The Night Tony Orlando Almost Made Me Sing
The other night a few of us were talking about our all-time scariest moment. Without a doubt mine is the night that Tony Orlando almost made me sing. I was in Las Vegas to perform at the Hilton for a group of auto parts wholesalers. Up until then I did not realize that people who sold scented pine trees and "My other car is a piece of junk too" license plate holders needed conventions. But there they were, 2500 of them seated for dinner in the world's largest convention center. This space was so big there were three Jumbotron screens on stage so the people in back could see what was happening on stage. After their doughy prime rib dinner, I was to go up and do my little comedy routine. Disaster was the only result I could see coming out of this situation but amazingly, I killed. They loved me. I have never felt so alive.
That evening Bill Cosby and Tony Orlando were performing in the Hilton's main showroom so I asked the hotel people if I could get in to see Cosby. I offered to stand in the back of the room while Cosby was on but instead the maitre d' took me down to a stage center/ringside seat. It was very generous but now I'd have to sit through Tony Orlando before seeing Bill Cosby. If you love Tony's music I'm sorry but for me his songs are a crime against culture. I am not saying that you are wrong to enjoy the Orlando style. I'm just saying it irritates me in the same way that mouthing words while you read would irritate Evelyn Wood. Cats tortured by dental drills would fall more softly on my ears.
But much to my pleasant surprise Cosby himself opened the show. I couldn't figure out why the most popular entertainer in the world was opening for Tony Orlando but I thought "Great. I'll watch Cosby and leave during the intermission." So Cosby does his 45 minutes and the audience response was surprisingly mild but I really enjoyed watching the master at work.
All was well with my world until Cosby ended his set, not by leaving the stage but by bringing Tony Orlando right out to begin his act. And that's when the place went nuts. I couldn't believe it. These people were actually there to see Tony Orlando. Everyone was standing, cheering, screaming... for Tony Orlando... without Dawn. They were going nuts! I didn't know what to think.
Tony charged the microphone and shouted (and he spits when he speaks by the way), "Lock the doors. I can tell this crowd is going to be the best crowd of the week. We're going to go all night long." The crowd went berserk. They were enraptured by the thought of being locked in a room with Tony Orlando. I was getting nervous. Was this an alien sub-culture? Who were these people? I was glued to my seat looking up at them in bewilderment as Tony spat out, "I had a hit once, I had a hit once." And the devoted shouted in unison, "Yes you did and we want to hear it right now."
When Tony broke into "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree," that crowd blasted off the launch pad. They were singing along, arm and arm, strangers hugging each other. The song mercifully finishes and Tony says, "I don't know why they do it but they always put people up front who don't want to sing or clap along." I was scared out of my mind. Was Tony Orlando going to ridicule me in front of 500 Orlando fanatics? Then he says, "Let's bring this guy up here and teach him to sing."
A lightning bolt of terror shot through my body. What if Tony asked me why I wasn't singing or dancing? I would have to be honest. "I don't mean to hurt your feelings Tony but your music sucks." Then I would compound the problem by saying, "It's all a matter of taste but I like good music, not this Vegas crap." That crowd would have lynched me. I would have given both testicles and either arm for the ability to evaporate. Tony moved to the front of the stage and reached down for... a guy who was sitting across from me and pulled him out of his chair, up onto the stage. Apparently, he too was sane and refused to sing along with this horrid drivel. Visions of Tony forcing the two of us do a duet of "Knock Three Times on the Ceiling" sent me into a blind panic. I bolted from the room, knocking people over as I made my escape. As I left the showroom I heard the poor guy Tony brought on-stage, with total sincerity, say as he was dragged to the microphone, "Please don't do this". Years later this memory still makes me shudder.