Having been a stage performer for over 30 years, I can safely say the subject of risk is at the heart of the live performance experience. The audience enters a space, risking their money and time (and maybe self-respect) to take part in what? They don’t know. Sure, we all think we know what will happen, but the very nature of live performance means that anything is possible. To wit, in my own career I have been on stage when fires have broken out, earthquakes have shaken, the power has gone out and any number of medical emergencies have taken place. The interesting thing is that I guarantee every witness to these various events remembers them—the nights were special and unique. The fact that musicals that everyone has agreed are dreadful can be hugely successful speaks to this—people want to see what will happen. Spider-Man on Broadway has moved into that special place, the Indy 500 of shows: Will there be a crash?
As a stand-up comedian, risk is the name of my game. How far can I push one idea? How long can I pause? How much can I milk a laugh? Comedians constantly test themselves and the audience to see where the limits lie. In theater and stand-up, the feedback is instant, the rewards intoxicating and the flop sweat intense. Now that I am a charity auctioneer, I find the same basic tenets apply. How far can I push two bidders? How much do I cajole, caress and harass? The inherent risk is a beautiful thing—it supplies an underlying tension that is electric and felt by all. Will someone dare another $100, $500, $5,000? Will they risk losing an item that they really want? For me, the wonder, challenge and excitement is fascinating to see and provides a heady sense of power, which is, well, another subject.