Sunday, June 8, 2008

Word of the Week - HOCUS

Posted by Hannah Miller
This week’s theatre artist is WAYNE BRADY, born on June 2, 1972, which means he celebrated his 36th birthday last Monday. As opposed to last week’s stage luminary Charles Winninger, Wayne Brady is at the height of his career and well known to millions for his Emmy Award-winning TV performances on Whose Line Is It Anyway?. His Word of the Week is HOCUS.

Brady was born and raised in Orlando, and began his entertainment career when he was 16 as a “character” actor playing Tigger at Walt Disney World. For the next seven years he was very involved in central Florida theatres, performing in stage productions of A Chorus Line, Fences, A Raisin in the Sun, Jesus Christ Superstar and I’m Not Rappaport.

Success at the local level encouraged him to move on to a larger market. He spent a short time in Las Vegas and then relocated to Los Angeles in 1996, where he was almost instantly successful in both theatre and television. He performed at the prestigious Mark Taber Forum in its production of Blade to the Heat. He also was cast in guest starring roles in TV series including I’ll Fly Away (which also featured Joe Inscoe, now starring in Greater Tuna at Barksdale Hanover Tavern), Home Court and In the Heat of the Night.

In 1998 he hosted the VH-1 series Vinyl Justice, and the following year began his appearances on Whose Line Is It Anyway?. In 2001, he wrote, produced and starred in The Wayne Brady Show, a sketch comedy series that had a short run on daytime TV. This experience led to a more successful talk show by the same name that ran for two seasons and earned four Emmy Awards, two of which went to Brady himself for Outstanding Talk Show Host.

Brady’s national popularity grew based on his talent as an improv artist, singer, actor and comedian, but mainly based on his friendly, out going personality and down-to-earth charm. In 2004, Brady was spoofed on Comedy Central’s Chapelle’s Show for "not being black enough." Cast member Paul Mooney made fun of Brady, saying “White people love Wayne Brady because he makes Bryant Gumbel look like Malcolm X.” Soon thereafter, Brady spoofed his white bread image by appearing on the show as a drug-dealing psychopathic pimp.

Also in 2004, Brady made his Broadway debut, starring as Billy Flynn in the long-running musical hit, Chicago. In Act II of the Kander and Ebb classic, smooth and flashy lawyer Flynn sings his show-stopper, Razzle Dazzle, in an effort to convince Roxie that she has nothing to worry about at her murder trial. “It’s all a circus, kid,” says Flynn. “A three-ring circus. This trial—the whole world—all show business. But kid, you’re working with a star. The biggest!”

The lyrics to Razzle Dazzle include all kinds of fun words that vied for Word of the Week. Splendiferous, vociferous, flummox, finagle, bamboozle, unassailable and whammy. But after looking up the etymology of each of these fun-to-say words, I wound up settling on HOCUS, as in hocus pocus, because it has the most interesting history.

The two-word phrase "hocus pocus" seems to have entered the language a century or so before the word HOCUS as a stand alone. In medieval times, the Latin words spoken by priests in the Eucharist included “hoc est corpus meum,” meaning “this is my body.” The same words, in English, are used by my minister today at the beginning of Communion, quoting what Jesus said at the Last Supper as he broke the bread for his disciples.

According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, vagrant students who wondered Europe often earned their keep as jugglers or fools. Wanting to surround themselves with an air of the supernatural, they invented the nonsense phrase “hax pax max Deus adimax,” based loosely on “hoc est corpus meum.” They used this phrase to draw attention to their act as it was about to begin.

As the centuries progressed, the phrases “hax pax” and “hoc est corpus” combined and transformed into “hocus pocus.” In 1634, a book entitled Hocus Pocus Junior – The Anatomy of Legerdemain was published in England. The author was anonymous, but over time, he became known simply as Hocus Pocus, after the popular book’s title.

Soon the words “hocus pocus” became well known by the public at large, and were universally accepted to mean pretty much what they mean today:
· nonsense words or phrases used as a formula by quack conjurers, or
· a trick performed by a magician or juggler, or
· any type of foolishness used to disguise trickery or deception.

By the 19th century, the word HOCUS was appearing on its own as a verb in the popular work of Dickens and Thackeray, and even earlier in the works of less prominent writers. Then as now HOCUS means:
· to fool or decieve, or
· to add a drug to food or drink.

So, if you feel like HOCUSING someone, or believe that you yourself have been HOCUSED, thank Billy Flynn, Kander and Ebb, Wayne Brady and Word of the Week for providing a new verb to ably describe your action or state.

In 2006, Barksdale was honored when Wayne Brady showed up at Willow Lawn for a performance of The Full Monty. Turns out Wayne is close personal friends with Harrison White, the L A actor who lit up the stage every night in the role of Horse. Wayne flew into town to see his buddy Harrison in the show.

And that’s the truth, with no HOCUSING involved.

--Hannah Miller


Anonymous said...

You have got to be hocusing me. THE Wayne Brady was at Barksdale Theatre at Willow Lawn watching the Full Monty??!! I never heard that. Maybe you imagined it. Maybe Andy Boothby hocused you that night when you ordered a drink at the bar and you were halucinating.

Jacquie said...

He was there! He was so wonderful to the cast after the show…gushing with praise, and he made sure to talk to each of us. Just a down to earth guy.