Thursday, March 22, 2012

What I learned from Arsenio

As a sommelier I recognize that I have learned from other great sommeliers who worked before me, and who I have worked with myself. There have been many, many instances where I only understood something important because another sommelier took the time to make it clear to me. But in addition I am aware of the many crucial lessons I have also learned from chefs, and from waiters, and from Arsenio. That's right, Arsenio. Arsenio Hall has been one of the most important reference points for me in the business that I am in, and I want to take a moment to recognize Arsenio and give my tall lankey homie a shout out.

Here is some of what I learned from Arsenio:

Get the Audience Involved... Arsenio got the people going. The crowd for him was a huge part of the show. There was an energy and an excitement there that he stoked and brought up. Remember the whole Roo! Roo! Roo! arm pump? People dug that. Aresnio came on the stage and talked to the people, and he didn't talk over them or even to the camera. He was out there with those people, he wanted them involved, and they felt that. He gave out audience hugs, he gave out audience high fives, he gave out audience smiles. He forever pointed to his favorites in the seats. Arsenio brought the vibe, and he got the audience looking where he wanted them to look. Seriously, watch Arsenio decide to focus the attention of the entire studio on the sax player. He could do that.

A wine can be tremendous. And a wine can be great. But a wine can't make a connection or a sale all by itself. If a sommelier doesn't get his customers excited about the wine they have in the glass those poor people may never realize the importance and sheer awesomeness of what is going on in that moment. A good sommelier sets a tone where people are into the wine that is front of them because of how it has been shown to them. Arsenio taught me that.

Pay Attention to Pronunciation... "Arseniooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo Hall!" was how the anouncer used to say it in the intro. He elongated that first name into like 8 names, all of which were Arsenio. And as a viewer, you would remember that. Sometimes when I know people pretty well I like to say "Macabeoooooooo" or "Pouilly-Fu-Said" or "Beaujolais-he-who!" Or "Of Corse" instead of "Cap Corse." You know, put a little English on it, make a moment a bit funny and memorable in a good way. Thanks for the intro, Arsenio show announcer guy!

Put them in the Show Before They're Gone... Arsenio got his guests on the show before they were shot, or broke, or all out of totally crazy inappropriate clothing to wear. Arsenio understood that you can't have a good interview with old out of work MC Hammer, you have to have it with Hammer when he is in his prime. Likewise in his 2Pac interview, Arsenio grasped, perhaps before anyone, that he better have this guy 2Pac on the show quick, before he was shot down by one of those "nines" he was always rapping about. Arsenio knew how difficult interviews with dead guys could be.

I think about this when I think about wines by the likes of Verset, or Gentaz, or Vatan. You have your chance to put the wines on your list, and then maybe that chance doesn't come again. Take it or lose it.

Leave Room for the Unexpected... Arsenio had this guy Bill from Arkansas on his show and this guy played the saxophone and the next thing you knew, this guy Bill was THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. Boom. Zip. Zoom. That was it. Election over. Bill Clinton took over with that sax solo. It made him. Forget about whatever he said during some sit down interview, nobody remembers that. Bill had some screen time and he shined in those moments like few politicians have shined in the history of these fine States.

What if instead of allowing Bill to play the Sax, Arsenio had just been like, "hey, just so you know audience out there, I'm going to tell you this, Bill plays some good saxophone!" and then he had cut to a commercial? I mean, Ross Perot would have been President! Which just goes to show, you have to let the wine do its thing. It can't be like, okay, sniff, sniff, talk over the wine, talk about whatever, decide the wine is not doing it for you, move on to another wine. That's no good. You have to let the wine have a moment. You have to let it show you what it can do. Because you really can be surprised sometimes. Tell me if you don't think Arsenio is just totally surprised by how good Bill is on the sax. Even he didn't see it coming all the way how it actually went down.

Diversify and Develop... Don't just have one show. Have a couple of different shows. Guest star. Work with your friends. Get out there. You never know what might really catch on, or what direction you might find yourself liking. Work the floor, but write a blog. Travel around, but tell people about it back home. Take pictures. Lead seminars. Use twitter. Don't expect the world to come to you if you don't come to it a little bit.

Let Jay tell the White Bread Jokes... Look, there is a big audience for the kind of comedy Jay Leno does, but maybe it doesn't have much edge to it. Any edge, really. Arsenio was all edge. Maybe too much edge. Look at him going at Vanilla Ice over race when Ice was all kinds of popular. Look at him putting all of N.W.A. on the show for an interview with Eazy-E in a straight jacket and MC Ren talking about police brutality. And of course there was the Farrakhan interview. Arsenio didn't go for the obvious sells. He didn't make up a list of bland Pinot Grigios. Arsenio knew that someone could always buy bland somewhere else and that the worst thing he could try to be was the same. Arsenio didn't want the whole pie, he just wanted his part.

Arsenio, look man, you taught me a lot of my business. I thank you for that.

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