I’m sitting in row J, seat 19. My seat is in what the theater buffs would call the orchestra level, only 10 rows back from the stage where over 100 years ago Will Rogers performed his rope tricks and rolled out his Oklahoma cowboy humor.
“Everybody’s ignorant, just on different subjects.”
The Springer Opera House opened its doors in 1871, and due to the preservation-minded efforts of some of Columbus Georgia’s fine citizens over the past century and a half, this theater stands as one of the prized possessions of the River City. This 700-seat auditorium is trimmed out with gilded columns and frescos and three-story box seats that rise above the stage.
The feel here is old theater and I half expect to look up and see Honest Abe in one of the box seats stage left. The slanted wooden floor moans and creaks in all the right ways. The aisles are tight. The seats are padded. And the place is packed.
I’m here to see a one man show that I’ve wanted to see for a long time. Sean Dietrich has come to town to do his stand-up schtick to help raise funds for MercyMed, a local medical group that serves the underprivileged. If you know anything at all about this guy, this makes perfect sense. He is a kind soul to all things underprivileged, especially dogs.
My good friend and diesel mechanic, David, introduced me to Sean of the South about five or six years ago. He is a writer. A teller of stories. Most of you reading my little stories already know him, so I’m not telling you anything new.
Before the show I was standing in line at a restaurant on Broadway, just a block around the corner from The Springer. The lady in front of me was chatty.
“Do you know how far we are from The Springer?”
I gave her the friendliest answer I could muster. I’m all about making folks feel welcome to the area.
“We drove down from Athens to see Sean Dietrich tonight. You ever heard of Sean Dietrich?”
Her husband looks at me and shrugs his shoulders. “Don’t worry,” he says, “I ain’t never heard of him either.”
She is obviously a big fan. “He’s like the Lewis Grizzard of our generation. You ever heard of Lewis Grizzard?”
Does the Pope live in the Vatican?
I assured the husband that he had not traveled 180 miles for nothing.
These are the kind of devoted fans that Mr. Dietrich has gathered over the last dozen years or so. His stories move us toward a kinder, gentler way of living. He tugs at the heart, and makes you laugh until you pee. He writes with a candor and humility and humor that reflects the old southern ways. He prefers Hank Sr. and Willie to fog machines and fake cowboys. He drives an old truck because it still works. His wife knows how to cream corn and make cornbread that will melt in your mouth. He thinks that dogs are so perfect that we don’t deserve them.
The lights in the theater dim. The sponsors for the night’s fund raiser come out to make a few introductions and offer their thanks to the crowd.
Then, “without any further adieu, please give a big hand for Sean of the South’s very own, Sean Dietrich.”
I had never seen the man in public before. To hear him describe himself by the way he writes, you might expect a redheaded, chubby faced, buck-toothed, scruffy-bearded, wild-haired construction worker to walk out on stage. That’s not entirely accurate. His beard and hair were trimmed and clean.
For two hours he stood out on that stage all alone and brought us into his world. One man, a microphone, and a guitar. He wove the old gospel songs of our youth into the tales of his uncle who taught him to play guitar, of his cousin who got him into trouble at a snake-handling service, and of a wife who tenderly asked him, “Why the heck are you barefooted at our wedding?”
It was really a first-class show. He’s the kind of guy you feel like you know even if you’ve never met him.
Which is sort of the reason I’m telling you about him. Even though I’ve never met him, Sean Dietrich is the one who inspired me to take a chance on writing my own stories. Six years ago, as I began to read his daily stories, I said to myself things like, “I know that lady, I’ve played ball on that field, I’ve heard my dad say some of those same things.”
He made me believe that you don’t have to have a pedigree to write. Just write.
So, I did. I’m closing in on four years now since I started putting my mind to words. I was hesitant at first to put my stories out there. I knew that Sean of the South had like a bazillion followers. A lot of folks around Pine Mountain have his books and have been to see him. I was afraid that people would think I was just a copy-cat, and a pitiful one at that.
I’ll admit, I have copied him a little bit from time to time. He writes something that stirs up one of my own experiences that I turn into a story. If it’s true that imitation is the highest form of flattery, then, Mr. Dietrich, consider yourself flattered.
Story tellers try to stay away from out-right plagiarism. There’s no excuse for that. But the good story tellers always borrow from those who have gone before them. I know I heard at least two punch lines come out of Sean’s mouth on Saturday night that I know for a fact were lines that Lewis Grizzard used. And Lewis probably borrowed them from someone else. You take the lines, and you make them fit your story. That’s part of what makes good storytelling and timeless humor work.
I’ve always wondered if Ed Lee is a real cousin of Sean’s, just like I always wondered if Lewis’s childhood friend, Wyman C. Wannamaker, a great American, was real or made up. Every story needs a sidekick, someone to set up the punch line, someone to blame for all the troubles we get into.
I don’t have a sidekick. Not yet. Maybe I need to get one.
After the show, I really wanted to meet him and tell him what an inspiration he has been to my wayward writing. But by the time I got to the lobby, the meet and greet line was already an hour long. Besides, it would be clumsy and awkward for me to shake his hand. I’d probably stumble all over myself and sound like an idiot.
I’m sure he would be gracious. No doubt. But I just couldn’t do it.
A daily dose of Sean of the South is a good thing. This world needs more of his kind of inspiration. He’s a regular guy who somehow manages to find the best in a world that often shows us its worst.
He even inspired this story. Thanks Mr. Dietrich.
2 thoughts on “A One Man Show”
No sidekick? No sidekick!! Max, I am hurting for you buddy. The very idea! Yep. I am hurting for you right now Max.
I am shamed.