The Art of the Talker
by Todd Robbin
There is an art to the verbal elements found in a
sideshow. The first contact people have with a show is
usually the sound of the outside talker (please don't
call him a barker) doing a Bally.
Bally is short for
Ballyhoo and is a term that got it's start at the
Chicago World Fair of 1893. The manager of the Streets
of Cairo pavilion, W. O. Taylor, had performers from the
pavilion do short shows out on the midway of the fair.
This attracted a crowd who would go into the pavilion to
see what was on the inside. The performers would yell,
Della hoon when they ran out to perform. Taylor thought
they were saying Ballyhoo, so whenever he wanted to have
one of this midway shows done, he would shout out
Ballyhoo! The term caught on with other showmen and is
still with us today.
There are five parts to a Bally. First you must build a
tip. This means to gather a crowd. I use a ploy that
was taught to me by Bobby Reynolds. It involves making
a small cone out of a dollar bill. The sight of money
gets peoples interest. If I have a few other performers
with me on the Bally Stage, it makes it even easier,
especially if one of them is a beautiful woman with a
large snake around her neck. Next, I have to freeze the
tip. I have to get the crowd to move in close and stay
there. The need to see what I am doing with the dollar
makes them move in closer and wanting to see if
something is going to happen to the dollar is what keeps
them there. I then go into my Opening, the sales pitch,
describing what they are going to see on the inside.
The Jam is next. The price of admission is dropped for
a limited time. If the Opening creates a desire to see
the show, the Jam makes them buy a ticket at that
moment. I then Grind, talking about the show and
keeping the excitement going while people are standing
in line. This is the text of what I say:
Okay, let's do it. Let's do a little free show out here
to give the folks an idea of what the show on the inside
is all about. Let's bring out the sword swallower and
the fire eater. Bring out the snake girl and the
tattooed man. One by one, two by two, let's bring out
the whole darn crew.
I'll get things started with something that was taught
to me by our master magician. He's one of the ten big
acts and attractions we have on the inside. Watch the
dollar. I wrap it around once, I wrap it around twice,
I give it a little twist, and a little pull. Now for
the important part. Can you all see this? Move in
close, because I want you all to watch what I'm doing
right now. I put a little fold in the end. That means
that nothing can go in or out of that end. If anything
is going to happen, it's going to happen at this end.
To make it more difficult, I'm going to stick it in this
buttonhole and not touch it again.
It takes a moment for this to work. As I said, this was
taught to me by our master magician on the inside. As a
matter of fact, do see the beautiful banners that run
from way down there to way down there? Everything you
see depicted on these banners you will see live on the
inside. Ten big acts and attractions.
I could tell you about them all, like the fire eater
that sits down to a meal of fire and flame. He
practically makes an ash of himself in every show.
You are going to see the tattooed man. He's got tattoos
everywhere, on his arms and legs, his chest, back, neck,
face and head. He even has tattoos on his shadow. And
you'll see them all, everywhere he has a tattoo. No,
I'm sorry ma'am, you won't see that part. It's a family
show we are doing here.
You'll also see Electra, the high voltage lady. We sit
someone in a real electric chair and shoot voltage
through their system. Sparks of electricity jump from
their fingertips as they light up light bulbs in their
bare hands. It's positively shocking.
Almost as shocking as the Human Blockhead. He's the
original Screwy Louie. This is the guy that takes a
huge nail and bam, bam, bam he hammers it into the
center of his skull and lives to laugh and joke about
it. He's got so many holes in his head, he can play his
cranium like a flute.
You are also going to meet our Indian Rubber Girl. She
can bend, twist and contort in ways you didn't know
possible. You'll swear her bones are made of rubber as
she practically ties herself in a knot and bounces
across the stage. Sir, if you could bend over the way
she does you'd never leave home.
Also on the inside it Serpentina, our snake charmer.
She's more than that. She's a snake enchantress and she
is going to do a dance of death with a giant python.
It's a snake so powerful, it could kill her in an
instance if it were not under her complete control. She
risks her life each and every time she comes to the
stage. Young lady, do you like snakes? Of course you
do, look at the guy you are with. Just joking, sir. We
are just having some fun.
And speaking of fun, you are going to have fun with my
favorite act. Two Ton Tessie from Tuscaloosa. She the
most bountiful beauty from Alabama. 553 pounds of
female fun. She so big, she was born on March 10th,
11th, 12th and 13th.
It take four men to hug her, and a boxcar to lug her.
That's how big she is, and she's going to do a little
dance for you. And when she does, she is going to shake
like a bowl of your Grandmother's jelly on a cold and
frosty morning. And you know it's jelly, because jam
don't shake like that. It's guaranteed to put a smile
on your face or there is something wrong with your
Now, I want you all to see the magician, the fire eater,
the tattooed man, electric lady, snake charmer and all
the other great acts on the inside, so we are going to
do something special. See the sign that says, three
dollars for adults and two for children? Forget about
it. Our ticket taker is going to set a timer for three
minutes, and three minutes only. And while that timer
is ticking away, he is going to put away the three
dollar tickets. He's going to put away the two dollar
tickets. He's will refuse to sell them. Instead, he is
going to let all of you, the nice people that have been
standing her listening to me, he's going to let you all
in to see the show, the same show people have been
paying full price for, he's going to let you in for only
one dollar. That's right, one dollar! But you have to
go now. Start the timer!
Take a dollar out of your pocket, give it to the man
over there, get your ticket and come inside to see a
show that's wild, wonderful and one of a kind. It's the
world's greatest gathering of human curiosities, a
congress of oddities, all real, all live and all just
waiting for you on the inside. Go now, now's the time
to go. Take a dollar out of your pocket, give it to the
man over there and come inside to see the big show.
You've heard about it, you've read about it, now see it
live on the inside. One dollar, one dollar, one dollar,
I don't want to holler, it's only a dollar. Go now,
now's the time to go. There's no better bargain, no
better buy. My friends, don't go down that way and get
yourself something to eat and drink and come back later
and think you will get in for a buck. You have to go
now. It only last for three minutes and then it goes
back up to full price, and a minute or two is already
gone. Go now, now's the time go. Folks, I have to go
inside and start the show. And when I go, it's goodbye
to this good buy. Last call on the dollar deal. Last
call on the dollar steal. I've got to go because it's
show time on the inside!
If you think about it, all talking is related to the
Bally. The Bally is a sales pitch, and when you perform
your act, you are continually selling yourself and what
you do. Though there are some acts, such as fire
eating, that can be done without speaking and to musical
accompaniment, most acts require some talking in order
for them to have impact with the audience. Therefore,
if you understand the elements of bally and why is
works, you can apply them to anything else you are
saying as part of you performance.