I’ve known Russell Fletcher for many years. He’s a brilliant actor, an incredibly skilled improviser and a gifted theatrical director. In fact, he’s directed three live stage shows that I’ve written or co-written over the years, and really is an outstandingly talented bloke. Versatile too – and that’s what made me approach him to chat with me for HowToWinGameShows.com. You see, since 2014, Russell has been the audience warm up person on the hugely successful Australian revival of Family Feud. But Russell’s duties on the show don’t end there. In fact, he’s really well placed to give us an up-close, behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of the show, which should prove fascinating for anyone who’s interested in appearing on it. So let’s get to it, and dive right in to Part One of my interview, with the one and only Russell Fletcher!
SH: Russell, thanks for chatting to me today for HowToWinGameShows.com.
RF: My pleasure, Hallington!
SH: How would you describe your role on Family Feud, and how did you come to be in that role ?
RF: Pam Barnes gave me a call at the start of 2014 checking availability and I think maybe I have received a slight handball from Michael Pope. I’d filled in for Popey over the span of 20 years, like twice, as a warm up person on Family Feud and a sitcom, a really bad one. Even though I think I was terrible warm up at the time I think I was the most entertaining person in the room. It was a really bad sitcom.
SH: What was it? You can name names!
RF: It was something with “school” in it.
SH: Late For School, starring Matthew Newton.
RF: It was like live recording in the studio. I had to go and fill in and I didn’t know what to do so I just made it up a bit. I am not a stand-up comedian, I don’t have 20 minutes. So when Pam called me, I was like “a warm up person? Really?” because I know my experience hadn’t been good. But I’d spent the intervening years doing lots of corporate entertainment, just shooting the breeze in front of a live audience. Also hosting Spontaneous Broadway just gave me the confidence even to go even though I’m not a stand-up comedian I think I can manufacture something and just do an angle on that. And I have seen enough warm up to do what I think I could be a version of that. You have to develop a persona and you have to develop some schtick. I was hesitant at first but then I looked at my family and they were hungry and I thought “I gotta feed you guys”. So I went “Regular gig? Hell.yeah!” Plus then it became apparent that I was also going to host the audition days so I was going to be (Family Feud host) Grant Denyer on those days. And I thought that’s the sort of stuff that I really enjoy.
RF: It’s just hosting, shooting the breeze with contestants and that was the first part of the job: was actually auditioning families. So I just created a little bit of procedure about it in terms of warming them up and telling them about their expectations and it also grew from there. So I guess I’d put myself down as warm up / studio host. I am the audition day host. That’s probably my post important role.
SH: Right. And how does an audition day run, from your perspective? For instance, you are in a hall or somewhere in a public space? Roughly how many people or families or groups would you have at a typical audition?
RF: Generally the producers will get about 40 families into the room and we will do the audition days at Media City Studios in South Melbourne – it’s the old Channel 7 Studios and that’s where we do Family Feud as well. Right next door to where Dancing with the Stars is filmed. Also The Chase….
SH: And Deal or No Deal, once upon a time.
RF: Yes indeed. On the day 40 families come along and they already have those procedures in mind because I think Pam worked on Bert’s Family Feud and so has at least one of the other producers, Lalitha. So I remember Lalitha from the first Family Feud, where once or twice I’d done warm up. I also done a comedy festival charity episode of Family Feud and it was so much fun.
SH: On a team? Playing the game?
RF: Yes, on the team. It was so much fun, with Fiona O’Loghlin and all these other comedians. So the audition goes like this; 40 families turn up, they’re all so excited because they think they are going to catch a break and be on the show very shortly and win ten thousand dollars and probably a car. That’s what they all think.
SH: Well, you’ve got to aim high!
RF: But from those 40 families we warm them up, warm up their brains and say “here are the expectations you should have; you should aim to have a really fun day and we are looking for energetic people, bright people, you on your best day, basically“. I just get them to do some very simple warm ups. I might get them to do a word association or a gift game or a “Yes, and”.
SH: These are like Theatresports games?
RF: They are sort of workshop exercises that we do with groups and they are really fun and they are really silly and it gets people going. I even do tongue twisters and little bit of Brain Gym.
SH: Is that almost like patting your head and rubbing your tummy?
RF: Exactly the same sort of thing. Sarah, my partner, has done a Brain Gym course and we do this a lot when we do workshops because it actually gets people to be really present and they go ” How do you do this?” and it actually does create new neural pathways in the brain like learning to juggle or play the piano with two hands and it’s really simple. Then we do a survey and then each family has an interview with one of the producers. There’s usually four tables; it’s Pam, Mark, Tom and Delaney. So they interview the families and ask them about their lives, how would they describe themselves, their jobs and then ask them a few Family Feud questions and from that little interview with the families they can generally tell who is going to be able to stand up in front of the lights and an audience and play the game and also be fun to work with. And fun for Grant to work with, in particular. After that we do a callback after lunch and we might call back 20 families, we might call back 26 families. There has been an occasion where we had 27 families turn up and we called them all back.
And on that optimistic note, I’ll sign off for this week. Next week, Russell continues to talk me through exactly how the Family Feud audition and record day unfolds, while giving plenty more great tips. So, if you’re interested in trying out for this great fun game show, you won’t want to miss that! Until then!