I was a performer on The Bobbie Gentry Happiness Hour, a CBS summer replacement series which hoped to be picked up for the regular season but wasn’t. We did four episodes. You know how you hear you can find anything on YouTube? You can’t find The Bobbie Gentry Happiness Hour. That fact may actually define “obscurity.”
Bobbie Gentry, a country singer who’d had a big hit with Ode To Billie Joe, was a pretty woman with a strong voice and a lot of wigs. Bobbie’s nightclub connections led to the show’s booking Vegas-style performers – Rich Little, Wayne Newton (who had a bodyguard who looked exactly like Wayne Newton), and musical comedy star (Camelot), turned Vegas headliner, Robert Goulet.
We were rehearsing a comedy sketch in which Goulet and myself would appear. It turns out Mr. Goulet had this kind of a quirk. Wherever he said something funny, or at least he thought was funny, Robert Goulet would punch me in the shoulder. It could be a line from the script, or it could be some quip that just came to mind, he’d deliver it, and wham! – he’d punch me in the shoulder.
I had a problem. Here I am, this new guy just down from Canada, and Robert Goulet, an internationally renowned entertainer, is punching me continually in the shoulder. The problem was
I’m looking around, and everyone, including the puncher himself, was laughing their heads off. It was pretty clear I was on my own.
Sometimes – for me, extremely rarely – you don’t think about what to do, you just do it. We’d been rehearsing for a couple of days. During a break, Goulet’s telling some anecdote of some kind, and after he delivers the payoff, he, once again, socks me in the shoulder. It turns out, this was my “Popeye Moment.”
“That’s all I can stands; I can’t stands no more.”
I punch Robert Goulet right back, accompanying my response with an angrily uttered, “Don’t punch me!”
It’s happened to me, maybe, four times in my life. I do, or say, something unexpected – and maybe unacceptable, I don’t know. It’s always spontaneous. I respond a certain way, and after it’s over, there’s always this thunderous silence, an enveloping Sound of Emptiness, a roaring “seashell to the ear” echo chamber filling the room.
It’s almost like the world blinks, or it hit the "Pause" button, confused, like it’s trying to piece together what it just saw. “Did he just do that?” "Did he just say that?" “To him?”
The action doesn’t seem to fit – a kid abruptly nailing their father. How do you follow that? What are you supposed to do?
In my experience – those four occasions – what happened next was always this:
A momentary glitch. A skip on time. “Temporary Difficulties – We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming.”
There was a temporary crack in the earth, the earth closed up, and people went back about their business, behaving as if the event itself had never occurred.
That’s what happened when I punched Robert Goulet. No comments. No follow-up whatsoever. We just went back to work, no difference between before the event and after.
Except that Robert Goulet never punched me again.
I kind of missed it.