It was 1996. I was managing the Improv Comedy Club. It was a scorching hot summer. Relentless. The kind of heat that sears your throat when you breathe.
Welcome to Texas.
Our comic that week was Rodney Carrington. The staff loved when he came to town. He was funny as hell, but also a genuinely nice guy who always treated the staff with respect. That wasn’t always the case with comics. Sometimes they acted like entitled shits. Sometimes they were alcoholic losers. Sometimes they were trippin’ on something the entire week.
But not Rodney. He was the real deal.
Or so we hoped, because that wasn’t just any week at the Improv. That was the week our air conditioning completely broke. Nothing. Nada. Not even a puff of air to cool us inside the club. With outside temps rocketing to 103+, it couldn’t have been worse timing.
Shows don’t get cancelled often. Maybe on a slower weeknight if there’s ice on the roads. So despite the ungodly temperatures that week, lack of AC was not going to stop us. We set up industrial-size fans throughout the entire club to make it as pleasant as possible for everyone. The staff mostly had a good attitude, even bringing in popsicles and other cold treats to make the best of a shitty situation.
I knew I could appease irritated customers with a free round of drinks or vouchers for another show. I knew the staff would rally. But the comic…that’s who I was worried about. The performer who was used to getting star treatment. How would he react to working under these conditions? Would he storm off stage? Would he refuse to perform? Would he lash out at me? I became increasingly anxious as show time approached and a staff member went to the hotel to fetch him.
He arrived with his guitar around his neck, wearing tight Wrangler jeans complete with giant belt buckle, cowboy boots, button up shirt tucked in, and big-ass cowboy hat. Signature Rodney.
He’d been warned of the conditions earlier in the day and agreed to still perform. But did he really know how hot it was inside the club?
Dread gripped me as he walked in the office. I tensed for his reaction, sweat trickling down my temples.
“Jesus Christ, you weren’t kidding! My balls are sweatin’ already!” he said playfully in his thick Southern accent.
I laughed, relieved he seemed to finding humor in the situation.
While the crowd filtered in and placed orders with the waitstaff, he sat with me in the office. With a giant fan drying the sweat off our bodies, we chatting about this ‘n that. He saw my pile of school books and asked what I was taking in college. I told him my major was Environmental Science, and my dream job was to be a Park Ranger somewhere amazing like Grand Teton National Park or Yellowstone (shut up, I was young). We joked about the brown pantsuit and wide-brimmed hat I’d have to wear, and how I could rock the look if I bedazzled my collar and back pockets.
Then it was show time. Rodney walked on stage with his guitar and started to do his magic. He periodically interjected jokes about the heat to ease the tension in the room. I was dealing with irritated customers left and right. Buying drinks. Comping tabs. Some were mildly understanding, some were furious. A few threatened to leave.
About forty minutes into his ninety minute routine, Adam-the-sound-guy called me from the sound booth, “Uh…Rodney just dropped his pants.”
Mini heart attack. “What do you mean he dropped his pants??”
“You better get up here.”
I ran out of the office, burst through the double doors, and fought my way through the now gathering cluster of staff. I couldn’t believe what I saw before me: Rodney with his jeans around his ankles.
He was on stage in his underwear.
I half-laughed/half-screamed and booked it to the sound booth. “What is he doing?” I whisper-screeched.
Adam-the-sound-guy shrugged. “He said it was too fucking hot and pulled his pants down.”
Oh dear god. He had an incredibly loyal following. If he was starting to get pissed, I was going to have a revolt on my hands.
Then I heard his country twang over the speakers, “Hey, is that you back there, Beth?”
I reluctantly waved.
“That there’s the manager, Beth. Everyone say hi to Beth.”
Over two hundred people chanted in unison, “Hi Beth!’
“She’s doing the best she can under really shitty circumstances. Let’s all give her a big hand,” Rodney demanded.
The crowd applauded me while I inwardly shrunk from the spotlight.
“In fact, I’m inspired to sing a special song, ” he announced adjusting his guitar around his neck.
The crowd encouraged him with cheers and whistles. He was known for his hilarious songs.
What happened next is a story of legends. On a hot night, in a scorching comedy club in Texas, a famous comic stood on stage in his tighty whiteys and sang:
Park Ranger Beth, Park Ranger Beth
I love her to death
Park Ranger Beth, Park Ranger Beth
She is just the best
She loves all the animals and cares for the trees,
Her little brown suit just brings me to my knees,
She’ll teach you about mountains and streams if you please,
Park. Ranger. Beth.
He had the audience sing it with him a second time, and ended the last line on an impossibly high operatic note….
….and the crowd went W-I-L-D.
We didn’t have to refund a single ticket that night, and a famous comic sang about me in his underwear.
Best. Night. Ever.