This past Friday, I was fortunate enough to attend a performance held by Mr. James Gregory.. the self-proclaimed, and widely agreed with.. funniest man in America. It was held at the beautiful and prestigious Paramount theatre. Let me be the first to tell you, he did not disappoint.
Before I tell you the story about Friday night, I want to tell you another story to make this hit a little closer to home:
When I was growing up in Northern Virginia with my father, a true Good Ole Boy, my sister gave my daddy a cassette tape of James Gregory. After work, if no one else was home, he loved to listen to that tape. He would sit at the kitchen table and listen to it… I honestly couldn’t tell you how many times. Enough times that my 9 year old brain would have it memorized in just a few months.
That was also right around the time that I was teaching myself to imitate voices. Back in my hay day, my whole voice repertoire consisted of Bugs Bunny, Sylvester, Ace Ventura, this Chinese guy that worked at the 7-11 closest to my house, and James Gregory. I used to be able to imitate his voice fairly well.
Some of my fondest childhood memories revolved around the hilarious wisdom recorded on that tape. My mother, bless her heart, almost without exception worked nights the whole time she was raising my brother and I. She would put my brother to bed, tuck him in, and kiss him goodnight. Then she’d do the same for me. We’d hear her head downstairs, and the door would shut, the car would start up, and pull out of our little cul de sac. Not 5 minutes later, my daddy would come get Jeremy and I out of bed, bring us downstairs, and we’d listen to James Gregory until we could no longer keep our eyes open. And when we were passed out with our heads down on the kitchen table, daddy would throw us both over his shoulders, and throw us back in bed. We were told to keep it a secret from mom, but she knew. I knew she knew, but the whole thing was just so fun! And it was like this big old secret between the “boys of the house”. It felt good, and it gives me the warm-fuzzies every time I think about it.
Back to the story at hand! I was walking my puppies down state street about a week and a half before the day I wrote this. I saw on the marquee at the Paramount that James Gregory would be doing a show, Feb. 4. How excited did I get? Well, I didn’t know whether I should cry tears of joy, or pee myself a little bit. I’m not going to tell you which one happened, but there was some saturation in an unnecessary place.
Jeremy ended up coming into town and we both decided that there was going to be no way in the world we were going to miss this show. We ended up getting tickets in the second to last row, and didn’t care in the least.
The house was packed. And that’s saying something for a man who has been doing stand-up comedy for 20 years or more.
The first man to come out was there to introduce Mr. Gregory, and his opener, Mr. Steve Mingola. He was definitely a great ice-breaker. He and the entire audience joined in a few big rounds of applause for the workers of the Paramount, the volunteers, the organist, and everyone who made the show possible. The first funny thing to happen was when he began with the cell phone speech. You know how it is, they tell you to turn off your cell phones, or at least put them on silent, or something. He then continued with: “…and if you have a beeper… you really need to get with the times and get a cell phone, then come here for a show and turn it off.” There was a little slip up though when he followed that up with: “If there’s anyone here from Grundy, Lebanon, or ‘Hay-see [sic]’…” and before he could go any further, the audience corrected him with a big “IT’S HAYSI!!!” pronounced correctly, of course. The introducer (and sir if you read this, I apologize right now for not remembering your name), undeterred and unembarassed, finished strong with: “Oh is that how you say it? Well if you’re from one of those places, the CB-radio check in is in the back corner.” Already on a roll, and the show hadn’t even started. Fantastic!
The opener, a Mr. Steve Mingola was pure entertainment. I have never been to a show, whether it be a comedy act, or play, or concert, or anything where the opener was very good. But this time, I could not stop laughing! It was as if he had a direct line to the funny-bone of everyone in the audience. He talked about himself (an Italian guy) being married to a Southern woman. Hilarity at its finest. I’m not going to tell you any of his jokes, because you’d have a better time just going to see him perform, and I don’t want to take away from that. At one point, I swear to you , I turned to my brother, and could barely keep my eyes open because I was laughing so hard, and Jeremy was wiping tears off of his face. He was doubled over and could barely breathe. It was just a good time. We were halfway through just the opening act, and already I felt as if I underpaid for my ticket. You are a very funny man Mr. Mingola, and I hope you come back to visit Bristol very, very soon!
I had never seen what James Gregory looked like before this past Friday, so I didn’t know what to expect. But I tell you what, he did not disappoint anyone. The tape of him I used to listen to with daddy and Jeremy was given to us somewhere around 1994. It was probably 5 years old at that time. And while I was sitting in his audience, and he came out on stage and uttered his first words, I immediately recognized his voice.. it hadn’t changed from what was on daddy’s tape in the least bit. It made me nostalgic, it made me sentimental, and I couldn’t have been happier.
His performance was phenomenal. If you’re looking for some of his jokes, you won’t find them here. Look him up on youtube, he is awesome. I will tell you though, that he is as comfortable a performer as you will ever find, down here, New York, L.A., anywhere, I don’t care. He made me feel as if I were sitting in his living room, just shooting the breeze.
Jeremy and I figured on about an hour, more or less for the man himself.. but Ol’ James was on stage for 2 hours and 15 minutes by himself! And it was joke after joke after joke! Back to back like that. There was not too many pauses between bursts of laughter. I really couldn’t believe the energy, stamina, and persona he had. It made it one of the best comedy shows I’ve been to (and I’ve been to a few in my short time here on Earth), and it was definitely the most enjoyable.
Mr. Gregory, from the bottom of my heart, and from my family to yours, thank you for stopping by our little piece of America. Thank you for bringing laughter and joy into our lives, and please come back at your earliest convenience.
To the readers: Go see his show. Stop reading my article right now, and book a flight, buy tickets, or whatever you have to do.
I’ll see you at the concession stand.