Before he was a stand-up comic — and before he was the voice of Muddy Mudskipper and Albert the Foul-Mouthed Bass on the “Ren &Stimpy Show” — Harris Peet was employed by the Los Angeles Kings. As a practice/emergency goalie. During the Gretzky years.
Too many pucks to the head? One supposes the possibility exists.
“Comedy is a lot like being a goalie,” says the native New Yorker, who opens for “Saturday Night Live” alumnus Rich Hall and David Letterman’s buddy Jeff Altman at the Laugh Factory at the Tropicana through Sunday. “On the good nights, there’s nothing better.”
And on the bad nights? Well, on the bad nights, he’ll tell a joke that should have killed, but for whatever reason it doesn’t. (This can happen anytime one is performing south of Indianapolis.) And then comedy is like the red light coming on behind you in front of 20,058 at Joe Louis Arena, where people and assembly line workers pound the Plexiglas, and they yell that you suck, and they throw an octopus at you, if it’s the playoffs.
And then, says Harris Peet, “It’s like ‘How did that one go in?’ ”
Peet, 59, has a funny face and a funny voice and grew up wanting to be Eddie Giacomin, who was the goalie for his beloved Rangers. Or Richard Pryor. Or the guy who spun plates on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
After moving to Los Angeles, he was at one of Pryor’s gigs, and it was sold out. He noticed Murray Wilson, who briefly played left wing for the Kings, standing in line.
Peet got Wilson in; Wilson, wanting to do something nice in return, invited Peet to a Kings practice. This was during the heyday of the vaunted Triple Crown line, and the yellow sweaters with the purple trim and the big crown on front.
When Peet noticed Marcel Dionne and Charlie Simmer and Dave Taylor taking aim at a sheet of plywood with holes cut into the corners, he said he might not have been a great goalie at Nassau Community College, but he certainly was better than a sheet of plywood with holes cut into the corners.
“It went from there to phone calls late at night that Kelly Hrudey’s not going to be skating tomorrow, so can you be at practice in the morning?” Peet said.
And that’s why he has pictures of him and Gretzky together, and why you probably still can see little welts on his torso left by Larry Robinson’s heavy slapshots from the point, or Rob Blake’s, or Jerry Korab’s.
Korab’s nickname was “King Kong.” Peet said when he let fly from the blue line, the puck would keep rising, like a guided missile, and sometimes the puck was coming so fast, you couldn’t see it. But then you felt it in your chest. And then you felt it in your back, too.
“It just kept going,” Peet said of the pain that occurs when a vulcanized rubber disk that is frozen strikes soft body tissue with a resounding thud. “It’s like Pac-Man taking bites out of you.”
Gretzky didn’t shoot as hard as those defensemen, Peet said. Not even close. But power wasn’t The Great One’s game. Finesse was. Flipping the puck off the back of the unassuming goalie and into the net was. And though it wasn’t possible for Wayne Gretzky to be as great a guy as he was a hockey player, Peet said he gave it a heck of a shot.
“Sometimes you’d have to remind yourself that he plays hockey, too.”
Peet spent 20 years as the Kings’ practice goalie and a part-time equipment guy — he didn’t sharpen skates, he said, “because you have to go to school for that.” But he loaded equipment bags onto rented trucks like a champ, and he would make sure certain guys had Kit Kat bars in their cubicles during a winning streak, if that’s what they wanted.
The closest he ever came to suiting up was when wildfires ravaged the hillsides near Calabasas, and the Kings and Ducks were to play an exhibition game to aid displaced homeowners.
“(Barry) Melrose said ‘Harris, you start,’ ’’ Peet said.
That happened to be the day Peet was filming a scene with Robin Givens for the superhero spoof “Blankman” starring Damon Wayans. And so he didn’t get to start, or stack the pads, or stone Paul Kariya, or get knocked on his keister by Stu Grimson, the Grim Reaper. Or worse, get beaten like a rented mule by Grimson.
But that movie led to the Ren &Stimpy gig, which lasted five years, when he brought to life Muddy Mudskipper and Albert the Foul-Mouthed Bass and the Fire Chief, who hated circus midgets. And the Lummoxes: Kowalski, Bubba and Jiminy.
Harris Peet did those voices for five years, and he said it paid well, but that it wasn’t as neat as lining up between the pipes at Kings practice, or the day he got to meet Eddie Giacomin.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski