Friday, April 18, 2014

The Gift of Laughter

It all started when I was maybe eleven or twelve. I hope I tell it right. J My folks and I were staying at a campground in the Shenandoah National Park. On this night we were at the fireside chat the park rangers were hosting. My parents raised me to believe in always having a since of humor. Always great and funny stories to share. Always having a good laugh it seemed like. And it was a running joke between us when we were traveling and go on hikes that I they’d leave bread crumbs for me to find my way back. In other words they were prepared to leave me in the woods. LOL!!!

(BTW… Does LOL stand for “Lots of Laughs” or “Laugh Out Loud”???

Anyway, at this fireside chat the park rangers were going over safety tips, sharing about the blind skunk in the camp grounds, etc. and it came to question time. SO this kid right here raised his hand and when called upon asked something to the effect of “is it alight for your parents to leave bread crumbs for you to find your way back while hiking?” The rangers and families there burst out in laughter! That was the first time I remember ever getting laughs from strangers. And it starts…

Now as a kid in school I never really stepped out to get laughs. I could have. I could have been the biggest class clown there; but as a kid I never really wanted any other kids laughing at me. Most kids don’t. Sure, I’d get laughs out of some of my close friends but in school society, being laughed at was like wearing a Scarlett NERD back then. Of course I’d liked for them to laugh with me but that’s a challenge in school. You remember what it was like don’t you?

Gaining laughter just seems so natural to me. Whether friends or total strangers. I loved to laugh and I naturally assume everyone else does too. To me its showmanship and a part of my DNA. It’s not like I have to show off or be the center of attention; but rather the fun I have putting a smile on someone’s face. Throughout life I’ve learned to get reactions out of people. Some good… others not so good… but that reaction is something that’s special. And the easiest reaction to get I believe is a laugh.

I remember growing up and watching Laurel and Hardy, Jerry Lewis, Abbott and Costello, Lucille Ball, Carroll Burnet, Tim Conway & Harvey Korman and the list goes on and on. They made me laugh. But also growing up was the ol’ pro wrestling managers. The likes of Sir Oliver Humperdink, Sonny King, Bobby Heenan, Lou Albano and so on. These mean were very serious at what they portrayed on TV but something would happened and they’d sometimes look like the clown; the comic relief “if ya wheeeeel”. Many times they were the straight man and comic at the same time. And they were a huge influence on me as I loved (and still do) pro wrestling. Plus the wrestlers themselves would end up being the clown in the match; whether good guy or bad. These men, and some ladies, were an influence on me as I got to live out my lifelong dream when I grew up (do we ever?) of working in the wrestling business.

Summer of 1984 I started working with the Great Malenko at his wrestling events here in Tampa as the “do boy” and learned how to referee as being the ref during training/sparing sessions at his school. My big plan was to become the most hated manager ever in pro wrestling. Didn’t happen that way but that was the plan. When some shows were coming up later that summer I was told to get a striped ref shirt as I’d be able to work some of them as the ring official. So on my first night, in a tent in Wimama, FL hosted by the local country volunteer fire department, I got my start. I wanted to be just a little different than all the other referees out there without taking away from the boys in the match, while getting a laugh at the same time. So it became my little trade mark to wear my glasses into the ring and before starting the match taking them off and handing them to the ring announcers. Oh… not only did I get some laughs but also got yelled at by many fans saying “put them back on! You’re blind!” That also got a lot of laughs from the boys in the back and I knew that even though I was a green horn, I was in with them.  From that point I’d do little things to illicit a laugh or two. Again, getting a reaction. Through time it becomes an art form.

