Once every fifty or so outings, I seek absolution from strangers for a personal misconduct, committed in the past. The transgression I am currently asking forgiveness for is the one emblazoned on the title of this post.
I wasn’t doing much at the time. Maybe writing a weekly newspaper column for twenty-five dollars. That’s right. I was making twenty-five dollars a week. And it wasn’t the Depression.
Warning: There is going to be a lot of “I do not remember” in this story. Hopefully, what I do remember will suffice to make this exercise worthwhile. I am hesitant to prejudge on the matter, but I have a feeling that it’s going to be close.
Okay, here we go. Man! It’s starting already!
I do not remember how the idea originated. I could make something up, but, as I will shortly acknowledge, I have no aptitude for lying, even if it’s on paper – or cyber-paper – even to strangers I am unlikely to run into. I do not subscribe to the genre called memoir, which is now apparently defined as an autobiography not limited by the facts. I prefer the truth as I remember it. Albeit with gaps.
Around 1970 or so, there was a game show broadcast on a local station in Hamilton, Ontario, a city about forty miles from my hometown of Toronto – which was basically a charades show. Not “basically.” It was literally a charades show. I guess nobody has a copyright on the “charades” concept. Either that, or it was plagiarized in Hamilton.
To spice things up, the show’s contestants were comprised of what passed in the province of Ontario for celebrities. Hockey players. Actors. Musicians. Hockey players…
For some reason, probably because I was craving attention at the time – and at what time am I not? – I was determined to be a participant on that show. “Determined” is an unusual descriptive for me. Usually, I just wait for things I am hoping for to happen. Inexplicably in my life, a surprising number of them do.
I remember calling up the show to offer my services, accentuating the name “Pomerantz” while under-representing the “Earl” element, thus allowing them to believe that the caller was, instead, my celebrated older brother Hart who, at the time, with his then partner Lorne Michaels, was writing, producing and starring in four hour-long comedy specials per year on Canadian national television.
The reason I didn’t present myself unequivocally as my brother is less an issue of my inviolable moral standards than that I am congenitally incapable of lying. I have no “poker face” – even on the phone – and when I say something untrue, I have a tendency to giggle. Which immediately rules me out as a candidate for “spy.”
“Tell us your secrets!’
(GIGGLING) “What secrets?”
For whatever reason, my strategy proved successful. I was booked for an upcoming taping of the charades show.
I cannot remember how I got to Hamilton, as the trip involves driving forty miles each way on the highway, and at that point, the number of miles I had ever driven on the highway was “None.” Was it arranged for somebody to drive me there, possibly another participant on the show? That sounds right. But it’s a long way from insisting that it is.
However I got there, I arrived at the studio, and was welcomed by the charades show’s impresario. I recall little about him, other than he was tall, he wore white pants, and he had changed his name from Randy to Riff. I have no idea why.
“It’s a better name.”
By what standard?
Riff greeted me with a look reserved for those occasions when they’re expecting your famous brother and it turns out instead to be you.
Smiling mouth. Disappointed eyes.
But what can they do? It is time for the taping – five episodes in one day – and it is too late to bring in the brother they expected, even if he wanted to do the charades show, which he didn’t.
The format was familiar. Two teams of contestants. Players are called up one at a time, crafting the best clues they can think of to get their teammates to guess the charade. In the end, the team guesses the charades in the shortest period of time is the winner.
There was one additional element to this current offering of charades.
The contestants were provided the answers ahead of time.
Pulling this hoax off is not as easy as it sounds. Yes, we knew the answers in advance. But we had to play the game like we didn’t. Which involved acting, and most importantly, timing.
The primary “no-no” was not to blurt out the answer too quickly, or you would give the subterfuge away. Since I have already admitted I cannot lie – and participating on a rigged game show is a “close cousin” to lying – you will not be surprised by the following turn of events:
A “Clue Giver” on Earlo’s side stands in front of their teammates, studying a slip of paper containing the answer to the charade. They then mime the signal indicating the cranking of an old-time camera.
EARLO’S TEAM: Movie!
The “Clue Giver” then holds up four fingers.
EARLO’S TEAM: Four words!
The “Clue Giver” holds up one finger.
EARLO’S TEAM: First word!
The “Clue Giver” hesitates for a moment, formulating their “Game Plan.”
EARLO: “Gone With The Wind!”
Do you see what the problem is there? Exuberant Earlo jumped the gun, delivering the correct answer, before receiving any clues. This can only mean one thing:
The contestants got the answers ahead of time. (And at least one of them was unable to act like he didn’t.)
Overall, I scored pretty well comedically, and at the end, Riff offered his sincere congratulations, forgiving me in a good-sportedly fashion for not being my brother. Riff labeled me a “counterpuncher”, which means that, though I did not initiate the comedy, I would embellish it to substantial comedic effect.
I was reactively funny, humorously sensitive to events, and to others.
And so I remain to this very day. I may still be unable to ignite the shenanigans. But boy, can I weigh in!
This, in part, is why I am hesitant to assert that I’m funny – the other part being “What if I assert it and I’m not”? I am incapable of being funny in a vacuum. But place me in the vicinity of a windbag, or in a “Security Line” at the airport that’s not moving, and, as the “Great One” Jackie Gleason used to say…
“And awayyyyy we go!”
I had fun doing that charades show. If it ever turns up in reruns somewhere, check out my counterpunching.
And my inability to pretend I wasn’t cheating.