This Is The Guy Who Decided We Should Yank Awful Performers Off Stage with a Cane

At least boos have zero effect on your spine
This Is The Guy Who Decided We Should Yank Awful Performers Off Stage with a Cane

There are a couple of tropes that have survived the test of time as a way for a displeased audience to physically indicate that they’re done with the performer at hand. Maybe the best known is throwing tomatoes or other usually overripe fruit at them. The other is “the hook.”

Seen here escorting a floundering Donald Duck offstage, cartoons are probably the medium most people are familiar with “the hook” from. The question is, have genuine, real humans ever been yanked off stage by the neck, or is this a Looney Tunes invention a la the danger of getting crushed by an anvil? 

Apparently, yes. It’s not still around, I assume due to the invention of personal injury lawsuits, but at one point, if you were stinking it up on stage, this could have been your real fate.

The most common modern association with the hook is the notoriously brutal venue of the Apollo in New York City. Their Amateur Night is famous for, let’s call it “efficiency.” Bad acts aren’t met with pained smiles and permission to finish out their time, but instead a heavily encouraged escort offstage by a figure known as “the Executioner.” For a long time, this was a tap-dancer, impressive in his own rightknown as Howard “Sandman” Sims. The hook was one of many accessories and props he might use to end a painful performance, though he didn’t physically yank people offstage

In the times of classic Vaudeville? They weren’t as concerned about whiplash. According to multiple sources, including the book The Comedians by Kliph Nesteroff, the first use of the hook was indeed in Manhattan, but a bit further south, at Miner’s Bowery Theatre. Per Nesteroff: “Vaudeville may have been clean, but it bred cruelty. The method of using a giant hook to yank acts from the stage seems like an invention of cartoons, but the basis for the cliché was real. A showman named Henry Clay Miner invented it for his amateur night at Miner’s Bowery Theatre in the 1880s. If the act was deemed rotten, a stagehand was cued to remove the performer with a massive hook and a violent tug. The sheer rancor of this spectacle turned Miner’s amateur nights into a profitable draw.”

If you go to the Apollo today, they still have an executioner, robes filled these days by a man named C.P. Lacey (the C.P. stands for Crowd Pleaser), but you won’t see anyone fished offstage. 

Depending on your own personal tolerance for cruelty and taste for schadenfreude, I either cheerily assure you or regret to inform you that Merrie Melodies is probably your best bet.

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