Talent shines and the rest get the gong at variety show
When Sleepy Creek Vineyards Gong Show host Charlie Charlyn Hester promised the event would be "a little raunchy and a little silly," she happened to be right on the mark.
The comedienne from Danville helped establish that tone as she asked the ladies in the packed winery house their favorite time of the day.
"Taking your bra off," many of them said in unison.
"It just so happens I've written a song about this very moment in a woman's life," the platinum-tressed Hester said before launching into her hilarious ditty.
Some of the lyrics: "Let them go, let them go. Set them free. Please unhook me."
After she finished, Hester laid some ground rules for the contestants. One: "Please don't overuse the 'f-word.'" Another: Have a lot of fun.
Then nearly a dozen amateur performers from the region took turns on the small stage, playing to a house that was literally full to nearly the rafters.
Four or five did stand-up comedy, with one doing a little "magic" as well.
James and Aubrey Wachtel from Zoo Improv in Champaign did an improv act on a Dream Date.
Jina Gary, a young woman from Springfield, recited her original poetry. It so moved the audience and judges that they gave Jina the second-place award — a bottle of ketchup.
Her older sister, Jasmine Gary of Champaign, competed with her drag-king act. It had come in second at the first Gong Show in January. But at this one the judges gonged her, saying her act was redundant.
Sue Daugherty of Danville recited her witty poem, "Ode to the Humble Grape." One judge noted the verse was appropriate to the venue. She won fourth place. The prize: a giant sausage.
Rick Omundson of Dana, Ind., placed third with his stand-up act — even though one judge observed it had too many jokes about drinking and drugs.
But the Feb. 22 Gong Show happened to fall on Omundson's birthday. One judge said he wouldn't gong him for that reason. Omundson's prize, or maybe birthday gift: a bag of bottle caps and a bottle of Gorilla Glue.
Before sitting at a keyboard, Mollie Bogart of Danville quipped, "Hopefully, this won't be funny." She then playing a credible cover of the Beatles' "The Long and Winding Road."
After she finished, judge Scott Eisenhauer, mayor of Danville, said: "There was no way I was going to gong one of my former teachers."
The two other "celebrity" judges were Ripper the Clown, a Vermilion County resident who does not want to reveal his name because he's building his clown character, and the Salty Captain Bill — Urbana-based actor Bill Kephart decked out in sea-faring duds.
Some audience members might have expected meaner judges who would like banging the gong — the top of a metal barrel — a lot. But the judges that night gonged only three performers.
For the most part, they gave courteous reasons for their decisions. And Hester noted that Ripper the Clown, perhaps the most outrageous looking judge, gave the most respectful feedback.
Hester kidded the judges about going easy on the gong. Ripper the Clown said he did not gong comedian Allen Lewis from Danville because Lewis continues to evolve his act and was great that night.
Lewis had won the first Gong Show; he showed his comedic chops again, riffing on the fact he's biracial.
Being both black and white, he said, helps him blend into a lot of situations. But not always; he tends to be polite and dress a bit preppy.
"There are a few people in your life you shouldn't call sir," Lewis said. "I said to a drug dealer, 'I'd like three grams of cocaine, sir,' and I got robbed."
Chris Hightower, another comedian from Danville who told jokes about race, cracking up the mixed audience, won first place Feb. 22. One of his jokes:
His father always told him and his many brothers and sisters to stay in their yard. If even one left, he promised they would all get a "whupping."
Once a little brother walked out of the yard; they were all disciplined.
"The black history lesson I learned that day is that as a black man if you don't go with the crowd some times you're going to get punished anyway," Hightower said.
After he was designated the winner, Hightower returned to the stage to ad lib some jokes.
"I feel that's the most fun to do — to play with the audience and try to give them a good time," he said.
Josie D. Mitchell of Ogden was at the Gong Show for the first time. She called it amazing, with a great atmosphere.
"The mayor was here — how cool was that for him to be with us community folk and kicking it and being funny?" Mitchell said.
Even Gary went away happy, despite getting gonged. She said she was pleased with the turnout. And she loves the fact that the Gong Show is inclusive.
"It's an amazing opportunity," said the 23-year-old Army National Guard member. "You see all these talented people. You see people from Champaign, Springfield, Danville. It's a great outlet."
If you gong
What: The Gong Show, a talent show for area amateurs in any discipline
When: 8 p.m. April 12
Where: Sleepy Creek Vineyards, 8254 E. 1425 North Road, Fairmount
Advice: Call first to make sure the event will be going on — and leave your kids at home!