Several years ago, I found myself on a Holiday Pops concert with the wonderful Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, under the mighty baton of the late Marvin Hamlisch. Luckily, for all parties concerned, this concert took place quite a while before Marvin passed away. And, because Marvin played a few numbers, the piano was situated front and center, right next to the podium. Except for those few numbers, I was also situated front and center.
Now, Marvin was quite the showman. He was very quick-witted, and engaged in a lot of clever banter between songs. At one point, he started riffing on how Christmas was a much better holiday than Hanukkah, and it was going quite well until he decided to include me in his shtick.
He asked me which holiday I celebrated, and his eyes lit up when I indicated the Jewish one. “Tell me”, he asked, “What was the best Hanukkah present you ever got when you were growing up?” Putting that moment in super-slow motion, and with the benefit of hindsight, I would analyze my thought process thusly:
1. How can I respond in a manner that does justice to my true Smart Ass self?
2. Can I be a Smart Ass while keeping it Family-Friendly?
3. Someone once told me that the “K” sound is funny. Can I work that in?
Marvin stuck the mike in my face, and I looked at him for a couple seconds and then said, “Well I once got a canned ham.” It got quite a big laugh, and I heard Marvin mutter “Canned ham”, then I saw him quickly go dead behind the eyes. My response had proven to be the end of our interaction and the end of our potential comedy act, which I now picture to have been a combination of Ferrante & Teicher and Martin & Lewis.
Oh, well. That’s Show Biz.
Happy Hanukkah, everyone!