By ANDREW STOFLETH
I have been a resident of Richmond for six years. Day after day, I have driven past the EKU Center for the Arts sign that displays upcoming events at the corner of the Eastern Bypass and Lancaster Avenue, never giving it much pause.
It wasn’t until recently, while writing a preview for The Second City sketch comedy and improvisation group scheduled to perform at the Center, that my interest was piqued. After some deliberation, I decided to attend the show Saturday, Nov. 22.
Like most, I procrastinated getting tickets until the last minute, so I purchased mine online before leaving my house for a mere $15.50. As the doors opened I was ushered to my seat, which happened to be in the front row, on the left side the stage.
If you have ever attended a comedy show, you know that front row seats usually involve being the butt of the joke at some point in the night. I immediately felt a bit unnerved, despite my good view of the stage.
To my relief, the five comedians were remarkable in their delivery. The audience was also very responsive when requests for improv material for a skit was sought.
My favorite of which, an improv scene where two blues players played by Pat Ivansek and Charles Clark Pettitt, wrote songs about their love being like an “anaconda” and a “bookshelf,” both topics chosen by the crowd.
In the final minutes of the show, Peter Kim played a son who was introducing his mother, Maria Randazzo to his boyfriend for the first time. During the scene there is a knock at the door and Kim gets up to answer, leaving the stage to find an audience member to role-play as his boyfriend.
The audience laughed while I strained in my chair to see what poor soul had been picked. I turned just in time to see Kim run up and motion for me to follow him.
It had happened. I was that guy from the audience who gets to be embarrassed for the sake of comedy. The audience’s sacrifice.
I ran onto the stage and was introduced to Randazzo, who asked me my name. For some reason I replied that my name was Gerald.
She must have sensed something wasn’t right because she followed that question with, “Is that your real name?”
I confessed my name was Andy. She seemed content and fired away with a series of questions, like any mother might do upon meeting their son’s significant other for the first time.
The longer I was on stage the easier it was to play along. I even slid my hand on Kim’s knee and told Randazzo we met at a Taco Bell and that his pet name was “Laffy Taffy,” which sparked laughter from out in the crowd.
Finally, the scene hit its climax. Suddenly I was part of a surprise gay wedding. A preacher, played by Rashawn Nadine Scott appeared out of thin air and performed a shotgun ceremony, followed by a musical number where the other group members sang back parts of the skit.
I was put on the spot during the song and handed a piece of paper with my lines that someone had conveniently typed out for me. I did my best to sing them in tune, a feat I’m impressed I pulled off, though some might disagree.
I took a bow with the cast and was given the “thumbs up” to return to my seat. Back on hollow ground I was congratulated by those around me, including a professor from my department.
After the show, I was approached by five people who recognized me from my performance. One man even asked if the skit was staged. I assured him otherwise, and made my way to my truck to drive home.
While driving, I thought about the events that had unfolded earlier. Mostly I thought about how we have the luxury of being entertained. Occasionally though, we are the joke.
The more I thought about it, the more I was amazed at my own ability to roll with the punches. Any one of us can be singled out from the crowd at a moment’s notice. I learned first-hand how important it is to embrace the spotlight and use that moment to shine− granted the circumstances weren’t exactly my first pick. But hey, that’s life.
To think that the entire time I’ve lived in Richmond, I’ve avoided going to performances at the Center for the Arts because I thought it might be a little boring. Oh, how wrong I was!