Kent Bernhardt: Brown shoes in a tuxedo world

  • Posted: Sunday, February 24, 2013 12:01 a.m.

It was a star-studded night on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” one night back in 1969.

Dean Martin and Bob Hope spent the evening trading quips with the late night icon, and the audience roared their approval after every joke. Every rib in the audience hurt from laughter when late in the evening, Johnny introduced his last guest.


He was certainly well known in his own right, though far from “superstar” stature. His name was George Gobel.

Gobel was also a comedian, though his humor was quieter, more homespun. His delivery could be described as shy, bordering on boring. He was clearly in over his head that night as the mammoths of comedy continued to feast around him, often at his expense.

But then, something wonderful happened.

Gobel, with an uncomfortable look on his face, peered into the camera and said, “Do you ever feel like the world is a tuxedo, and you are a pair of brown shoes?”

“Lonesome George” brought down the house with that one. It lives as a comedy classic.

He also drew an analogy that I’ve held on to through the years since I often feel that the world is indeed a tuxedo, and somehow I’ve become the pair of brown shoes at home in the closet.

I felt that way recently when I caught part of The Grammys on TV. Artist after artist I’ve never heard of paraded before the camera thanking producers and writers I’ve also never heard of.

Jay-Z, Gotye — how did I lose touch with the entire music world so quickly? Ah, Mumford and Sons, winners of Album of the Year. FINALLY someone I’ve at least heard of. But that was about it.

As I watch TV sitcoms, many of which I enjoy, I wonder “Is everyone in the entire world having all of this fantastic sex with people they barely know?”

“Hi, I’m Susan from the bagel shop.” Next scene, they’re in bed and comedy ensues. Does anyone get to know each other anymore?

Only the brown shoes, I guess.

At least there’s “The Big Bang Theory”. Sadly, I can relate to those people more, since I too am a citizen of the kingdom of Geek.

Our struggle for relevance and figuring out where we fit in is a lifelong process.

Long ago, I dated a wonderful girl who told me she was sure we would never work out. “Why,” I asked. “Well, I’m a country girl through and through, and you’re kind of a city slicker.”

City slicker? For younger readers, that was an oft used term to describe someone with more urban leanings. As a resident of a small town of 500 people at the time, I hardly qualified for the title of city slicker. The city slickers wouldn’t claim me.

I’ve since made peace with my true identity, learning instead that I am more of a “townie.” We townies aren’t country folk, and we’re not city slickers. We’re somewhere in between. We’re just…well, townies. I prefer to think of us as true Mayberrians. We’re good folks too.

We do, however, lack the sophistication needed to keep us from feeling like that pair of brown shoes in a tuxedo world. But maybe that isn’t such a bad thing.

I like feeling a little out of step with the mainstream. In the mainstream, life is lived mainly on the surface. I like digging a little more deeply into the people I come across. I like exploring their inner qualities, and letting them get to know mine. As a result, I pause and think more. I feel more.

Nope. Come to think of it, I like brown just fine. It’s a color too.

Thanks, George.

Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury.

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