Foote keeps 'em laughing throughout long career
FARMINGTON — For nearly four decades, Norman Foote has made a living with his guitar and his sense of humor.
That’s hardly a surprise for someone who knew he wanted to be in show business by the time he was 12 or 13. Foote gravitated first toward playing guitar and writing songs, but it wasn’t too long before he figured out he had a gift for making people laugh, too.
“People always want me to be funny,” Foote said during a phone interview last week from his home in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he was preparing to hit the road for a show here this weekend, his first visit to Farmington. “But there are different degrees of clever.”
And with the type of show Foote does, one targeted at families with children, those different degrees come into play quite a bit. He plays guitar and sings, employs a lot of outrageous props and even delves into puppetry during his performances, which last between 75 and 90 minutes, depending on whether an intermission is scheduled. It can be a challenge just keeping the attention of kids for that long, but Foote takes on the added difficulty of keeping their parents entertained, as well.
So his humor has to be versatile.
“My shows are all ages,” he said. “I really play the crowd ... It does have its own edge to it. Sometimes parents get things the kids don’t, and sometimes the kids get things the parents don’t. I’m constantly chipping away at my repertoire.”
Foote describes himself as a singer-songwriter with humor, so when he sits down to write a song, it’s important that the tune have a funny side to it.
“I’m constantly writing new songs, and some don’t fit into that format,” he said. “But you try to find that natural humor that will be funny and enjoyable for them and for my own sake.”
Contemporary figures and situations play a big role in Foote’s show, he said, though he does have a number of old standbys.
“I’ve got songs that always bring the house down, and I’m grateful for it,” he said. “But I do a lot of adaptations of pop culture in my act. I start with ‘The Sound of Music’ and then do Bob Dylan doing ‘The Sound of Music’ and then (Luciano) Pavarotti doing ‘The Sound of Music.’”
Audience members will also hear Foote’s interpretation of Bruno Mars crooning his way through “Old MacDonald.” Some of that material draws laughs from everyone in the audience and some from only a few, but Foote wants to make sure the underlying theme of his songs resonates with everyone, young or old, hip or square.
“I think everybody needs to be reminded to stick up for yourself and believe in yourself,” he said. “That’s really my main message. Kids get so intimidated and get caught up with a crowd that they are afraid to listen to what they really want to listen to. Music and comedy tears down those boundaries and walls people put up.”
Foote has enjoyed considerable critical success in his career, drawing nominations for Juno awards — the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy — in 1990, 1993, 2001 and 2010, winning that final year in the category of best children’s album for “Love My New Shirt.”
And even though he acknowledged the family concert market is a sizable one, Foote said he has experienced the same problem that most other pop artists have when it comes to making a living — that a lot of people simply aren’t buying CDs anymore.
“The family market is a huge market,” he said. “I love entertaining for families, and it is a huge category. It’s not rock ‘n’ roll, but it’s a huge (portion of the listening public). But they’re not out buying CDs like they used to. They either want to get it for free or download it.
“So, for me, it’s all about performing and connecting with an audience,” he said. “That’s where I put my energy.”
Foote said one of the most common things he hears from adults after one of his shows is how they initially were not eager to attend a family show but wound up having a great time.
“They never regret it,” he said. “A lot of them say, ‘Ah, I didn’t want to go. I just don’t want to go out tonight.’ ... But they’re always so happy they showed up. Live entertainment can change your life. That energy you feel from a performance, it can move you.”
Foote has spent most of his professional life entertaining other people and their kids, but he’s got five children of his own spread out across a wide age range — from 13 to 36.
“The 13-year-old gets most of my attention,” he said. “He wants to take over my act someday, but I want him to get into sports.”
Two of his children in the middle — one a 23-year-old and the other a 21-year-old — already have chosen to follow in Foote’s footsteps and are pursuing careers in music. Since he understands how difficult it is to be a professional musician, Foote has encouraged them to develop an alternate plan.
“I told them, ‘When you can afford to make music work for you, do it. Until then, get a job,’” he said, laughing. “I encourage them with their playing. But I don’t like them laying around. As a parent, I want them to work. They have to work while they’re young. You can’t just sit around and wait for a call from somebody.”
And how has that message been received?
“It’s never received very well, but they’ve had to listen to it,” he said, laughing again.
In the meantime, the father continues to derive a great deal of satisfaction from his own career. He recalled an appearance he made on a telethon last year with “Sesame Street” veteran Bob McGrath, who was then 82 but still working hard. After the two went through a long rehearsal, Foote turned to McGrath and asked if he had plans to retire.
“No, to what?” McGrath shot back. “What would I retire to?”
Foote, 61, decided to adopt that philosophy as his own and eschews any talk of giving up the road.
“I’ve still got a lot of shows to do and songs to write,” he said. “I love it too much.”
Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.
If you go
What: Norman Foote concert
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, June 11
Where: Lions Wilderness Park Amphitheater, 5800 College Blvd. in Farmington
Tickets: $10 for adults and $8 for children online at fmtn.org/civiccenter, by phone at 505-599-1148 or 877-599-3331, or in person at the Farmington Civic Center box office at 200 W. Arrington St.
For more information: normanfoote.com