• Paul Rutherford


Updated: Jun 10

There's no obvious label for Tape Face's entertainment. Mime, perhaps? Silent comedy?

Both conjour up former practitioners (Marcel Marceau, Buster Keaton), but neither accurately capture what he does.

Actually, it's not what he does that's most important. It's what he doesn't.

In a world drowned in management speak and leadership oration, Tape Face is a timely reminder of Albert Mehrabian's "7-38-55 Rule" - the percentage weighting of words, tone of voice, and non-verbal signals.

But it's not just his silence worth noting; despite being a solo performer, most impactful is his way of creating space in which others can shine.

Leaders (and coaches); watch and learn.

Tape Face Got Talent

His series of six appearances on 2016 America's Got Talent charts a leadership model from "look at me" to "look at everybody else".

1. Here's What I Can Do: First appearance - two visual jokes by him, alone. The jokes communicate more about romantic relationships in two minutes than a library of chick-lit, romance novels and multiple shades of grey. And his solo performance (mis)sets expectations for all that follows.

NB: You'll find no details in any of my descriptions, so that you can experience his impact for youself.

2. Here's What I and You Can Do: His second appearance starts with a two-part solo skit reminding the audience of his imaginative range. Then he changes the rules: Tape Face calls on AGT judge Howie Mandel, who genuinely looks surprised and uncertain. They're now a double act, of which one half knows nothing and has to go with the flow. Then bask in the subsequent applause.

3. Here's What We Can Do: Third round, raise the game. Two skits again, but this time both featuring an AGT regular (judge Heidi Klum, show host Nick Cannon). Neither is left high-and-dry, expected to be entertaining alone; as 'leader' Tape Face gives them props and, through his behaviour, sets the tone though which they both know what to do. And deliver the bottom line.

4. Here's What Anyone Can Do: Fourth round, a new format. A two-person comedy sketch, Tape Face playing with a selected member of the audience. 'Even in TV-talent-studio worlds, you don't have to be a special person; anyone can do that they do and what I do'. Indeed, by then end of the skit, the audience member proves to be better than the leader.

5. Here's What Those Who Don't Want To Do Can Still Do: Semi-final of the world's largest talent contest, and Tape Face bets double-or-quits: he picks judge Mel B who's obviously uncomfortable and resistent. (Look at her body language and facial expression).

Step-by-step - without any language - Tape Face has created moments of entertainment that would not be possible without others at the very centre of performance. And as the path has progressed, so the role of everyone else has expanded.

So where does he go for the Finale?

6. Here's What They Can Do: In the final of a national talent contest, who are the most important people? The 10 contestants.

Tape Face's ego might well have been screaming "I got this far, let's go back to Week One and show them what I can do." Instead, after weeks putting others forward, the logical conclusion was to create a performance piece centred around four fellow finalists.

In this context, the chosen soundtrack "Lean on Me" carries so much meaning.

(All the appearances run in sequence in the YouTube below.)

Most Memorable 2016

In the end, Tape Face didn't win AGT. But it didn't matter.

In 2017 he has a residency in Las Vegas, a two-month run in London's West End, a residency at the Edinburgh Festival, and an end-of-year run in Germany (without language, he's universal).

I wonder how much impact that so-called 'leaders' in organizations could have if they went to work with tape across their mouths? How much could be communicated with signing and allowing colleagues and team members to connect the dots, making the solutions their own?

Tape Face (aka Sam Wills) does speak. Of his work he says:

"You have to respect your audience, finding ways for an audience to entertain themselves." Small wonder that he was voted Most Memorable Act of the AGT 2016 season.

Singers, magicians, dancers, musicians, contortionists all perform and draw attention to themselves.

After the initial impression, Tape Face becomes less the centre, more a conduit to others. "They aren't on stage being part of the show," says Sam Wills. "They are the show."

The best leadership advice I have read for a long time.

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#humour #leading #people

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