Is this Australia’s most unique job?

 

Anyone who has been to a recording of a television show can testify it can be a very long day and sometimes a tedious experience.

While event television like The Voice Australia, Australia's Got Talent, Dancing With The Stars, and in the past The X Factor or Australian Idol may look like magic on air, it often involves hours and hours of sitting on uncomfortable seats for the studio audience.

That is where Michael Pope comes in.

He has worked on all those shows mentioned in a very unique role.

Pope is Australia's leading warm up man when it comes to studio audiences for television.

If you have been to a live television recording or a taping, it's highly likely you have watched Pope trying to rev up the crowd in between takes, or during a commercial break.

With fast paced jokes, trivia and games, he is like an Energizer Bunny with the one aim of keeping the audience engaged.

It's a real acquired art to be a television warm up man, and Pope has perfected that art.

"It comes with a lot of practise," Pope told news.com.au.

"I remember doing amateur theatre as a kid, and Dad would come a long way to see the shows, and he would always tell me to slow down, because he couldn't understand me.

"So I am naturally quick, that's the speed I kind of work at as a person.

"You get into a rhythm and I'm used to it, I've done it for so long."

Pope working the audience during Australia Day celebrations.
Pope working the audience during Australia Day celebrations.

Lots of comedians in the entertainment business have tried in the past, with not much success, at having a crack at being a television warm up man or woman.

It looks like an easy gig, perhaps something to fill in the time when work is quiet.

But it actually takes a lot of energy, boundless enthusiasm all the while entertaining restless television audiences who are tired, want something to eat or desperately need to go to the toilet.

"People who do it often fail, they often fail because they don't recognise that it's not a stand up gig," Pope said.

"They have not come along to see Michael Pope be funny, they've come to see the show.

"I think some people fail at it because they think it's all about them, but it's not."

Some of Pope's favourite gigs include Eddie McGuire's Millionaire Hot Seat, and most recently Shaun Micallef's Mad As Hell.

One of Pope’s favourite gigs include Eddie McGuire’s Millionaire Hot Seat.
One of Pope’s favourite gigs include Eddie McGuire’s Millionaire Hot Seat.

He has lots of respect for both hosts.

"Eddie is fantastic to work with," he said. "He's so professional, he's always on and ready to go. You can do six shows a day so it's a very long day, but it's very streamlined and a smooth running day."

As well as McGuire and Micallef, some of his other favourite hosts to work with are Larry Emdur, Grant Denyer and Julia Morris.

"All of those names understand and respect the TV studio audience a lot," he said.

"Think about it, there are a thousand things the audience could be doing with their time, and they have chosen to give their time and often they are getting nothing for it.

"There is no coin, they are just there for entertainment.

"Those names respect and value the importance of the live audience. Plus off air, they are just really nice people."


He has worked with all the big names in Australia and international acts, but he is always discrete backstage.

"There isn't a lot of interplay, " he said of mixing with the TV talent.

"There's a bit of a wall around them, certainly backstage, there is a wall. It's not that you're not allowed to go up and say 'hey' to somebody, it's just not comfortable to do so.

"I'm just the warm up guy, so I wait until they're on set and on stage and then I engage with them sometimes.

"I wouldn't say they are my friends, they are my working colleagues, so there is always a bit of distance."

What has been his toughest gig? That would have to be the TV Logie Awards.

For 18 years, Pope worked the room as the warm up guy before the ceremony started and during the night.

It's fair to say the television stars just don't want to listen and they are often more concerned about where their next drink is coming from than the Logies telecast.

"Unfortunately that audience doesn't give the show the respect it deserves, it's as simple as that," Pope said.

"They are there to mix and mingle, and chitchat, and tweet the results and so on."

When Twitter and smartphones were invented, that's when the Logies became an even tougher room to control.

"It went even more downhill when smartphones came in," he said. "In that first year they were tweeting results because we were still on delay, like a half an hour delay.

"As much as I said, 'Please don't tweet and tell anyone,' they did.

"It caused havoc.

"Now they are live purely because of social media."

Tom Gleeson launched a social media campaign to help him win the Gold Logie. Picture: Josh Woning/AAP
Tom Gleeson launched a social media campaign to help him win the Gold Logie. Picture: Josh Woning/AAP

He also tries to stay clear of sporting events, and has only ever worked on the Brownlow Medal once.

"I think the producers feel there isn't a need for a warm up guy, because the show doesn't require any sort of laughter," he said.

"They are not doing much laughing, they will just clap if someone wins."

Every show that he works on is different.

"Every show has its own audience, its own rhythms," he said.

"Millionaire for example, at the start of every show there is a lot of enthusiasm with the audience.

"But once the routine sets in, they get a bit complacent. But I know that, so I counteract that with a lot of energy."

In the past he has had TV talent bag the audience after a taping, but Pope has a different perspective on that.

"I've worked on many a show where the cast might say afterwards the audience was crap, but it's often not the case," he said.

"Maybe it's not the audience that is the issue, maybe it's you?

"Maybe it's the show? Maybe it's the off air attitude that they picked up on or something. Or maybe I was off my game.

"It's wrong just to blame the audience for a bad reaction to a show."

Pope got his first gig as the warm up guy in 1990 on a dating game show called Blind Date with Greg Evans.


For nearly a decade he had already been working in television on air, including on the Here's Humphrey show, Cartoon Connection before Agro joined, and various other kids shows.

Even though it was a short gig, working on Here's Humphrey is something he will always cherish.

"Not so much now but there was a time for 10 or 15 years after Humphrey, people would go, where do I know you from?" Pope said.

"It was only because the show was repeated so often.

"To them it felt like I had been on the show for a lifetime but it was only for a couple of months.

"It was good fun."

Pope has a lot of respect for the very niche market that is the job of a warm up guy, in particular comedians Brian Nankervis and Russell Gilbert, who both had also had many warm up gigs over the years.

"Brian Nankervis was ahead of me in terms of doing warm up," he said.

"He did Let The Blood Run Free and also Comedy Company, with Russell Gilbert.

"Then of course Russell did Hey Hey It's Saturday for years."

Jacki MacDonald, Daryl Somers, Kylie Minogue and Dickie Knee on the set ofHey Hey It's Saturday.
Jacki MacDonald, Daryl Somers, Kylie Minogue and Dickie Knee on the set ofHey Hey It's Saturday.

While warm up is a huge part of Pope's working career, he is also an established TV producer and presenter, an accomplished MC and public speaker, and he has another career on the side - working as a mind-reader with magic tricks at corporate events.

"The world of magic is divided into various genres," Pope said. "There's card magic, there's coin magic and there are illusionists. Then there is a genre called mentalism, it's about mind-reading."

Those mind-reading skills sure do come in handy when he has a restless audience to manage.

Luke Dennehy is a freelance entertainment journalist. Continue the conversation @LukeDennehy



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