Sunday, August 15, 2011
I had never really met a celebrity before so I was excited as I waited in line. I had met Iowa football players growing up, but that didn’t count. Everyone in line was just going to get an autograph, but I wanted him to write something unique.
One of the great things about college is the chance to meet celebrities as they come by to speak or perform. If you’re a celebrity speaking to a college in Cedar Falls, Iowa, you’re not at the peak of your career. You’re just as happy to be there as the crowd is to see you. It was 1997 and I was a freshman at the University of Northern Iowa. I looked like an second semester sophomore in high school. I didn’t realize that I looked so young at the time, but when I look back at the pictures, It is quite clear now. Freshman year of college you’re still essentially a high school student anyway. I rarely varied from my uniform of crappy baseball cap, t-shirt, and shoes. Oh, I also wore pants too, most of the time.
When I was in late elementary school, I would come home, throw my bag on the floor and start watching reruns of the Brady Bunch. I was the oldest boy of three brothers, just like Greg Brady. We had a sister, and even though she didn’t come from a different family, we were only two sisters, a sassy maid, and a lisp away from being the Brady Bunch.
So, when it was announced that Barry Williams, aka Greg Brady, was coming to campus, I was sure to be there. The night of the event, everyone gathered in the student union. Barry came out to much applause, even a tad more than you would expect from a guy who was once on a show from nearly 30 years earlier. Afterwards, he said he would be lining up to sign autographs. We could either have him write something on your own paper, or he would sign photos they were selling. They were photos of when the Brady Bunch was a signing group on the show. Sunshine Day, baby.
I had on my requisite crappy hat, a young life t-shirt, and corduroy pants. These were the second generation corduroy pants popular then with a little thicker ribbing. My friend, John, and I used to often talk about how comfortable they were. I was inspired by their comfort enough to bring it up to Barry Williams when I was finally at the front of the line.
Barry: What do you want me to write?
Jeff: Could you write, ‘To Jeff: Corduroy pants, they feel like sweatpants?”
Barry: Pardon me?
Jeff: (more slowly) To Jeff: “Corduroy pants, they feel like sweatpants?”
Jeff: It’s just that corduroy pants really do feel like sweatpants. It’s like you’re wearing pants, and at the same time, it’s like you’re wearing sweatpants. The best of both worlds. I know you understand, you’ve worn them a lot.
Barry stared at me for awhile. He starts writing on my piece of notebook paper. I picked it up, excited. Then, I read it and he had written, “Jeff, you’re the grooviest.” Bullcrap! That’s not what I requested. I got my picture taken with him and then took the paper and walked away.
Not the giving up type, I got back in line, this time buying a photo they were selling to suck up. I got to the front and hoped he didn’t recognize me.
Barry: What would you like me to write?
Jeff: Would you write, “Jeff, you’re the Greg Brady of UNI?”
If corduroy didn’t work, I was hoping for something more realistic. Barry starts writing. I grabbed the photo only to see that he wrote, “Jeff, keep on keeping on.” Bullcrap! He just gave me his standard lines. Anyone could have gotten him to write that.
I counted backwards from ten and went to my little dorm room happy that I had met him.
Fast forward nine years. I start my talk show, The Mystery Hour, at the Skinny Improv and I need some things to put on my standard late night talk show desk. I grab a small desk mic, a broken bust of Abraham Lincoln, and my framed picture and autograph with Barry Williams. He sat in front of me for five seasons doing the show like a guiding light. There I was next to him, looking like a 15 year old smiling wide. By the way, did you know that Barry Williams apparently has twice as many teeth as a normal human? It’s true, he’s like a shark.
Fast forward to today. I read that Barry Williams, he of the many teeth, he of the anti corduroy ilk, now has a show in Branson, a mere 45 minutes away from Springfield. In fact, he’s at Yakov Smirnoff’s theater. I’m friends with Yakov, I was in his show for awhile. If the Mystery Hour was still happening, I could get him on my show. I could have confronted him. Dang it.
The only thing bigger would be to have Abraham Lincoln on the show too. I think he could have brought Barry and me together, he was good at such things.