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How To Inspire Electronics/Appliance Dealers … Vegas Style

You haven’t really lived until you see Roy Firestone, a broadcaster known for his ESPN series “Up Close,” do his impression of Sammy Davis Jr. singing “Candy Man.”

Now I’ve been to my share of openings of buying group meetings over the years. And I’ve heard and seen the following:

* Fire-and-brimstone speeches about “profitless prosperity” from just about any industry leader you can name;

* Generic “inspirational speakers” mouthing the business seminar de jour on how to inspire your customers and work force… without spending an extra dime;

* Speeches by U.N. Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Israeli Statesman Abba Eban, Senator Barry Goldwater (I even met President Gerald Ford) and others during NATM Buying Group meetings when Saul Gold was in charge;

* And BrandSource’s Bob Lawrence drove onto the stage in a Harley once, and I think a tiger or leopard was onstage once during another BrandSource opening.

But during the opening of Nationwide Marketing Group’s PrimeTime! on Sunday was the first time I heard a seven-time Emmy-winning interviewer and sports journalist do an imitation of Muhammad Ali and his interviewer/nemesis Howard Cosell in what Firestone said could have been “the first sports rap group” based on actual lines from their interviews.

He opened singing “God Bless America.” I thought, “Well, he thinks that’s appropriate since he’s a sports guy and ballgames start with the National Anthem.” I assumed Firestone’s speech was going to be about “sports-as-a-life-lesson-and-how-it-can-inspire-you-to-be-more-successful” deal.

Well … no such luck.

I know I should have done more video than the opening song, but you can check out some of his clips here.

Firestone did impressions of Wilt Chamberlain, Charles Barkley, Mike Tyson, all of the Bee Gees and how Frank Sinatra would have sung the Village People’s “YMCA.” (That is if Frank mixed LSD with his usual Jack Daniels, and decided to record that song in his own style.) They were among many, many more of imitations and songs, varying wildly in quality and taste.

Firestone mixed all of this with inspirational speeches from Ali about respecting the elderly; President Lincoln’s letter to his son’s teacher; Firestone’s own take on NFL star Pat Tillman, who gave up his pro football career after Sept. 11 to volunteer in the U.S. Army only to be killed in Afghanistan by friendly fire; and promoted his new book “Don’t Make Me Cry, Roy,” consisting of his memories of many of his TV guests. Firestone signed them after the performance for $20 each with all proceeds going to the American Cancer Society.

Schmaltzy? Sure. But remember you’re in Vegas.

When Vegas began, the original acts came from Vaudeville — guys like Rickles, who still plays Vegas and says at the end of most performances that his act of vitriol is only to “laugh at ourselves;” Jerry Lewis, who throughout his career in Vegas, in movies and during his Labor Day Telethon acts like the manic hyperactive child/man one minute, then pleads into the camera for his “kids” who suffer from MDA; and even Elvis, who sang in his later Vegas performances “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” All mixed high-brow sentiment, low-brow jokes and patriotism, among other hot buttons, to garner big audiences so they would gamble in the casinos.

While some might say, “No journalist, sports or otherwise, would ever do that!” I’ll mention Cosell again. The old New York Daily News columnist Dick Young once said of Cosell, “If Howard were a sport, he’d be roller derby.”

At the height of Cosell’s fame in the 1970s he “acted” as himself on “The Odd Couple,” among other situation comedies, and hosted his own live variety show from the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York that predated “Saturday Night Live” by a month or two. Later on, Cosell said he was considering a run for a U.S. Senate seat.

Now if a buying group really wanted a vaudeville act that would illustrate what many in electronics/appliance industry do day after day I suggest the act that was on the old “Ed Sullivan Show.” This was the guy who used to spin half-dozen plates on 10-foot long sticks, with the goal being to keep them spinning and get them down without breaking any of the china.

That’s a vaudeville act this industry could relate to and be inspired by.