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  1. I’m Not Anita Baker!

    Thursday, August 2, 2012

     By Rhonda Hansome

    I auditioned and worked my way into “regular spots” at THE historic New York comedy incubators:  Catch A Rising Star and The Improv.  Now long gone, those “original” rooms were where I honed my humor following Bill Maher, David Brenner, Robin Williams, Sandra Bernhard, Dice Clay, Sam Kinison, Rita Rudner and Jerry Seinfeld.  I had done my obligatory 1:00AM club sets, MC’d for (pre-pole) stripper shows, bachelorette parties and the ubiquitous “Comedy Night” at every bar, restaurant and lean-to shack in the tri-state area cashing in on the comedy boom.  I was a working comedian in a flourishing industry that had begun to pluck journeyman joke meisters from smoky little comedy clubs and catapult those chosen into TV super stardom. 

    It was a magical time 1990. I had a Hollywood agent shepherd me into my first speaking role, Bermuda in Pretty Woman.  The girl in the makeup chair beside me was an unknown named Julia Roberts.  Board member of the show business fortress, Friars Club was my New York manager.  His client list included a major young star who at the pinnacle of his sitcom career, put a bullet in his head.  THAT was the self-annihilating comedy success I craved. 

     I became a Catskills favorite.  Vegas and Tahoe showrooms were my pleasure to play when I wasn’t working with Atlantic City headliners.  While waiting for my propulsion into the white-heat of comedy celebrity, fortune and excessive substance abuse; I landed the plum job of opening act for Empress Songbird, Anita Baker.  To say it was a dream come true is a cliché that shames the reality.  I was on cross-country tour with a top diva in venues from NY’s Radio City Music Hall to LA’s Coliseum.  Three or more nights a week I was awash in waves of laughter from thousands and getting paid $$$!

    Roadies, back-up singers, techies, musicians and me.  We ate, shopped, drank and swapped lies every chance we got, but we all moved as one when it was show time on the Anita Baker Tour.  This particular hot summer evening we boarded our van and settled in for the drive to Greenville, North Carolina.  Our boss, Anita was to follow in her in her private limo.

    That our Greenville venue was sold out to several thousand adoring Anita Baker fans was not unusual, but the night’s cornucopia of evolving circumstances offered me the most exceptional experience of the tour.  After the band’s instruments were placed, microphones and monitors set and the curtain released, I walked into the house to view my performance area.  Much to my surprise it was a foot wide space of the stage spanning the gymnasium.  That’s right, GYMNASIUM!!!  Our tour was known for rocking the best and most beautiful houses in American entertainment:  the palatial rococo of Detroit’s Fox Theater, the art deco luxury of Radio City Music Hall, the modern expanse of DC’s Constitution Hall and the magnificent embrace of the historic Grand Old Opry.  The overbearing sent of sweat and chlorine was pungent confirmation - yes we’re playing a GYMNASIUM!   A gymnasium with no seats, no air conditioning and wait for it…no Anita Baker!

    Our world weary tour manager informed us the show would be held until we knew our diva was well on her way to joining us.  Her private limousine driver had taken Anita to Greenville, SOUTH Carolina; nowhere near our airless, chair-less, stage scarce gym in Greenville, NORTH Carolina.

    One –half hour after our scheduled show time, I clambered to the precipice four feet above the sweating throng standing in rabid anticipation. I planted myself above the teeming song starved and started my schtick.  The three people in the room retaining of a sense of humor chuckled at my opening line as disappointment rippled through thousands of Anita Baker enthusiasts like lightning.  I spoke, gestured and remained upright as their mantra shook the gym.  “You’re not Anita! You’re not Anita! You’re not Anita!”  Three thousand voices in unison.  This was more hecklers than any one comic should experience in a lifetime!  I threw words into the rhythmic thundering chant until my peripheral vision revealed a stage hand ready to assist me off stage.  My tottering exit set off a roaring wave of applause which I, delusional from vertigo, assessed a standing ovation. 

    Thank goodness for the three back-up singers.  The Perri Sisters’ not too secret cache of Chivas Regal, and a glass was set at my mirror in our communal dressing area.  I lifted the glass to my lips as our newly arrived boss took to the stage.  She sang and I sipped Chivas through the entire concert.  I’m told that as I was dragged glass in hand to our van, my last words were “I’m not Anita Baker!”

  2. 4 comments:

    1. Wow! What an experience! How did you get back on stage the next time? Did it bother you?

    2. T Ballard said...

      Great stuff. Being raised in South Carolina, I felt like I was right there with you. Thanks for sharing.

    3. Anonymous said...

      Oh, my poor Boo-Boo Girl... I'm not Ms. Nita Neitha, but I can sang likes da Biotch !
      Trust me, she could never be as funny as you are and she can't DRIVE EITHER !!! The woman CANNOT DRIVE A CAR AND DOES NOT HAVE A LICENSE !!! AT LAST I HEARD !!! Don't know if that has changed though ... Is she still married to Walter ??? Hummm ???
      I was the one who predicted her pregnancy when I met her, she told me she was tired, I said and you might be a little pregnant too... I said it under my breath - because I wasn't sure if she knew or not and I didn't want to shock her... I don't like to be obnoxious with my abilities... She had a baby boy, her first baby...

      This was great Rhon... LOVED IT... Oh, and JULES was really an unknown when she did "Mystic Pizza"...


      Your Buddy,


    4. loislane911 said...

      Wow, so well written, I felt like I was there with you! You made it out alive, and that's what really counts. I assume it was just an initiation for delayed stardom, after all, You ARE RHONDA PASSION HANDSOME. You're in great company -reminds me of Albert Brooks' tale... (but yours is better)

      "This concert was supposed to start at 8 o’clock. I was in the lobby of the hotel at 7:30, met Ritchie and his band. Got in the station wagon. Very easy going guy. Talked to me for awhile, talked to the wagon for a bit. Wasn’t a hard man to get along with. At 10 minutes to 8 we get to this place that no performing should have been done in, ever. It was originally built to store manure for the rest of the world. At eight O two, two minutes after eight, not 8:30, not 8:45, 6,000 people are in place going RITCHIE RITCHIE RITCHIE RITCHIE RITCHIE RITCHIE. 30 minutes, 45 minutes you can handle. Two minutes is just silly. How did all these people get organized that quickly? RITCHIE RITCHIE. I’m trying to dance to it, make a rthym song. He’s sitting there acknowledging - hey, that’s me. I know it is, Ritchie."

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