Singer, actor, all-around show-biz ham Sam Harris – now the author of “Ham: Slices of a Life, Essays, and Stories” – is known for his big personality and love of the spotlight. In this excerpt from his new memoir, he talks about a starring role that forced him to show the ropes to one young ham-in-training.
My name is Sam Harris and I have a brand new book called “Ham.” For those who know me, obvious reasons. And this is an excerpt.
Note: this has been edited for air.
I fear that my karmic lesson in this lifetime is humility – and I think that lesson is beneath me.
I got the title role in the national tour of the Broadway production of “Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” One of the unique elements of the tour was that we picked up about 40 local kids in each city to participate onstage with singing and some dancing. For some reason, certain cities produced an astounding number of stage parents who encouraged their little ones to mug and upstage other actors, seeing this as their big break into show-business. Little tykes would come to the put-in with enough makeup to make Courtney Love look like a PTA president.
At the end of the show, I sang an encore of “Close Every Door.” Huge song. Had a dramatic key change and a final note that never failed to ensure a standing ovation. The kids were staged to sit around me and gaze up at me with their sweet little faces and sing their sweet little “la-la’s” and the sweet little interlude.
One night, about a year into the tour, a talented and highly driven ham of a child, who was positioned directly at my feet, kept smiling straight out to the house instead of up at me. He somehow edged in front of me so that he was center. I had to climb over him so as not to step on his hands.
After the show I asked that he politely be told not to crawl in front of me. The next night, he not only made his way in front of me, but took to sitting on his haunches so that he was tall enough to be in my light. Clearly whoever was talking to him about this problem was not making headway, so I asked to speak to him myself.
He was brought to my dressing room where I told him that I was concerned that I might step on him when I moved downstage and would hate for that to happen. He was quite mannerly, said he hadn’t realized he was doing it and then asked if he could try on my gold finale head dress. The poor kid had been admonished twice, I thought it was the least I could do. The next night, he edged his way down center, rose to his knees, smiled out front — and now I could hear him singing my part.
He seemed intentional, calculated, and I knew I should have never let him try out my gold finale head dress, the showbiz equivalent of smack to a junkie. I had no choice but to cut him off, cold turkey.
So I stepped forward onto his little hand, not giving it my full weight. Well, most of it. And, without letting the audience see, I shot him a death stare intended to stunt his growth. It suddenly occurred to me that I was competing with a little kid for my place on the stage and how pathetic that was. What did that say about me? My ego. My hamdom.
That was when I stepped on his other hand.
After the show I told him how sorry I was but I couldn’t see him all the way down at my feet for the glare of my spotlight. We stared at each other for a moment then he said, “Oh it’s okay. I didn’t really feel it, not with all the applause and excitement and everything. Hey, did you hear that audience tonight? I think they were the best yet. A little slow in the beginning but by the end they were like putty.”
This kid had it bad. I predicted big things.