Take A Bow For Failure

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This article first appeared at RadioInk.

(By Jeff McHugh) If you are a reader of our newsletter, you may recall my adventure trying improvisational theatre last spring. Despite how terrible I was, I grew a lot from the experience. I signed up again and after two classes I am still terrible.

I learned about a wonderful improv tradition that radio and podcast hosts might benefit from. The failure bow.

Improvisation does not come with a script (much like your show, or life…) so you react in the best way that you can. Sometimes you react well, sometimes not so well, and sometimes it is a catastrophe.

When disaster strikes, you do a failure bow:
1. Extend your arms to the sky.
2. Bow completely forward, like a circus performer after a somersault.
3. Rise and grin like you won an Oscar.
4. Say, “Thank you, thank you very much!”
5. Audience applauds.

I take so many failure bows that my back aches, but here is what I appreciate about the idea:
Takes credit. You are brave to have tried. Be proud!
Vulnerability. You are not flawless. Own it.
Learning. Celebrate that real growth only comes from foul-ups.
Mindset. Shifts you from thinking “failure” to “just part of the show.”
Gratitude. Expresses thanks to the audience for sticking with you.
Support. The applause expresses that experimenting and failing is okay.

All great broadcasters eventually do something worthy of a failure bow. This week, Gene “Bean” Baxter left the Kevin and Bean show after 30 successful years at KROQ Los Angeles. But the show might have ended in 1990 after making a bad choice.

The show was caught faking an on-air murder confession. Kevin and Bean paid a whopping fine, and they performed 149 hours of community service without being ordered to as an additional mea culpa.

I don’t know if anyone will actually do it, but I love the idea of on-air presenters taking a huge failure bow to in-studio applause after finishing a s***show segment.

“Thank you, thank you very much!”

This article first appeared at RadioInk.