Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Muckity Mucks

Some people have passion. Some people have business savvy. And some people fall right in between.
I like to call them "The Muckity Mucks." People with the right combination of talent and business savvy who can parlay a decent horror movie into a mediocre horror franchise.

Upon being asked for advice on how he got where he was, Steve Martin once said:

“Be so good they cant ignore you. And I just think that if somebody’s thinking 'How can I be really good?' people are gonna come to you. Its much easier doing it that way than going to cocktail parties."

I breathed a sigh of relief... I am simply no good at cocktail parties.
And then I began to think about the way I had been approaching my life. Was passion more important than savvy? Can you really hope to get ahead in this world if you are simply no good at cocktail parties or was Mr. Martin simply re-cock-ulously lucky?
The quote and the pondering made me think of a conversation I had with my father years ago.

My dad is a professional poker player. He has been for 30 years. You don't know his name, he's not on TV, he's never won the World Series of Poker. In fact, half the time, he doesn't enter it. His one small claim to fame is the fact that he is one of the winning-est Seven Card Stud tournament players in the world. Needless to say Seven Card Stud is hard to televise, and thus, no one cares about it. But in the poker world, he garners a great deal of respect. I asked him about his tournament career once. I vaguely remember the conversation but the gist of it was this:

Tournaments are a crap shoot. So he only enters when KNOWS he can win it. Some players have entered 500 and won 50. He enters 10 and wins 7. The percentages are not hard to figure out.

I have always asked myself is life isn't just a big game of poker. Should we pound away day after day and play as many hands as we can to try and get ahead, or simply wait until the cards are set and you know its the time to throw your chips in?

In recent years Dad has found himself associated with the TV Muckity Mucks. These are the types that run networks and studios for a decent amount of time until they are blamed for this or that unavoidable dip in ratings and are subsequently fired. This cycle is as reliable as spring, summer, fall, then winter. After he produced his first poker show (two Muckity Mucks ago), it only took three years until he was producing four shows on three different networks. Lets call it a case of "Be so good they can't ignore you." The muckity mucks came and went. Dad's shows were always picked up.

I've gone to the Muckity Muck cocktail parties with him a couple times. We usually sit at our own table in the corner, eat all the crab legs we can stomach, and mumble to ourselves. For me, the nosh is always good, the names always forgotten.

We had spoken on the phone the other day and he was telling me about a wrap party he had attended a couple nights ago. After a few too many glasses of wine, Dad and another poker player were laughing about the fact that wine makes my him pretty useless as far as trivial knowledge goes. He could never win jeopardy drunk. Especially sports... needless to say this party was being thrown by the sports branch of the network. He was at the Muckity Muck table. Muckity Muck #1 began to razz him.

Muckity Muck #1: Name five active baseball players!

(Dad is silent)

Muckity Muck #2: Name five baseball players from any era!

Dad: That's easy! Babe Ruth... and... uh.... huh....

Muckity Muck #1: Name five active football players!

My dad couldn't even remember the most recent Super Bowl MVP. (I reminded him on the phone that it was Eli Manning)
Now, this was especially embarrassing because apparently Jerome "The Bus" Bettis was sitting across the way, and my dad was unable to name any football players. Needless to say he had no idea who that was (and neither do I). The table erupted in laughter and pointed him out. "You don't know Jerome Bettis!? Everyone knows who Jerome Bettis is!"

My dad threw his chips on the table.

He looked at the room. Aside from their table there were 25 other people there.
He did some math.

He turned to Muckity Muck #1 and said:

"OK... I'll give you $50 a head. Excluding this table, for every other person in here that knows who he is, I give you $50. And for every person who doesn't, you give me $50"

The table went into a frenzy, every one wants in on the action. My dad begins to think that maybe he made a huge a mistake. He let them all take the bet, he was drunk lol.
Muckity Muck #1 stands up and announces to the room

"OK everyone, we need you to help us settle a bet! Raise your hand if you know who the NFL player nicknamed "The Bus" is!" (Muckity Muck #2 protests that saying he was an NFL player wasn't fair to my dad, but the damage had been done)

There was a pause, and at the NBC sports party, only 4 of 25 people raise their hand. Muckity Muck #1 is in shock... He tries to give a couple more clues to help people recognize who Jerome Bettis is. Only one more person raises his hand.

Note that the man had been IN THE ROOM.

Dad let them off easy. They only had to give him $200 a piece instead of almost $600. They were still shocked. He kindly explained it to them.

"I see the ratings for football. About 31 million people watch Monday Night football. 31 million out of 350 million, so about 1 out of 10, should know who this guy is. So about 2 people in here should have known, now I took into account that we with a select group of clientele, so maybe double your odds to 4, which is being generous. I was a HUGE favorite to win the bet."

This being said by the man who could only muster up the name of Babe Ruth.

Muckity Muck #1 looked at him.

"Mori... something in your brain just doesn't work the same way as the rest of us."

That... is being so good they can't ignore you.

And I realized, maybe when you have that kind of passionate drive for something (like poker.. or simply knowing the odds), all the razzing at all the cocktail parties in the world doesn't change a thing in the scheme of things. Sometimes the best thing to do is just wait around until you know its time to put your chips on the table.

Later that night I was talking to my friend Tim about Barack Obama. Playing devils advocate he suggested that perhaps the man had just gotten ridiculously lucky to get where he is. And I realized:

Luck is nothing more than opportunity... and like Mr. Steve Martin says, if you try to "Be so good they can't ignore you" when the opportunity comes along, you are gonna know what to do...

The Muckity Mucks will come and go. Some people do whatever it takes to get their name out there and keep it out there. Some people win 50 tournaments out of 500 and enjoy the desperate fame. But the real pros, the ones who sit down and think

"How can I be good?"

will always win more than they lose. That's poker, and life I suppose.

I only went to two days of auditions in the last two months... I got 4 callbacks... 4 for 4.
Whether or not I booked them didn't really bother me, sometimes the cards just don't fall your way. But I breathed another sigh of relief,

maybe I was doing something right.

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