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 smiling apparatus. 

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.


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