History of comedy told tonight in Harrington

CHOF Tony Robin Williams by .

Comedy Hall of Fame executive director Tony Belmont, left, joins comedian/actor Robin Williams. Mr. Williams was scheduled to be inducted into the hall shortly before his death. Mr. Belmont will present “The Comedy Time Tunnel” during two shows tonight at Harrington Raceway and Casino’s Gold Room. (Submitted photos)

Does the name Thomas Wignell ring a bell?

If it doesn’t, “The Comedy Time Tunnel,” set for tonight at Harrington Raceway and Casino’s Gold Room, might be worth checking out.

Mr. Wignell, who lived from 1753 to 1803, is considered America’s first comedian. He starred in “The Contrast,” the first comedic play written by an American citizen that was professionally produced.

He and other great comics from the past will be featured in a program hosted by Tony Belmont, director of the Florida-based National Comedy Hall of Fame, during shows at 6 and 8:30 p.m.

Best Bets logo CLEAR copyThe audience will go through a fast-paced journey through comedy history and see rare moments and interviews.

The program goes through the 1800s, vaudeville, standup, theater and on to the early days of radio and the beginning of television.

It is the brainchild of Mr. Belmont, who says he has long been interested in comedians. Also president of Alan Freed Productions, Mr. Belmont has staged thousands of concerts. Mr. Freed, a popular disc jockey, helped popularize rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s.

“The concerts that I did always opened with a comedian and I became really fascinated with these crazy guys,” he said.

“They were the kids in high school who would launch a spitball when the teacher’s back is turned and then point to you when she turned back around. These were the ones who grew up and became comedians.”

When talking to comedy legends Morey Amsterdam and Steve Allen about 15 years ago, Mr. Belmont discovered

CHOF Minnie Pearl by .

Among the Comedy Hall of Fame’s artifacts is a dress and hat belonging to the late country comedian MInnie Pearl.

there was no place or group that archived the history of comedy.

So he took it upon himself to get the ball rolling. He set out to interview the comedic greats of the past to record their thoughts for posterity.

“I figured once they were gone, all of this material and history would go with them forever,” he said.

For the next 2½ years, he interviewed the likes of Milton Berle, Red Skelton, Sid Caesar, Martha Raye and Imogene Coca, all of whom have passed away in the meantime.

Those interviews make up the bulk of “The Comedy Time Tunnel.”

“Milton Berle will talk about what it was like to make the jump from vaudeville to television. Sid Caesar talks about those early years of television when there was practically nothing on and viewers would just stare at an emblem waiting for him to come on.”

Along with those famous faces, the show includes famous routines and trivia questions where audience members can win prizes, some gag gifts and others collectibles, such as copies of old radio comedies from the 1930s.

“It’s part educational game show as well — mixed together with this fast-paced hour of entertainment. In all of the years we’ve been doing this, I’ve never had anyone walk out or get bored with it,” Mr. Belmont said.

“I also tell personal stories about what it was like to interview Red Skelton or manage (ventriloquist) Señor Wences and then meet Salvador Dali through him.”

Currently, there is no actual National Comedy Hall of Fame venue. A museum filled with comedy artifacts and archival material did find a home for a year in 2006 in Treasure Island, Florida.

CHOF Building F by .

An artist’s rendering of a proposed Comedy Hall of Fame. Officials are searching for a place to house the facility.

The facility was in a 7,000-square-foot building and saw 1,000 visitors a day. It contained items such as a Minnie Pearl dress and a Jerry Mahoney dummy along with interactive exhibits and holograms of comedians from the past such as Abbott and Costello.

“We set it up just to test the waters but it got to be too overwhelming so we had to close it,” Mr. Belmont said.

He has been on the lookout for a new home ever since, having had interest from some cities across the country but has never been able to nail anything down permanently.

“It can be anywhere really. Baltimore, New York City, Philly. With all of the history you have, Delaware would be a great place for it,” Mr. Belmont said.

“You’d be looking at about 500,000 tourists a year. In talking with the folks from the football and baseball halls of fame, they get 650,000 a year.”

Many legendary comedians have been inducted in the National Comedy Hall of Fame, from Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Chaplin to Bob Newhart and George Carlin.

Robin Williams was to be the next comedian inducted but he passed away before plans could be completed.