But in the long run I wanted to become a manager. But I didn’t want to be just the guy in a suit standing in the corner. I wanted to have a look that got an instant reaction while complimenting the wrestlers I’d be working with. One day at an outdoor rock concert at a local Tampa park, there was a hair band playing named Giuffria. And the guy on the keyboard, Gregg Giuffria, was all decked out in his hair band wardrobe… and white high heel granny boots

Here’s the band. (Unfortunately I can’t find any pics of him in boots)

That was it! I knew what I wanted to do and look like. Something no one had seen before in wrestling. And the first time I was booked to be my alter ego, Fabulous Fritzi, as I was pulling up the high heel boots I’d borrowed from me friend Chris Champion’s girlfriend (at the time) Anastasia, over my tight spandex pants, the promoter was telling me “it ain’t gonna work”. I told him to trust me, took about five steps out the door in front of all of about 35 rednecks and I got two reactions. Laughter as well as instant hatred. They called me names that I truly cannot repeat here. They booed. They cat called. They loved to hate me. And it brought instant heat and hatred towards anyone that I went out with.

What a handsome devil!
I never made it to the big time. Never became the most hated manager in the history of wrestling, but I made people laugh. I would do the little things I saw the guys before my time do that got laugh from the crowd. Whether it was getting bumped around, having my hand stomped on by the ref while reaching in the ring or being chased around the ring at an outdoor fundraiser by an old lady swatting at me with her purse while the local radio DJ Mason Dixon screams on the mic “Get’em! Get’em!” Or even singling out the pregnant lady by asking “How many men did you go through to get that thing?” while pointing at her belly. Yes I know that was a rude thing to say but that was my job as a bad guy. Getting a laugh and reaction was such a great joy though. On a side note, I said that once to one of my wrestler’s sisters, which I didn’t realize who she was, and she was ready to kick my @$$! My wrestler had to calm her down during the match.

I’ve even been a crazy ol’ coot redneck from Withlacoochee, FL called Uncle Grady with a couple of crazy nephews wrestling for me. Unfortunately they really didn’t like the gimmick though the crowds dug it. I recently saw one of them and expressed “we could have been the Wyatts in WWE” to which he answered “ I know. Everyone tells me that”.

So now-a-days, I have little things I say or do to get a laugh. One I’ve been saying for almost 30 years now when someone helping me either on the phone or in person asks me “will there be anything else” I always say “I’ll take a million dollars and a trip to Tahiti!” Or at a sit down restaurant I order a diet coke or tea with my meal, clean my plate and then ask the waitress or waiter if the refills are free. When they answer yes assuming I mean the drink, I hold up my empty plate. Get’s a great laugh out of them and many say “I’ve got to try that the next time I go out to eat”.

Recently I was at a Walgreen’s getting some items for my Mom. Somehow I ended up having the lady in cosmetics, Sherry, and an assistant manager, Rhonda, helping me find a couple of items that they would end up having to order. I had both of them laughing and joking back with me. Rhonda said something about it being weird that they didn’t have an empty spot for the items and I asked her “what’d you call me?” Later Sherri was ringing me out and we were confused about the sales ad discount not appearing on the register. I joked about being a pain to which she said “No you’re not”. She had to call Rhonda over to check if the item I was purchasing was really on sale. She ordered me to follow her and when we got to the item on the shelf I’d grabbed to wrong one. She then proclaimed, jokingly of course, that I was being a pain. When we both got back to Sherri I let her know that Rhonda practically called her a liar cuz she said I was a pain when Sherri had said I wasn’t. They both laughed out loud (LOL?). The next time I went in to that Walgreen’s they both had smiles on their faces when they saw me. That’s what counts.

So the moral of this blog is… Make people laugh. Do something small that causes a reaction from someone. Say something totally stupid and irrelevant to what’s going on around and see what happens. I share many things funny on Facebook hoping that it puts a smile on someone’s face. I go out of my way to make a total stranger laugh. Someone the other day said I seemed like I was really in a good mood and I answered “why yes… I just made someone laugh”. So make sure on a daily basis you “give the gift of laughter”… even if you may be the butt of your own joke. It won’t hurt you and may actually make someone else’s day a whole lot better.

No comments:

Post a Comment