Best Bets: Milton Theatre show pays tribute to Red Skelton

Brian Hoffman portrays the many faces of Red Skelton in “Remembering Red” coming to the Milton Theatre Saturday for shows at 3 and 8 p.m. Tickets for the family-friendly show are $15-$20 and can be purchased at www.MiltonTheatre.com, via phone by calling 302-684-3038 or at the box office at 110 Union St.

A long-dead comedian who hasn’t appeared regularly on television in almost 50 years has been packing theaters around the country for the last decade.

Well, sorta.

Brian Hoffman has been portraying legendary comic and entertainer Red Skelton in a show called “Remembering Red,” coming to the Milton Theatre Saturday for shows at 3 and 8 p.m.

Mr. Skelton had a 70-year career in radio, television and films. His comedy and pantomime made him a favorite with three generations, creating classic characters such as Freddie the Freeloader, Clem Kadiddlehopper and the seagulls Gertrude and Heathcliffe. “The Red Skelton Show” had a 20-year run on television from 1951 to 1971 with a mix of comedy and variety.

Mr. Hoffman recreates classic routines and pantomime sketches from Mr. Skelton not only in national appearances but at his own theater in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, next to Dollywood.

Mr. Hoffman’s road to paying tribute to Mr. Skelton started in comedy clubs when he did standup.

“People just kept insisting that I do a Red Skelton show and I kept denying it,” he said.

“There was this one couple in their 70s or 80s, Marlon and Kay. They would come out to Hilarities in Akron, Ohio, every Wednesday night. One night Kay held my hand, looked me in the eyes and said that I had to do it. And I just thought, ‘Wow.’”

Mr. Hoffman bears a striking resemblance to the late comedian and he said folks who saw his act would say that his speech pattern and mannerisms would remind them of Red Skelton.

“I would laugh at my own jokes, which Red tended to do,” he recalled.

But still he was unconvinced.

“I knew of him growing up but I never saw myself as being him. They took him off the air when I was 10 years old and back then, I had what most kids don’t have now, a bedtime. It was around 8 or 8:30. So I really didn’t know a whole lot about him,” Mr. Hoffman said.

In 2005, Mr. Hoffman moved to Las Vegas to make it big in the comedy world.

“I had all of these hopes and dreams. I was a comedy legend in my own mind,” he joked. “But I got out there and kept hitting brick walls and was headed down some bad alleys.”

Finally he met a man who performed music from the ’50s and ’60s who was doing a charity fundraiser. Mr. Hoffman was asked if he could do a few jokes as Red Skelton.

“The crowd loved it and I was convinced it could be done,” Mr. Hoffman said.

He found some old routines of Mr. Skelton and scripted out a 15-minute opening act that he performed prior to the headlining musician.

“That gave me the confidence that I could maybe put a whole show together. But I started out as Red instead of just being me. You have to have your own stage presence. So I started acting as me. Acting as Red didn’t start out so good. But here I am today,” he said.

Brian Hoffman has his own Red Skelton Tribute Theatre in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. (Submitted photo_

A year after that, he had his own show in Las Vegas — actually two shows.

“I can’t remember if they were every other week or every other day. But the reception was very good,” Mr. Hoffman said.

His four-year stint at the Weston Hotel and Casino was the longest a show had ever run there.

Along the way he received the endorsement of Mr. Skelton’s third and final wife and also his niece.

After five years in Vegas, his family was growing and grandchildren were coming and his wife was looking to move back east. He wasn’t too sure about the idea but he had no choice when he soon got an email saying the theater was closing.

“It wasn’t even a phone call. It was an email,” he said.

Left without a place to ply his craft, a friend suggested he move to Pigeon Forge.

“I looked up the population and saw it was 5 or 6,000. I said ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’ My friend said ‘Look up tourism’ and thought ‘Oh my.’” he said.

“I went and checked the town out. It’s like Las Vegas without all of the debauchery. There are theaters, hotels and restaurants all over the place. The people are cordial. I tested the water out and we packed up and have been here for about five years now,” Mr. Hoffman said.

