Dear Urban Legends:
Here's an urban legend from my teens in the early '70s.
As the story came to me, the setting was a rock concert for a band that was either Grand Funk Railroad or Guess Who (I can't recall which in my dotage, but it was a band of similar ilk).
After playing for some time, just after a featured guitar solo, someone near the front of the crowd was booing loudly. In response to the booing, a member of the band came to the mike and asked, "If you think you can do better, come on up here."
Up walks Eric Clapton.
Now, of course, I have a hard time believing Eric Clapton — one of the best rock or blues guitarists ever — would even be at a rock concert featuring one of these bands (Muddy Waters or BB King, maybe). But the story carries that sociological "If you think you can do better..." challenge, answered by someone who actually could.
Have you heard any other permutations of this one?
There are many. The Clapton story is fairly well known. The version I'm familiar with is almost identical to yours, right down to the name of the band whose concert Clapton supposedly attended — Grand Funk Railroad. And I agree, it seems unlikely Clapton would have shown up there surreptitiously and even more unlikely he would have gone unrecognized until he heckled the performers.
There's a comedy club variant of the same legend, recounted as follows in the alt.folklore.urban newsgroup several years ago:
A comedian (one of the zillions of unknowns they used to show on the Comedy Channel) was talking about his most embarassing experience. He claimed that one night he was delivering his lackluster routine, when someone in the audience started heckling him. He traded some banter with the heckler, but ran out of material quickly. So, he fell back on an old standby — "Hey, you think you can do better?" The heckler turned out to be Robin Williams.
Same story, different cast of characters, demonstrating how mutable a folktale can be. This plot would work equally well with, say, an unrecognized Michael Jordan being challenged to join a pick-up game of basketball.
My guess is that the narrative itself is older than Clapton and Williams combined. There's an entire genre of legends involving ordinary people suffering embarrassment when they fail to recognize a famous person in their midst. "The Celebrity Heckler" is similar to some of those tales, including the old chestnut about a wealthy celebrity (e.g., Bill Cosby, Groucho Marx, Bing Crosby, Flip Wilson) who is spotted outside his home mowing his own lawn and mistaken for a hired gardener by a passerby.
"How much does the lady of the house pay you for mowing the lawn?" asks the passerby.
"Nothing," deadpans the amused celebrity. "She just lets me sleep with her every night."
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