Why Michael Airington Pretended to Be a Born-Again Christian | Playbill

Seth Rudetsky Why Michael Airington Pretended to Be a Born-Again Christian

Plus, what really healed Seth Rudetsky after his hernia operation and where you can see him live this month.

Michael Airington Courtesy of Seth Rudetsky

As Valerie Cherish, one of my favorite Lisa Kudrow characters, once said, “Well, I got it!”

In my case, the “it” in question stands for hernia surgery.

Back in June, I had developed some pain from running without stretching. Don’t forget your warmup and cool down routine, folks! Turns out, my doctor found a small hernia during the examination. Because it was small, he told me while it didn’t need immediate attention, it would eventually require surgery. Telling someone with ADD that something can wait is not conducive to ever getting it done!

In contrast, in December of 2016, I tore my bicep tendon and was told I had to have surgery within days or else I’d lose around 80 percent of my arm mobility. That I scheduled as soon as I could! Here’s a video of me a few weeks post bicep surgery. While I was healing, I had to keep my arm bent a very specific way in a sling. Though I took the sling off for the video, I had to hold that bent position. It looks so bizarre, especially since I never explained it!

Knowing the hernia surgery could wait lead to a lot of thoughts that went like, “Hm, I really should do that at some point.” Finally, I couldn’t take the low-level anxiety of someday in the future needing surgery, so I scheduled it and the timing ended up being really great. The procedure fit conveniently between my super fun gig filming a 1970s-style variety show and the shows I have scheduled at Café Carlyle.

The worst part was having to wait to eat until after my surgery was complete. I was not able to eat after 1 AM on the day of the procedure, and I did not go into the operating room until about 4 PM. When I woke up, all I could think about was how hungry I was! I told the nurse that I could not wait to be back on the Upper West Side and to get some delicious post-surgery Levain chocolate chip cookies. To my delight, the nurse told me the ward had just celebrated Thanksgiving and had extra Levain cookies. What? Who ever has “extra” Levain cookies? Anyway! I told her I would love one, but wanted to wait until I got home to eat it so I could warm it up beforehand. When she handed me my cookie, I found she had already heated it up for me. So amazing! James took this photo of me in cookie heaven.

Recovery has been really easy. I was able to get back on the Peloton after two days and am waiting anxiously to start lifting weights again. Although, for someone so concerned with working out, how come my first thought after surgery was a Levain cookie? #Dichotomy

Let me tell you more about the variety show special I filmed. If you don’t know, the 1970s were chock full of variety shows. Some were amazing. Others were certainly not amazing. And a large number were somehow in their own category. Take the Paul Lynde Halloween Special, for example. Here’s a clip of Pinky Tuscadero teaching Paul how to disco dance. This hilarious sketch was written by the brilliant Bruce Vilanch.

A few months ago, producer Scott Rockett put together a team for a new 1970s-style variety show. It’s called Make The Yuletide Gay: The Paul Lynde Christmas Special. In today’s version, the amazing Michael Airington plays Paul Lynde. Holy cow, he’s so good. Watch!

In the 1970s, when Michael was a teenager and living in Virginia, there was a radio contest for new singers. He called the number for the station, even though he was not a singer, telling them he was a comedian. The station told him this contest was just for singers but took his information down anyway. Well, amazingly, the station called him back saying that the owner of the radio station really wanted to meet him.

The next day, Michael had his friend drive him down to the penthouse of the radio station. Once inside, the owner asked Michael to perform some of his impressions and character voices. Well, Michael didn’t actually have a specific act that featured impressions, but he did some Paul Lynde, Gomer Pyle, and Pat Buttram as Mr. Haney from Green Acres. When asked if Michael had an act, he said yes, even though he did not, and the gentleman told him he wanted Michael to be the opener for Mel Tillis and Jerry Reed. Seriously!