“We have those on hold for the time being,” Mr. Belmont said.

A panel of comedians and those from the New York Friar’s Club vote on induction. In order to be eligible, a comedian has to have been nationally known for at least 25 years.

The hall is a nonprofit organization with Mr. Belmont not taking any money for his work.

“It’s strictly a labor of love for me,” he said.

To reach Mr. Belmont or get more information, email him at comedyhall@aol.com.

Tickets for tonight’s shows are $10 and can be obtained by visiting the Casino Gift Shop or online at harringtonraceway.com.

Gin Blossoms and more at Harrington

Also in Harrington, the casino hosts rock-pop group Gin Blossoms at 8 p.m. Saturday in Exhibit Hall.
As we told you last week, Gin Blossoms made their mark with such hits as “Hey Jealousy,” “Until I Fall Away,” “Follow You Down,” “Till I Hear It From You,” and the Grammy-nominated hit “As Long As It Matters.”

Formed in 1987 in Tempe, Arizona, the group’s “New Miserable Experience” went triple platinum in 1992.

It was followed by other hit albums such as “Congratulations I’m Sorry” (1996), “Major Lodge Victory” (2006) and “No Chocolate Cake” (2010).

They are led by original members Bill Leen, Jesse Valenzuela, Robin Wilson and Scott Johnson and later Scott Hessel.

Tickets are $39.

Two more shows were announced Thursday as part of the On Stage – Harrington series lineup at Harrington Raceway and Casino.

The 5th Dimension featuring Florence LaRue will perform at Exhibit Hall on Saturday, Jan. 23 while The Time Jumpers featuring Vince Gill, Kenny Sears and “Ranger Doug” Green are scheduled to perform there April 8.

With over 20 million records sold worldwide, 22 Top 40 Hits, five No. 1 hits and six Grammys, Florence LaRue and The 5th Dimension have a repertoire of classic songs, whichi include ”Up, Up, And Away,” “One Less Bell To Answer,” “Last Night I Didn’t get To Sleep At All,” “Wedding Bell Blues,” “Stoned Soul Picnic,” and the iconic “Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In.”

The Time Jumpers were established in Nashville in 1998 by an assemblage of high-dollar studio musicians who wanted to spend some spare time drinking beer and jamming with their sonically gifted buddies. The notion of building a rabidly devoted following was the last thing on their minds. But that’s what happened. Learning that Monday evenings were the slowest in the week for the Station Inn bluegrass club in Nashville, the super pickers settled in that fabled venue at the start of each week and set up shop. Pretty soon Monday nights were sounding a lot like Saturday nights – drawing lively crowds.

Tickets for the 5th Dimension are $34 with The Time Jumpers’ show costing $49. Both shows are at 8 p.m. with tickets going on sale for both on Thursday at 10 a.m.

All shows can be purchased online at www.harringtonraceway.com, by calling 888-887-5687, Ext. 5246 or stopping by the Casino Gift Shop.

English at Old State House

The Delaware Friends of Folk is partnering with the First State Heritage Park in sponsoring a series of concerts through the winter at the Old State House in Dover.

Today at 7:30 p.m., they will feature bluesman Chris English.

Mr. English toils in Delta blues, singing, playing guitar and harp, stamping out the time on an old wooden Coca-Cola crate.

He uses vintage guitars from the ’20s and ’30s to replicate the sound and feeling of the blues he has studied and loves. He also teaches a course in blues that he created, at Salisbury University, titled “Blues, the Roots of Rock and Roll.”

Admission to tonight’s concert is free.

For more information about the concert, call (302) 827-FOLK or go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/delfolk.

Bell rings for Toys for Tots

As the holidays approach, the need for gifts for underprivileged children comes into focus.

As he has done for the past several years, Lafayette Bell, aka Sgt. Bell, of Houston, tries to get the word out about Toys for Toys through a song he wrote called “The Totz for Totz Rap,” a video for which can be seen on YouTube.

Local dropoff points for Toys for Tots include CNB Banks and Walgreen’s Pharmacies.

For more information, contact Sgt. Bell at 302-531-7278 or e-mail lwbs66@yahoo.com.

Now showing

New in theaters this weekend is the comedy “Love the Coopers” and dramas “The 33” and “My All American.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is the action-adventure TV remake “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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