By Trent Rentsch
My old college buddy Jack was a handy guy. If anything in someone’s dorm room, apartment, or rental house/trailer broke down, Jack was always the first call. There were two good reasons. First, campus services and/or landlords always seemed to have at least 2 weeks worth of projects they HAD to finish up before they could even consider fixing your “little problem.” Second, if Jack fixed something, you knew it was fixed and would stay that way. Clogged plumbing, broken windows, beer bottle-shaped holes in the wall… any college habitat calamity you could imagine (and many you can’t), Jack would make right. It was no surprise to any of us that Jack started his own contracting business after college, even less of a surprise that he was quite successful from the very beginning. And when word got around that Jack was building his dream house, all by himself from the ground up, we all knew it would be a thing of beauty. But then, we all thought we knew everything, being fresh out of college…
After only 11 months of sacrificed nights and weekends, we all got invitations to Jack’s open house. It was going to be a big thing, not only because Jack had done all the work, but because he had kept us all in the dark about its location… didn’t want to “jinx it,” he said. Despite all the begging and offered bribes, this was going to be the first time any of us had seen the place. Add to it the fact that he was the first member of our little college gang to own his own home, and this had all the potential of a party to end all parties. Heck, he’d probably have to put some of those old repair skills into action after this one!
When we all got to the address, it seemed that Jack wanted to keep the suspense up. He had erected scaffolding around the place, and covered it in a house-sized tarp with his company logo on it. The invitation stated that the “grand unveiling” would take place at 8 p.m. sharp. To keep us all happy (and occupied) there was a picnic table full of munchies and a freshly tapped keg, both of which were empty by 8… everybody had shown up early, hoping for the first peek. Finally, our host jumped up on the table and declared that the moment had arrived. After a confusing speech to “his breastest buddies ever and ever amen” (which proved Jack had done the most damage to the empty keg), he yanked on a rope and the tarp fell, undraping his masterpiece.
It really was a masterpiece of construction, even the drunkest among us could see that… a two-story Victorian, with all that beautiful trim work that you only see on houses built before the turn of the century. A porch wrapped around the front of the house, nearly as wide as the house itself. He had even built a matching 3-car garage/workshop, adorned with the same attention to trim work as the house itself. A masterpiece, no doubt… but a thing of beauty, it was not.
You see, Jack, for all of his skills, had one blind spot. And in his fervor to do everything himself, he made the mistake of forgetting how horrible the out-come might be if he ignored his short-coming. Jack, you see, is color-blind. And his paint job made the house look a little like, well, one of Prince’s paisley purple suits… puked on.
I hadn’t thought about that in years, until a couple of months ago when I stumbled onto Jack’s radio equivalent. Ironically, I heard him first right after a Prince song. The spot was for a coffee shop… well written, nice production, well-voiced, good work. The spot that followed it was for a car dealership… still solid writing, nice production, same voice (now hard-sell), okay, overall. Then came the third commercial, a goofy, two-voice piece for a carpet store. At least, I think it was supposed to be two voices… our hero had voiced the whole thing, and it was obvious. What was less obvious was that one of the characters was supposed to be President Bush. I only realized that half way through when “Hail to the Chief” kicked in, and they/he started talking about carpeting Air Force One. It was like watching a train wreck at that point, I couldn’t dial away. But by the 5th spot I had to be the only person listening… he was trying to do Johnny Carson for a golf store. Or maybe it was Johnny Depp, I’m still not sure.
Before you think I’m making fun of a fellow Creative, let me assure you that I WAS that Creative in earlier days. Coming from an acting background, I whole-heartedly bought into the “Theatre of the Mind.” And coming from an acting background, surrounded by all these “D.J.’s” that didn’t have my weeks of acting classes, I was certain that I was the only one capable of bringing my audio “theatrical productions” to life. It took one of those radio veterans to point out to me that some (“not all, but some”) of my character voices were crap. I hated him for a long time. And later, when I found some tapes from that time, I listened to one spot, and immediately ran for the lighter fluid and matches. I also sent that radio veteran a thank you note.
It doesn’t matter how gifted you are at writing, producing, voicing, or creating. Somewhere in all that talent, there will be a weak spot. Sorry, you’re going to have one, that’s life, and that’s okay. What’s not okay is turning a deaf ear to it and talking yourself into thinking something is great, when it’s at the least an embarrassment… and at the worst, a tune-out. If you’re bound and determined to “do” a certain voice, by all means practice… but not in front of the audience. And if you have a two-voice spot, remember the person in the booth next door.
Remember, a good carpenter uses the right tools for the job, and a man’s got to know his limitations.