Mid-July in Montreal ushers in the annual Just For Laughs Festival, an event at which I spent a very enjoyable and exciting decade-and-a-half of my life as its CEO, amongst other things.
One of my great early Pow! stunts that has somehow got lost in the recesses of my memories was just unearthed during a bout of reminiscing with an old colleague, so what better time to share the story of Ray Romano and the golf balls (before I forget it once again)?
Ray was a young touring comic when he first did the festival, and unlike others who forgot we existed once they made it big, Ray stayed a friend of the fest, and agreed to host one of its prestigious Gala shows once he had hit the jackpot as the star of "Everyone Loves Raymond."
In addition to introducing ten comedians on the night's bill, Ray did some of his stand-up and a couple of sketches. One that opened the second half (a trouble spot due to a tired audience coming back from intermission) involved his old golfing buddy Jimbo Skormowski (owner of the Comedyworks Club where Ray headlined often).
Ray is an ardent golfer (as is CBS sitcom-mate Kevin James), so the sketch involved Ray and Jimbo, in golfwear, coming on stage with clubs, setting up balls on an astroturf mat, and trading dopey golf jokes and stories while launching the balls into the audience.
At first the audience was horrified (no, not by the stories), but quickly realized by the arc of the balls' flight that they were plastic, "Whiffle" golf balls. The patter continued, about 20 balls were hit and caught, and the relatively pedestrian piece ended to polite applause.
But that's when the fun REALLY began!
Before introducing the next act, Ray dropped the Pow! bomb by saying:
The place erupted. Went nuts.
Everbody loved him even more, trust me.
Those who had balls (well, you know what I mean) realized that the cheap souvenir was actually a most golden ticket to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
And as for the other 2,280 people who didn't, they were warmed by the gesture, and were pumped up beyond belief for the show's second half.
So, the moral of the story: Surprise comes in many forms. Keep those hands as open as your eyes...as Cheap Trick once sang, "you never know what you'll catch."