If you don’t know, 1975 was when Jerry Reed was famous for the song, “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot” and Mel Tillis was the CMA star of the year. For Michael, or for anyone, this was a huge deal. On top of the allure of these serious 70s stars, Michael was only 15 years old. This meeting ended with the station owner saying, “Kid, your life’s gonna change.” He could not have been more correct.

From there, Michael went to the library (I know, how old school?) and checked out Joey Adams' Joke Book. That was how he wrote his first 15 minute act. In the lead up to the concert, Michael never really felt nervous. He didn’t really know about show business and did not realize the extent of what he had agreed to do. Even when a fancy car came to pick him up and drive him to the venue, he wasn’t nervous. In fact, it wasn’t until he arrived at the stadium and saw how many people were waiting outside that he began to feel butterflies. As he looked at the crowd gathering, he asked the driver how many people were there. The driver told him that the show had sold out and that 5,000 people would be in the audience that night.

Upon hearing that number, Michael went into a complete panic and actually doesn’t remember the specifics of his performance. He knows that the audience laughed so much that Mel Tillis then hired him to tour as his opener. Soon, Michael was also opening for the likes of Rosemary Clooney, which was thrilling until another girl caught his eye.

Yes, Michael developed a huge crush on a girl whose father happened to be the vice president of the Christian Broadcasting Network. To get the girl, Michael left Rosemary’s tour, renounced show business, pretended to be Born Again Christian and started working for none other than Pat Robertson. Um… #WTF

At that time, so many celebrities would make appearances on The 700 Club expressing interest in becoming Born Again Christians. Michael’s job was to meet them at the airport and take them to dinner. After his outing, he’d report back to Pat at his home. A year and a half later, the show 4 Girls 4 with Margeret Whiting, Rose Marie, Hellen O’Connell, and Rosemary Clooney came to Richmond on tour. The 700 Club asked Michael to appear as one of four men who would present the women with flowers after their show. Michael, of course, agreed. After the show, Michael walked on stage and went straight to Rosemary with flowers. Rosemary, recognizing him, whispered harshly, “What the f*ck are you doing?” She was shocked to see him with The 700 Club, and told him to get to Los Angeles as soon as possible. The wake-up call Michael needed to hear had finally happened. He quit his job with Pat and moved straight to California. Thank you, Rosie!

Michael’s major source of inspiration struck after he saw Frank Gorshin’s one-man show about George Burns. Michael thought he could do that type of show about Paul Lynde. He hunted on eBay and found the band charts, script, and all the notes for The Paul Lynde Show that Paul had toured. Michael was able to buy it all for the incredible price of $122.

Michael then got in touch with Paul’s nieces, who controlled his estate. After a few conversations, they told Michael they loved his enthusiasm and gave him the rights to play Paul on stage. His show hit the road! At one Hollywood stop, Michael noticed Peter Marshall, Cloris Leachman, Rose Marie, and Jaye P. Morgan in the audience. AKA, Paul’s closest friends. Talk about nerves! After the show, Cloris approached Michael with tears in her eyes. She thanked him for bringing her “buddy back.”

So many fun people have since appeared in The Paul Lynde Christmas Special like Lady Bunny and Jackie Beat and Jack Plotnick.

Jack played his character Evie Harris and together we did our classic “Christmas Evie” sketch. The entire show is going to stream on the WOW Network, so check your local listings. 

Seth Rudetsky and Evie Harris Courtesy Seth Rudetsky

If you’ve never seen Evie, here’s one of my favorite clips from the film Girls Will Be Girls where Evie is watching her old 70s disaster movie Asteroid.

In concert news, I have a concert with Claybourne Elder from Company on Tuesday December 6th. It’s a livestream, so get your tickets at TheSethConcertSeries.com. I’m starting a Café Carlyle series this month with stars from Phantom of the Opera to commemorate the show before it closes. Check it out!

Speaking of, if you’ve never heard of my classic Phantom debacle, watch this ASAP.

Come see me live or catch me on streaming. Peace out!

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