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Interview with Santa (Stewart Scott)
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This is a transcript from one of my favorite interviews and a popular podcast episode. It is from the Podcast - October 2016 episode.
After reading a book about a Mall Santa's experiences I connected the dots and realized his experiences built a template for a great mascot performer. The similarities are striking and our conversation is a fun one. I hope you enjoy it.
Jon Cudo: So with our next guest, I've been told that you can determine how big a star you have by the length of their introductions, which explains why I might need to spend five minutes introducing Cameron Hughes and why all you needed was two words when you introduce a megastar. For example, up next, Tiger Woods. Well, today I have as biggest star as you can get based on that guide. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome my guest, Santa.
Stewart Scott: Thank you very much for having me. I might say this is my first live interview for the year 2016 Christmas season.
Cudo: Perfect! Well, you've been resting in the North Pole, so it's time for you to get it out and shake out the cobwebs and get a little practice time. Right?
Scott: Right. Absolutely, I could be away from the north for a while.
Cudo: So, actually we're joined today by Stewart Scott, who is an author and a character actor as Santa Claus because Stewart wrote a great book called Diary of a Mall Santa that we'll discuss today. But in addition to covering it as a great book for the holidays which it is point in guide for parenting, which I found to be we're also going to look at some of his insights and how they relate to your mascot characters performance. So, welcome Stewart, the real Stewart Scott and the part-time Santa Claus.
Scott: Well, I was wondering if I could only be the mascot for the Chicago Cubs that might guarantee a World Series victory.
Cudo: There you go. Yes, and Stewart is located in Chicago, so his references to a Chicago sports may be there as well. So Stewart, did you know when you wrote this that you'd be writing such a great book about mascotting?
Scott: Well, I don't know that was my original desire necessarily. When I was first approached to play the role of Santa Claus, having never played it before, I asked if I would get any training and what I have to do that I have join a union to do this. And the only things I was told was ‘Keep your both hands visible at all times, don't promise anybody anything you can't deliver and watch out for teenagers.' That was the extent of my training and everything else is on the job.
Cudo: Which actually might be in the mascot manual that they gave me that I didn't read, so that could probably train you for your mascot as well. So Stewart, what inspired you to write the book you wrote, Diary of a Mall Santa?
Scott: Well, when I got to know my agent early on to accept this job, she told me just upfront and said, ‘You know you're going to hear some sad stories, some funny stories, some heartwarming stories or your reverend stories perhaps.' And I thought, ‘Boy, this could lead to a book.' I have been a writer for most of my career and so what I did, when I met with the children and parents and if was a noteworthy story I would write some notes down in my journal that I kept next to me at all times. And then when I came home that evening I'd write the first draft of the story and every day there were stories that were somewhat noteworthy.
Cudo: Yeah, and the book is loaded with those. That's for sure. So you told a great story in your book about your childhood, about Santa coming to your house and how that left an imprint on you. Can you share that with us?
Scott: Yes, this was years ago when our older children were pretty young and it was Christmas Eve. We were in the living room and around the Christmas tree and we were telling Christmas stories and reading Christmas stories and it was about 9 o'clock and the doorbell rang. I went to the door and we weren't expecting anybody and there on the front porch stood Santa Claus and Mrs. Santa. They were so real looking. I looked behind them to see if there was a sleigh and reindeer in our front yard. They knew us, they knew my wife's name, my name and they knew our children's name. We invited them in and they had gifts for the children, we talked for a few minutes, they left and my wife and I looked at each other and we thought, ‘Who were those people?' And at that time I thought, someday I want to return that favor and I want to play the role of Santa Claus.
Cudo: That's a great story. So you noted when you started, you didn't really get any training beyond those tips that you shared with us.
Scott: No. That was about it and I just had the kind of react. At the time, I know they said, watch out for teenagers and that really wasn't much of an issue but I had to hit the ground running.
Cudo: So what were some of the more challenging experiences that you had?
Scott: Well, there was more than one I suppose. But one was this couple came in to see me and I think there were in their mid-20s and the guy was kind of very athletic-looking and his girlfriend or wife looked like a cheerleader. She had long blonde hair and they wanted to have her picture taken with me. They said they didn't have any children yet, but they wanted to have their picture taken with me. So we stood around the Christmas tree in kind of a group hug and I had my arms around her shoulders and the woman was on my left. And while the photographer was kind of getting the camera ready I noticed that her hand kind of slid from my back all the way down to my rear end and I wasn't expecting that. And I knew that she knew that was my rear end and I just looked to my left and I said, ‘That buttock belongs to Mrs. Santa and she is hot.' and she moved her hand.
