I’m sure many of us have returned from vacation with pictures and stories to dazzle our friends and family with. However, this story has a true travel tip to share with readers.

Recently my wife and I were visiting Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. We noticed a plethora of dinner theaters with a variety of acts. One that caught my eye was the “Red Skelton Tribute Show” starring Brian Hoffman. Having been a huge fan of Red’s show in the ’60s and ’70s, I offered my wife a deal. Go to that show with me and I will go to any or all of the shows you want to see. Happily, she was a big fan of his work as well. I called the number and ordered two tickets with prime seating (all of $39 a ticket) from a nice man who we found out later was “Red” himself.

We drove to the theater and went inside. A nice lady greeted us and said the doors would open soon. As we sat with several other couples, a man stepped from behind a curtain and we swore it was Red himself. It was Mr. Hoffman and he visited with all of us for about 10 minutes and then said it was time for the usher to show us to our seats. Yes, he was also the usher. When it was our turn, he asked us where we were from and I said we were Buckeyes. He said our seats were in the parking lot.

With a true ‘Red’ laugh he asked what part of Ohio. My wife gave our typical response “Youngstown” and his reply was “Oh, my kids graduated from West Branch.” I said he had to be kidding and he said “could I make that up?”

It turns out he had lived in Damascus in the mid-2000’s while driving truck. After sustaining an career-ending injury, he turned to stand-up which he had dabbled in previously. He worked comedy clubs in Northeast Ohio before striking out for Las Vegas. After a successful six-year stint there, he opted for a slower pace and settled in Pigeon Forge with a much slower pace of life.

The show was incredible as he recreated Red’s famous characters such as Clem Kadiddlehopper and Freddy the Freeloader. An observer would swear it was the real deal, but you couldn’t because there is no swearing in his theater. The same clean, hilarious comedy 50 years later.

After the show, he visited will the guests and posed for pictures in costume (Freddy’s). He noted that Mrs. Skelton, Red’s widow has given him the only license to perform Red’s character. If you vacation or travel through the Smoky Mountain area, it is some of the best money you will ever spend.

Glen Windram