Tuesday, March 12, 2019

"A Toby Keith Interlude (The Rest Of The Story)"

So there I am, pacing around, leaning my forehead against some available stanchion, seriously pondering, “How do I get out of here?”  

The standard Pre-Game mishigas (silliness.)

I am now at the stairs, ready to go on.

I think back to when I had last done anything like this.  My fertile “Memory Bank” pulls up the annual TV critics’ “Press Junket”, where journalists from across the country (and neighboring Canada) come to chronicle the upcoming television season.  It was 1989, and we were debuting Major Dad.  

I recall waves of laughter that day, broken – he embarrassingly appends – by spontaneous applause for my well-received, spontaneous commentary. 

That was thirty years ago.

Backtracking slightly, reframing the current occasion…

I had been asked to participate in a podcast/slash/public performance – as it involved an assembled live audience – and I inexplicably agreed to do so. 

There would be a brief interview about my career.  (No need to study for that.  I did it.)  And then, as per the format of the program, I would then serve as an “Expert Adjudicator” concerning The Mary Tyler Moore Show (which I had participated in as a scriptwriter.) 

Having selected it as her “Category of Interest”, a contestant would tackle a series of skill-testing questions, and, as the assigned “Expert Adjudicator” on the subject, I would “officially” determine “Right or Wrong.”

(Here’s how personally enthralled the contestant with the “Mary” show.  Her car’s personalized license plates read, “WJM.”)

The podcast (entitled Go Fact Yourself) was divided into two segments.  Today’s first segment “Expert Adjudicator” was a professor of mathematics who had written a respected book about “Pi.”  Then it was my turn.

That was the show – a genius mathematician, and me.

As my time to go on approached, I was led to the three (carefully counted) steps that led up to the stage. 

That’s when I began pacing and leaning forlornly against a stanchion, a self-made recipe of panic and dread.  “It’ll be fun”?  Are you kidding?  That’s for optimists.

I had given myself one instruction:

“Don’t try to be funny.”

Because when you try to be funny,

You aren‘t. *

(* The most reliable rule in this blogatorial undertaking.)

The host announces my name.  I step up to the stage, taking the available seat before the accompanying microphone.  

The Mary Tyler Moore Show-selecting contestant sits directly beside me. 

She appears to have tears in her eyes.

That’s how much the show means to her.  Sitting “this close” to someone associated with that show has triggered an emotional deluge.

Even it’s just me.

Okay, here’s the thing.  (The obligatory disclaimer.) 

The audience at that brewery/podcast venue could most likely not have passed a collective “Sobriety Test.”  And a contestant was crying because I was there.

So not entirely a tough audience.


I felt calmly comfortable on stage.  Like I actually belonged there, and kind of knew what I was doing.  I had nothing prepared.  But what I related – both remembered and devised on the spot – came out honest, natural, and – judging by the reaction – funny.

Asked about The Humanitas Prize I had won for a “Mary” episode entitled “Ted’s Change of Heart”, I confessed that, convinced I was going to lose, I liberally partook of the complimentary wine at the award ceremony’s luncheon, then after my surprise win, appearing on the subsequent Today Show interview, drunk.

Asked about Mary Tyler Moore herself, I recalled announcing backstage before a filming that I was going to Tahiti during the show’s upcoming vacation period, where, for the first time, I would try snorkeling.  Apparently overhearing the conversation from the sidelines, a famously “distant-on-Show Night” Mary Tyler Moore slipped up beside me and said, “Buy your own mask”, before dematerializing into the shadows.  The producers were amazed – and somewhat envious – not by what she had told me, but that she had spoken to me at all.

When it was done, I felt a fizzy “post show” elation.  You see, I spend the bulk on my time in my house, and in my head.  I go up onstage, after an extended hiatus, and the reception is positive?  It feels great.  Despite the long layoff and incipient oldness, performing in public remains eminently doable.

Which is where – finally – the Toby Keith song comes in.

It goes,

“I’m not as good as I once was.  But I’m as good once as I ever was.”

(Although the next day, I was really tired.  Fearing an association with another song. 
“John Henry.”  “… he laid down his hammer and he died.”  Fortunately, it was the first song.)

I seek no further opportunities of that nature.

It’s just nice to know,

It’s still there.


cjdahl60 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cjdahl60 said...

I just recently started listening to that podcast and found it quite a coincidence that you will be appearing on an upcoming episode. I look forward to it.

Although I don't have the background in entertainment that you do, my one claim to entertainment fame was an appearance as a contestant on NPR's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" weekly news quiz. I was EXTREMELY nervous waiting for the call from the show that was being recorded live in Chicago but I not only didn't make a fool of myself, I actually won the segment. I now have a recording of the late great Carl Cassell with a personalized greeting on my cell phone's voice mail.

And in the following days I had a number of friends and neighbors asking if that really was me on the show. I have fond memories of the experience but I'll never do it again.

Will said...


Rebecca said...

That song was actually based on a line by Burt Reynolds in some 80s TV show. Apparently Toby Keith’s dad used to say it, then Keith and his songwriting partner wrote the song around it. The partner happened to come across the episode on Nick at Night after the song was a hit.