Cudo: So you get it for all ages, you noted teenagers can be the most troubled. Do you have any teenage stories or teenage warnings you want to share?
Scott: Well, the teenage girls were delightful and they would come in groups of two or three or four and they just wanted to get their picture taken with me and there were kind of silly and giddy about the whole thing. I think they were just kind of trying to relive their childhood, but I can't recall one problem with the girls. Now normally the teenage boys wanted absolutely nothing to do with me, they would walk past the Santa set and wouldn't even look my direction. I would say Merry Christmas and I would wave at them but that probably insulted them. But there were three guys who were walking by, young guys, I guess around 14 or 15 and one kid says, ‘Santa, I want a pound of weed for Christmas.' And when I felt like the wind was just raising my fore arm in the air and pumping and saying, pound this but I just thought I should just keep those thoughts to myself, so I might've been fired.
Cudo: Well, your standing character that's a good sign.
Cudo: And as Santa, do you do anything that's out of the ordinary or something other Santas might not do?
Scott: Well, I really have not had any long discussions with another Santas. But the one thing that I did from the very beginning is rather saying to the child, ‘What do you want for Christmas?' I would say, ‘What are you thinking about for Christmas?' Most kids kind of interpreted that to mean, what do you want for Christmas? But every horn in a child would say, ‘Oh, you mean like getting together with family.' And I'd say, ‘That's exactly what I mean. Is that what you're looking for?' "Yes, we're getting to looking forward to that.' But it was rare that a child would think beyond gifts and also I kind of learned this was just trial and error. I can almost guarantee that if a child is between 12 months and 18 months they're going to be terrified on seeing Santa. And really in reality I can't do anything to calm them down but what I would ask the mother and it was usually the mother would bring their child to me. I would say when you bring the child to me, bring them to me facing away from me, facing toward you and they would. And so the child is on my lap and he's not sure whose lap he's on but then I'd start softly singing the ABC song and they would calm down. And sometimes the mother would say, ‘Oh Johnny, you know that song.' and sometimes it worked. It didn't always work but I think there's something biological about children who were between one and one and a half or two that they're going to be afraid of a fat guy with a red suit on and that's good. You don't want your child to be walking up to every stranger. So that was something that I've tried often and it seems to work.
Cudo: I like that and it's nice too. The other people don't really see what you're doing and I think is a mascot character a lot of times people can't see what you're doing or if you're whispering are singing a song to a child like that. I think that's actually a nice helpful hint even for people in costume that you can kind of sing or hum a song and as they say music calms the savage beast in every 12 month old. So, Stewart if I'm... If you have any story, kick on.
Scott: Well, I was thinking, you know you've read the book so you've seen the stories and this trend shows up more than once in the book that one story for example, and it kind of breaks my heart but a woman brought her child to me and I guess he was around four or five years old. She said, ‘Santa, tell Johnny he's a bad little boy and that if he doesn't straighten up he's getting nothing for Christmas.' And I would say, ‘Let me take care of this.' And I would bring the child over to me and stand him in front of me and put both hands on his shoulders and I'd say, ‘Johnny when I see you, I feel very good little boy and I know you're going to go home today and you're going to help your mom.' He nod his head. But it just breaks my heart to see children told that they're bad and because it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy if you keep telling the child he's bad. Guess what? He's going to grow up to be bad. So it's so important and I would tell the child and say, ‘You know Johnny God loves you very much.' and they would just take it all in. So I think if you ever get a chance to play this role of Santa those are three things that I think might help and the encouragement is just so important.
Cudo: Yeah, and that's where I think I noted in the pre-call when we talked a little bit. I'm a dad and there are a lot of great parenting stories in there and tip like that is just fantastic too. And sometimes if you ever stop and think about what you're saying and like you said what you're projecting on your son or daughter, so that's a really nice story. So, Stewart if I have this right, you had a job and you have a job with almost no training beyond what you've seen other people do, one that's pretty unique and one where you interact with people of all ages as a predefined character in a public setting where every move you make is being watched. So, for much of my audience here on the Gameops.com podcast, that sounds pretty familiar. And so as a mascot performer what you have is a job is really similar to what a sports mascot or any character mascot would be and I think one of things that I like in your book is there's all these parallels. So I want to talk about a few of those things and I'll pull couple stories from your booking and see if you can elaborate on them. But one of the one parts I noted early was how important it is to be on all the time to always being character and you told a great story of a guy was in his 40s who was just overcome seeing you and what you learned that day. Can you share that one with us?
Find out the rest of Stewart's great insights and how they can be applied to making your mascot program stronger and your mascot into a better performer in this Gameops.com Premium Content.
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