Put Herman Cain on a stage and the man comes alive. That charisma and natural presence is part of what’s propelled the longshot contender to the front of the GOP presidential pack. Cain’s stump speeches may be passionate and eloquent, but for pure humor value, nothing compares to his performance at the 1991 Omaha Press Club Show.
On the stage at the Peony Park Ballroom, Cain—then CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, the Omaha-based restaurant chain—donned a white preacher’s robe and performed a parody of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” beginning, “Imagine there’s no pizza… I couldn’t if I tried,” and gradually building to a climactic refrain of “All I am saying, is give pizza a chance,” as a gospel choir ecstatically backed him.
The video is transfixing—and worth a good laugh, as Cain himself recognized. After a team of old-style chorus girls in leotards and top hats introduced him, the businessman offered a patriotic preface: “One of the wonderful things about living in America is the freedom we have to laugh at ourselves. In fact, we have so many freedoms that it is easy to sometimes take them for granted. So it is helpful sometimes to try and imagine what it’s like if we were to lose some of those freedoms.”
But how did this strange artifact come to be?
The video was shot at the press club’s annual gala, which supports scholarships for local students to attend Creighton University, the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The show, which marked its 54th year in 2011, is a local institution. Local luminaries such as Warren Buffett have been known to appear, and when Cain performed in 1991, some 1,400 people attended.
“He brought hundreds of guests to their feet,” recalls Chris Christen, who has been the show’s executive producer since 1996 (and at the time was one of the tap-dancing chorus girls). “We have very few standing ovations in this show. Once every three years or something, you might get some act that is so over the top that the audience just falls in love, and this number was one of those.”
The press club typically invites local celebrities to perform, but it’s a bit of a crapshoot, Christen says. “We had heard that Herman had a great singing voice. Sometimes you hear those things and you think, ‘Does he really?’” she says. “But he really does. His stage presence is just magnificent.”
Christen didn’t recall whether Cain wrote his own lyrics for the “Imagine” parody, in which he was backed by the press club show’s house band, and his campaign couldn’t immediately answer either. But she does remember that Cain didn’t really need a rehearsal before his show-stopping moment.
Given the success of his “Imagine,” perhaps Cain should consider extending his Beatle-parodying ways on the campaign. His 9-9-9 tax plan, in particular, is practically begging for it.
To watch the full video of Cain’s performance, see the Omaha World-Herald.