Thursday, February 21, 2019

My Funny Valentine

When I heard that Carol Burnett was going to be performing live in Sarasota at the same time I'd be there, and on Valentine's Day, it was a no-brainer. I had to get tickets, no matter how much they cost. 

Carol Burnett is my idol. She is the reason I do what I do. She is the reason I sacrificed so much to produce my own sketch comedy shows. Carol made everything better when I was a kid. In my evolution from awkward adolescent to insecure teenager, I laughed all my troubles away each night as my family and I watched her on syndication right after the 10 o'clock news. She put a smile on my face before my head hit the pillow.

I had made pre-show dinner reservations at The Starlite Room, the Sardi's of Sarasota, and less than a 5-minute drive from the venue. Our bill was a little late in arriving, so we panicked slightly when we looked at our watches and realized we only had 10 minutes to pay, hop in the car and find a parking spot.

In the venue's parking lot, there was not a spot to be found. Finally, at the back of the lot, and with the confidence only a dry martini could provide, I found a seemingly impossibly tight one. With the voice of a drill sergeant, I commanded my husband, son and sister to get out of the car so I could pull in.

We ran to the entrance, I in my platform pumps, my sister trailing behind - complaining of her sore knee. "Here's your ticket," I barked, handing it to her as I kept running, like a relay runner passing a baton. My husband stared at me incredulously - he knew Carol Burnett was important to me, but this was a side of me he'd never seen before.

We made it in the nick of time - and heard that they were starting the show late because so many people were having parking issues.

I sat contentedly in our amazing seats in the 13th row (my lucky number) and looked around at the almost full Van Wezel auditorium with its 1741 seats.

On the simple stage lay three Oriental rugs and a modest screen behind them with only the words "Carol Burnett". I took a few moments to breathe and reflect on what was about to happen. This woman who was the reason I did what I did. This woman I worshipped. I was moments away from seeing her step onto that stage.

10 minutes past showtime and people were still filing in. Four prominent seats remained empty in the center - luckily not in our row. If anyone walked past me and blocked my view of Carol - even for a brief moment - they would have hell to pay.

Finally, an announcement was made, and that familiar melody of "I'm so glad we had this time together" began to play. Out she walked in a sequin cardigan and black pencil skirt, with the same great legs she showed all those years ago as Mrs. Wiggins. Those who could, immediately rose to their feet and applauded this living legend.

In that same pleasant familiar tone she used on her TV show, she said, "Let's turn up the lights and see if you all have anything you want to say." Hands went up all over the auditorium, including mine. I had prepared a question, but honestly it was enough to just be in her presence. Just a few feet away.

About 3 or 4 questions were asked and answered before one of the female ushers made eye contact with me and pointed to her microphone. I HAD BEEN SELECTED FOR A QUESTION! Could this really be happening? Maybe it helped that I was wearing red and stood out (it was Valentine's Day, after all). Maybe it was our shared aura. Maybe it was just dumb luck. But the fact was, suddenly she - Carol - pointed to me and called on me.

I began to speak into the powerful mic and heard a slight delay as my voice surrounded the huge auditorium. It helped that I was an actress, improviser and frequent emcee - accustomed to speaking on the spot for large groups. I wasn't at all nervous, just dazed and going with the flow.

The conversation went something like this:

Me: "Carol, first I just wanted to say thank you for all the laughs. You made everything better when I was a kid."
Carol: "Thank you."
Me: "I also wanted to say that you are my inspiration and the reason I do what I do. I write and perform my own sketch comedy show in Switzerland."
Carol: "Switzerland?!"
Me: "Yes, for the English-speaking audiences. And knowing how much sacrifice is involved in a career like that, I just wanted to know - what was the moment that you knew you had to do this, or you would die?"
(murmurs of shock from the crowd)
Carol: "Well, I never thought I would DIE if I didn't do this..."
Me: "Oh. Shit."
(laughter from crowd)
Carol: "I wanted to be a journalist but they didn't have a journalism major at my college so I took a playwriting class. And I performed some of the pieces that I wrote and I knew I was good at it..."

She finished answering the question and went on to someone else. I'm not really sure what happened after that, other than I remember sitting on the edge of my seat, elbows on my knees, smiling. Just smiling. It's been a week now, and I'm still smiling.

Yes, the tickets were expensive. But oh boy, was it worth it. Because the memory will stay with me forever.

Do the thing you've always dreamed of. Seek your inspiration. Find your muse. Thank them. Love them. Because it's you that you're really loving in the process.