Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Knock-Knock: Who's there? Pittsburgh needs a Gene Kelly statue

Last evening offered more compelling evidence of why I should never try to be serious.

I was haranguing Allegheny County chief executive Rich Fitzgerald about what a  money maker it’d be if Pittsburgh dedicated an iconic Gene Kelly “Singin’ in the Rain” statue right in the middle of Market Square, the central Pittsburgh place so oddly desolate and lacking artistic focus erecting a gallows would be a cheery improvement.

I’ve been pumping this idea for about five years now and in this case, I’m absolutely correct.

Other pop culture statues — from Rocky in Philly to The Bronze Fonz in Milwaukee — are enormously popular and have drawn droves of tourists to their towns. A Milwaukee tourism official told me in 2011 it cost $90,000 in donations to construct the statue that in its first year earned $9.5 million in worldwide media value.

I contend a statue of Pittsburgh native Kelly hanging from a lamppost would be the greatest of them all.

The American Film Institute in 2007 ranked “Singin’ in the Rain” as the fifth greatest American movie of all time. Experts ranked it ahead of “Gone With The Wind” (6), and “The Wizard of Oz,” (10) with only “Citizen Kane,” “The Godfather,” “Casablanca” and “Raging Bull” ranked (in order) better than the great Kelly flick.
Not a man or woman alive can’t relate at some level to that euphoric dance, in essence an upraised middle finger to anyone who finds themselves caught without an umbrella in the crapstorm of life.
And it’s perfectly Pittsburgh, a city that’s endured hard times and always come back swinging.
I was telling Fitzgerald this at a gathering of Pennsylvania hospitality leaders. They invited me to a board meeting to discuss me addressing their group in the fall.
Their leadership just loves my book and are very enthused about hearing me talk.
They think I’m very funny.
Fitzgerald thought I was just plain weird.
Who could blame him?
He’s used to being asked questions about traffic, housing, snow removal — the daily mundanities of running a great metropolis.
“Well, you make some very good points,” he said, backing away. “I appreciate your interest.”
He sounded sincere, but I’d lost him. I’d had a chance to make an impression on an important man and I blew it. 
Maybe I should have broke the ice with a Knock-Knock joke.
I’ve spontaneously begun thinking up lots of Knock-Knock jokes. They come to me straight out of the blue. It’s driving my family nuts. For instance:
Who’s there?
Denise who?
“Da knees are below da hips.”
Why a guy who comes up with jokes like that ever feels a need to be serious is a mystery.
In fact, I told mostly jokes with everyone I met last night and people seemed to really like me.
I think I owe it all to Juan and Amal.
I heard about the boys from Dave, the owner of The Pond and a master joke teller.
He told me the boys were identical twins born to parents too impoverished to care for them so they were given up for adoption. An Egyptian couple adopted one and named him Amal; the other was adopted by Mexicans who named him Juan.
The boys grew up in different worlds and remained a poignant memory for their birth parents.
Then one day Juan succumbed to natural curiosity and tracked down the address of his biological parents. He sent them a letter with a smiling selfie. The letter said he understood their decision and was grateful for the life they’d given him. He said he was strong, healthy, a straight A student. And he wanted to meet them.
The mother broke down in tears. She was overjoyed. She clutched the picture of the handsome son to her breast. 
But she admitted her fulfillment was incomplete. There was still the other boy. She told her husband she now ached to see him, too.
“It’s all right, honey,” said the father. “The boys are identical twins. If you’ve seen Juan, you’ve seen Amal.”
So there’s a good clean joke for you to share next time you want to make a good impression.
Me, I think I’ll spend the rest of the day trying to think of a Knock-Knock joke with a Gene Kelly statue punchline for next time I run into Fitz.

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