournament was what it has been several times (both during those years when I was racing and in the time since): I was there to emcee the opening ceremonies.
(Look! I'm reading off a clipboard!)

People who know me probably think of me as somewhat introverted, and with the bad habit of sometimes speaking too fast, so me being the one to get up on a stage in front of over 100 people and be the one to keep the festivities lively might seem odd. And it is.

In any case, for some reason they keep asking me to do it, and for some reason I keep not coming up with some excuse to get out of doing it, so there must be something about the relationship that works for both the organizers of the event and for me.

Actually, I think it's more that the event gives that ordinarily dormant extrovert in me an opportunity to come out. However, this might tell you a little about the dragon boat community—I am considered the funny, outgoing one. (Seriously. When I arrived, the man who is primarily responsible for the tournament saw me and affectionately called me the "funny guy" in his Chinese accent.)

I also imagine the fact I was part of the community helps. Oh, and the fact I work for free (everyone is a volunteer) undoubtedly plays into what prompts them to keep asking me back.

I feel no compulsion to actually go out of my way to be funny. If something humorous comes to mind, sure, I'll say it, but I don't prepare a monologue or anything. (At least, not after the first time I emceed many years ago.) And that's certainly for the best; I know enough about "show business" to know not to push it. Ultimately, the people assembled are there because they're reps of sponsors or honored guests or people who have grasped that there's a place to sit under a tent; they're not expecting Morning at the Improv—they want to get through the program of performances and speakers and get on with their day.

Looking at the schedule prepared by the organizers, the opening ceremonies were supposed to start at 10:30 with a performance of a traditional lion dance. However, some of the dancer were also paddlers who were out in the race going on at that moment, so we were running late before we started. Eventually I had to get up on the stage and stall—or, as I said to the crowd, "I need to kill some time."

Because I didn't prepare a monologue things worked out so I could have used one. Of course. I made a couple quasi-jokes where I talked about how dragon boating got little attention from the media, and remarked on how the X Games (going on this past weekend as well) had overcome that hurdle, so clearly dragon boating needed to get "extreme" (the problem: not enough vertical in paddling). Yes, that was it. And people laughed. Not a lot, but a noticeable amount. And then I quipped that with the popularity of the Green movement the sport needed to play up how environmentally friendly it is, accompanied by sweeping arm gestures. Enthusiasm will get one far—trust me. Then I jumped off the stage and asked some people in the front row what teams they were on, and milked that for another couple minutes.

And then finally we were ready to commence with the schedule of performances and speakers, to the presumed relief of all.

My wife was in the audience, and afterward she told me this: She overheard two women who were seated in front of her comment on how funny I was. And while I certainly appreciate that and am glad they enjoyed my antics, telling me was not to placate my ego; it was to show the standards for comedy.

It's all about finding that small pond in which to be the big fish (for 45 minutes, one morning, every other year). And trying not to butcher any of the guests' names as you announce people coming up to speak.

Now you are ready to do it. By reading this, you may be called upon to emcee next year. Wait by the phone...


Photos I took at the 2007 dragon boat festival can be seen here.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome! Congratulations on doing a wonderful job and keeping the madding crowd entertained!


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