Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

His Visual Element Is a Hot Number

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

His Visual Element Is a Hot Number

Article excerpt

IF YOU WANT TO KNOW what real pressure is, just try using a Barbie doll to set underwear on fire on national television. I did this on Dec. 21, on the David Letterman show.

Technically, I was on this show to promote a book, but unless you're an extremely deep thinker such as Madonna, the Letterman people don't like you to just sit there and talk. They want you to have what is known in the TV business as a Strong Visual Element, to keep things moving along. To give you an idea of what I mean, here's how the Letterman show would rate two hypothetical guest spots:

WEAK GUEST SPOT: Nobel Prize-winning research scientist explains revolutionary new and easy way to prevent cancer.

STRONG GUEST SPOT: Nobel Prize-winning research scientist plays badminton against a cow.

So when a Letterman show producer named Dan Kellison called me up to find out if I had any visual elements, I told him about my Rollerblade Barbie experiment. Rollerblade Barbie is a type of Barbie doll - no longer available in stores - that comes with little booties equipped with cigarette lighter-type flint wheels; when you roll Rollerblade Barbie along a flat surface, her booties shoot out sparks.

A while back, after reading a newspaper account of an accident involving a Rollerblade Barbie and some kids who were playing "beauty shop," I conducted a scientific experiment in my driveway. This experiment proved that if you spray hair spray on a set of underwear, then roll Barbie across it, the underwear will burst into flames.

Dan instantly realized that this experiment would have great visual potential as a way to educate the Letterman audience concerning the importance of not applying hair spray to their underwear and then running sparking doll booties over it.

But he wanted to make sure it would work, so on the day of my scheduled TV appearance, I went to the theater several hours early for a rehearsal.

Backstage, besides Dan, were personnel from the Letterman show and a representative of the New York City Fire Department.

The ambience was a lot less casual than it had been in my driveway. Everybody was concerned about the fire danger; everybody was also VERY concerned about how Letterman would react.

One guy kept saying things like, "Is this OK with Dave? Is Dave going to be comfortable with this? How close is Dave gonna be? Did we run this by Dave? Maybe we should run this by Dave again."

Many eyes were watching me closely as I spread a pair of men's cotton briefs on a table, then sprayed them with hair spray. …

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