Kudos to the artists who quickly filled in for U2 frontman Bono at the recent World AIDS Day event in New York City. Billed on the band's website as "U2 minus one," the quickly announced concert featured Bruce Springsteen and Coldplay's Chris Martin joining The Edge, Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton onstage and singing tunes normally crooned by Bono, who continues his recovery from a Central Park bike accident. Springsteen performed an admirable, if slightly off key version of "Where The Streets Have No Name." No worries Bruce; it can't be easy to replicate Bono's Irish lilt.
But subbing for Bono is a far easier task than following Bono, a fact I learned several years ago in, of all places, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
I had been hired to perform stand up comedy for the Economic Club of Grand Rapids, a Chamber of Commerce-type group, but with a more impressive title. As attendees ate lunch and I surveyed what would soon be my audience, one of the club's board members told me about the club's history of keynote speakers.
"Last year we had Bono," he said casually.
I looked at him oddly, thinking he had simply mispronounced the last name of Cher's ex. Then I remembered Sonny Bono was dead and it dawned on me that he must be referring to rock legend/world humanitarian/sneak a new album into my iTunes playlist Bono. THAT one.
"How did you land Bono?" I asked.
"Well we heard he was going to be in town so we just decided to invite him," the board member replied, as if asking Bono to speak at your function was as easy as getting him to drive the car pool next Wednesday.
Numerous questions swirled through my head. First, WHAT exactly was Bono doing in Grand Rapids, Michigan? Yes, it's a far more pleasant looking city than Detroit and, indeed, was recently voted "Best Beer Town" by USA Today readers. It's also headquarters to numerous well known companies including Bissell vacuum cleaners, Steelcase office furniture and Amway, provider of household goods, beauty products, vitamin supplements and countless material for comedians. The classiest hotel in town? Quite possibly the Amway Grand Plaza, where the Economic Club of Grand Rapids had generously chosen to house me. I had already written what I thought would be a decent opening joke.
"I'm staying at the Amway Grand Plaza because, apparently, all the rooms at the Fuller Brush Motorlodge were booked."
Ba dum bang.
So yes, Grand Rapids is a nice town but it didn't seem "Bono-worthy," unless the singer was breezing in to have his Bissell canister vac repaired or, together with The Edge, was interested in starting an Amway distributorship. And, while the audience teemed with pillars of the Grand Rapids business community, none carried the prestige of Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, Desmond Tutu and other world leaders who had stood shoulder to shoulder with Bono for photo ops at numerous charity events.
Whatever the reason, it was clear that getting Bono to speak for the Economic Club of Grand Rapids rivaled the time Marcia Brady secured Davy Jones to entertain at her school dance.
"What did Bono speak about?" I asked.
After a brief pause, the board member replied,"You know, I'm not sure. But it was awesome."
The definition of a true celebrity, I thought. When nobody knows what you are talking about and you STILL get across-the-board "outstandings" on the comment cards. (A Google search revealed Bono's topic that day was AIDS and world hunger eradication)
As showtime approached, my thoughts turned to the mood of the audience. The current Grand Rapids economic environment had to be lousy, I deduced, considering their choice of me as keynote speaker. At the time my top credential was "recently appeared on An Evening at the Improv."
As opposed to "recently headlined 'Live Aid.'"
If the audience was disappointed in my presence behind the microphone, they hid it well. The laughs were plentiful even though I sensed some attendees were craning their necks toward the exits, expecting Mick Jagger to enter at any moment.
So Bono, get well soon as your magnetic presence is sorely missed at concert arenas, charity events and civic luncheons worldwide.
And if you need an opening act, look me up. I'd feel way more comfortable in that slot.