Formerly the Rocky Top Theater, his own Red Skelton Tribute Theater was dedicated on Feb. 14 of this year with Mr. Skelton’s former wife Lothian in attendance for the ribbon-cutting.

He performs eight shows a week there when he isn’t traveling around the country.

He sees what he does now as a bit of a calling.

“I love to watch the 30- and 40-somethings not knowing quite what the seniors are laughing at when I’m doing one of his bits,” Mr. Hoffman said.

“But you really don’t have to know who he was to understand he was a good, clean silly guy with simple humor and quick one-liners with great wordplay.

“I love it when people come up to me and tell me their favorite Red joke. I especially love watching the 10- and 12-year-old kids laugh at some of the jokes.”

Mr. Hoffman says he thinks he knows why Mr. Skelton isn’t quite as widely known and revered as some of the other comedians of his day.

“His TV show was taken off the air in an abrupt manner. He was canceled when he was still in the top 10. The networks were looking for a younger audience than his show was attracting,” Mr. Hoffman said.

“So he said that he was executive producer and he had the rights to take his material and never release it. That’s why you don’t see his show in reruns like you do with ‘Leave it to Beaver,’ or ‘I Love Lucy’ or ‘The Brady Bunch.’ It just never got syndicated. He really only appealed to the older generation.

“But he got the last laugh. After the show was canceled, he started performing in sold-out auditoriums and also colleges. How much younger can you get?”

And audiences will keep laughing with Mr. Hoffman.

“It’s so much fun to do this. I’ll keep doing my best as long as people want to keep remembering,” he said.

Tickets for the family-friendly show are $15-$20 and can be purchased at www.MiltonTheatre.com, via phone by calling 302-684-3038 or at the box office at 110 Union St.

Quayside added

The Milton Theatre also announced this week that they have acquired the empty lot next door along the Broadkill River and will be creating an “outdoor events” space that is set to influence the look and feel of downtown Milton.

Called the “Milton Theatre Quayside” (pronounced as kee-side), the space will add to a growing list of public areas where people can enjoy outdoor performances and various events in Milton. “Quay” has been incorporated in the name (which means, “a platform lying alongside water for loading and unloading ships”) as a tribute to the town’s shipbuilding history.

Above is an artist rendering for the “Milton Theatre Quayside” outdoor events space coming soon next door to the Milton Theatre. The first event is set for Aug. 18, which is the Concert For A Random Soldier hosted by The Chad Clifton Foundation that will feature bands, food trucks, vendors and benefit Guitars For Vets and the Milton Theatre.

“We’ve dreamed of acquiring this property since we opened and have been imagining what kinds of unique events we can do, and it’s finally here, said JP Lacap, marketing director of the Milton Theatre.

“It’s going to be a great place for people to hang out, meet their neighbors, and enjoy performances and art in an inspiring outdoor setting.”

The first event is set for Aug. 18 which is the Concert For A Random Soldier hosted by The Chad Clifton Foundation that will feature several bands, food trucks, vendors and will benefit Guitars For Vets and the Milton Theatre.

‘Red, White & Tuna’

As we told you last week, the third installment of a comedic series of plays, “Red, White and Tuna” takes the stage starting this weekend at Kent County Theatre Guild’s Patchwork Playhouse.

The play focuses on a Fourth of July homecoming in the tiny Texas town of Tuna which embodies every stereotype of southern country life. While the series does not include any fish, it does include a long list of characters, all played by only four actors. Each actor plays a minimum of three characters, ranging from redneck men to hippie women.

Shows at the Patchwork Playhouse at 140 Roosevelt Ave. in Dover are today, Saturday, July 19 and 20 at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $10-$20 and available online at kctg.org or at the box office.

Now showing

New this weekend in theaters is the alligator thriller “Crawl” and the comedy “Stuber.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is the superhero film “Shazam” and the faith-based drama “Breakthrough.”

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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