Everybody Loves a Clown, So Why Don’t You?
….With Apologies to Gerry Lewis and the Playboys
There was a point in my life that I thought George Carlin was the funniest man alive. He of the “7 things you can’t say on TV” and important to me at the time, an epic explanation on the various sounds and types of farts. I thought farts were hilarious. I mean come on – what man doesn’t!!
When I was in my teens and early 20s, I would do almost anything for a laugh. The aforementioned streaking was one of those things. I was pretty insecure as a young man, so I hid my lack of self confidence behind my sense of humour – or in the case of streaking, behind my behind.
I was about 19 years old and after my stint in Hamilton welding boxcars, I returned home to a job at Aylmer and Malahide Telephone Company – $4.50/hr was just too good to turn down! I loved my job. I was outside most of the time, doing manual labour. I climbed telephone poles, helped bury and splice cable, learned to install and repair telephones – you know those things with a dial and a cord attached to the wall? Oh yeah – never mind😊.
My first summer on the job, we replaced old open wire with cable, all the way from Port Burwell to just south of Tillsonburg – climbing every other pole along the way, to transfer the lashing machine from one side of the pole to the other – so we could carry on to the next pole. I took lots of slivers and fell off more than my share of poles, having the spurs kick out from time to time.
My boss at the time, was a gregarious, fun loving, glass half full guy named Bill Jeneraul. Bill was strong as an ox, wide shoulders, dimples that he wore like a champ, blue eyes that sparkled when he smiled and had a “nothing is impossible” attitude. People were attracted to him like the pied piper. His pig roasts were legendary.
Bill and I soon became close friends. We shared a love of life, a joie de vivre if you will. He loved sports as much as I did, and he was a risk taker as well. To say we resonated was an understatement. In fact he became my best man a few years later at my first wedding. Despite him being 10 years older and married, we spent a lot of time together. I loved Bill.
Each Christmas there was a celebration for employees, company board members and a few local dignitaries – perhaps 75-100 people in all. It was held in a local banquet hall, large enough to accommodate everyone. Bill’s dad Pete, also worked at the company and was quite a character. I loved to tease Pete about life. He in turn shared many “Pete-isms” with me that I still recite from time to time for no apparent reason:
Pete-ism #1 “I tripped over a straw and a goose kicked me”
Pete-ism #2 “She took me all the way around like a hog would a punkin”
Pete-ism #3 “I ain’t had so much fun since the pigs ate my little sister”
I had no clue what they meant, but for some reason they were funny and stuck with me. He was a throw back to a different time and a lot of fun to work with. Pete was a silver haired guy in his early 60’s, clean shaven, broad shouldered and bespectacled, with blue eyes and a quip for every occasion.
Well, “old” Pete decided to retire and Bill asked me if I would say a few words at the Christmas party to honour him. The few words turned into a “Dean Martin roast” and the attendees were lapping up the humour at Pete’s expense. I even treated them to my rendition of a French Canadian accent, using the pseudonym, “Buster the Body Crab”. I was hilarious – or so they told me. I was on my way to a career in comedy.
The next year I was asked to do another routine, and again it was received very well. I was surely on my way to becoming famous, like my idol George Carlin.
The Big Celebration
Vienna was incorporated as a Village in 1853. One hundred and twenty five years later, in 1978 a group of local politicians and community advocates determined that the village’s 125th year of incorporation should be celebrated. The historical significance of the many difficulties the village had overcome and the progress it had made would be feted.
There would be hundreds of people, special guests, MPs and MPPs invited to join this historic event. To broaden the scope of the celebration, a woman’s baseball team would be invited as honoured guests to sit in the front row and be recognized for the championship they brought to the village many years prior. The Vienna Red Wings were a juggernaut back in the day.
It was amidst this framework that I was invited as a local “celebrity” to address the dignitaries and attendees with a speech tinged with a local flavour. I had lived all my life in this little village. I was young. I was personable. I was funny – what could possibly go wrong? Bill Bugler was on the local town council and K.C. Emerson was the Reeve of the Village. Both knew me well and both were in attendance at my Christmas Party roasts. They assumed I had the stage presence to pull this off.
Well, that was their first mistake. We all know what ASSUME does! It makes an ASS of U and ME!
The second was not asking to vet my speech before I gave it. Good lord, what were they thinking!
In my infinite wisdom and to my everlasting horror, I developed the content of my speech without consulting anyone. This would be a top secret operation, never to be shared with anyone; not friends, not girlfriends, not work colleagues – no one. Of course I never told my parents, because I was concerned they might try and talk me out of it. I was after all – a budding comedian.
Holy Mother of Mary, if I could turn back time and change just one day in my life – this would have been the day!! 😮
It was a scorching hot July afternoon. There were hundreds of people jammed into the Vienna Community Centre. There was no air conditioning in the building. The Vienna Red Wings were seated in the very front row – most of them in their 70s and 80s.
While welcoming speeches were being presented, I was in a “holding area” at the edge of the stage with Bill and K.C., awaiting my turn at the microphone. Increasingly nervous, given the amount of people in attendance, I was sweating profusely.
I opened with a poem about baseball to honour the ladies. Quite imaginative, if I do say so myself. AND THEN – I launched into my best impression of George Carlin discussing farts. FARTS! Good gawd, what was I thinking!!! I’m in front of hundreds of people that have come from near and far, to celebrate this historic day and I talked about FARTS! Geezus!
At that point the microphone failed (or maybe someone pulled the plug). The first line flopped miserably – not so much as a giggle from the Red Wings – who were likely the only ones that could hear me. I panicked and my papers fell on the floor. I lost my place, sweat now running right down between my butt cheeks. I was dying.
Few beyond the front row could hear me and if they could they were laughing at me, not with me. I don’t think my parents even came in the building – they must have had an inkling that I was about to soil the Wolfe’s well manicured reputation. Dad was helping to BBQ chicken outside with Bill Underhill and just avoided the entire catastrophe.
When I finally slinked of the stage through the holding area, leaving a trail of sweat behind me, Bill and K.C. were literally rolling on the floor, laughing at the fool I had made of myself. I had to walk past the ladies in the front row on my way back to my seat. I could hardly look anyone in the eye, I was so embarrassed. One kind lady whispered “It’s ok young fella, you did good”. I was sure I had a wet spot on the ass of my pants – I could feel it pooling in my ass cheeks.
Dad never brought the subject up till the day he died.
My career in comedy started and ended on that very hot and humid day in July 1978.
Sadly, like my career in comedy, my friend Bill Jeneraul passed away much too early, on Feb 3 2007. He was 62.
I haven’t always made the best decisions. But “If I Could Turn Back Time”…….. (with more apologies to Cher)😟