Churchgoers are often expected to be contrite, especially those of us with obvious disabilities, but I stumbled across a congregation with a contingent of souls who liked to laugh, especially in their annual Untalent Night. It was a dedicated event each year when I could play the part of Crazo on Wheels and know my behavior was duly sanctioned.
Untalent Night had only one rule: absolutely no authentic talent allowed. Maybe you always wanted to sing or play an instrument or perform Shakespeare or put on a skit. You could do it on this one night of the year as long as you were truly untalented. A panel of peers would judge you, and if you were really really bad, you just might win.
I had always wanted to be a ventriloquist, so I cajoled my 8-year-old daughter into dressing like a doll. My wife drew freckles on her nose and vertical lines on either side of her jaw to make her into a dummy, we stuffed her into an old trunk and stashed her on stage. I wheeled up a homemade ramp, the curtain opened, and there I sat next to the trunk.
I opened the trunk, took my dummy out and placed her on my knee. I squeezed the back of her neck to signal her to open her mouth and I supplied a silly high-pitched voice, making weird jokes about well-known people in the church. I had written a script fit for adolescents, so my dummy daughter ended up pouring water on my head and slapping a whipped cream pie in my face. We were bad, but just talented enough not to win.
The next year I organized Rubberdance, a group of clompers clad in fluffy clothing and rubber boots. I chose the clumsiest people I knew and choreographed ridiculous routines. We rehearsed only once, just enough for them to get the idea but perform terribly. I slapped out a snappy Irish beat on my forehead while wearing a bright green bathing cap. The Rubberdancers stumbled around and kept time, sort of, to my beat. The crowd loved it. We came in second. Just a wee bit too good to win the Golden Zucchini.
The next year I went all out. I conned the pastor and the youth pastor into dressing like The Supremes. I was Diana. We were Diana Gross and the Testosterones. A bit much for some in attendance, especially when the pastor’s dress tore off above his thighs and revealed his jockey shorts in the middle of our lip-synching “You Keep Me Hanging On.” That was the night the elders retired the Golden Zucchini.
Next morning at Sunday service our pastor endeared himself forever (to me, at least) when he apologized with a straight face for the length of his dress the night before. At least half the congregation hadn’t even been there. They looked around, aghast. Our pastor in a dress? Too short!?
Alas, Untalent Night. We are all but poor players, strutting and fretting our hour upon the stage.