WASHINGTON — They laughed. They cried. They gasped, presumably unsure of whether it was O.K. to revel in jokes about Hitler, amputee veterans, and sheep’s private parts. But mostly they laughed. In a theater at American University Tuesday night, David Feherty gave a nearly packed house a taste of what viewers can expect from his new self-titled variety show (think Oprah meets Billy Connelly), which debuts June 21 on the Golf Channel.
After a brief opening monologue, which included a reference to an inflatable Betty White doll (“the real Betty White is expensive,” Feherty explained), Feherty introduced two special guests: Fred Funk and new boy-band star Rickie Fowler, both of whom are in the field at this week’s U.S. Open down the road at Congressional. Funk and Fowler settled in to large leather chairs, and Feherty, clad in stylish jeans and a natty jacket-and-vest combo, began peppering them with quirky questions that he had solicited from his Twitter followers: Have they ever filled up a tank in a courtesy car? What’s the dumbest question a pro-am partner has ever asked them? Are they partial to Cheetos or Doritos? One of the better moments came when Feherty went off on a tangent about the 1991 Ryder Cup.
“You were like four then,” Feherty said to Fowler in a tone that suggested he was exasperated by Fowler’s youthfulness.
“Two,” Fowler shot back, drawing a roar from the audience.
Mostly, though, Funk and Fowler looked like a couple of deer caught in the scope of one of Feherty’s hunting rifles. They were either stumped by his questions or fearful that their responses wouldn’t be funny enough. Which raises the question: As Feherty finds it footing, can its producers land guests who are nimble and interesting and quick-witted enough to keep up with Feherty’s manic style? There are, after all, only so many Lee Trevinos out there.
Looking beyond the golf world will help, which it appears the show will. Clips from the first season, which were incorporated into Tuesday night’s performance, teased Feherty sit-downs with golf lovers Charles Barkley — yep, him again — and Don Cheadle. Not having to do the show live will help, too. (Cutting the preponderance of awkward pauses from the Funk-Fowler chat session would have significantly lowered the cringe factor.) Ultimately, of course, Feherty will soar or sink not with its guests but with its star, whom Golf Channel has given full license to “get a little nutty,” the network’s president, Mike McCarley, said Tuesday. “I think he was a little shocked that we were asking for all his crazy ideas.”
Feherty is an ardent supporter of the Troops First Foundation, which helps veterans adjust back to civilian life, and on Tuesday night several wounded warriors were in attendance, including a Marine who lost his left leg below the knee. Feherty is a master of using humor to help embolden injured veterans. Instead of avoiding their hardships, he tackles them head on, which the vets say helps them to begin to feel normal again. Nothing is off limits. The soldier with the amputated leg joined Feherty on stage and explained that he incurred his injuries when he stepped on a 40-pound improvised explosive device.
“Well, that was careless,” Feherty deadpanned.
The evening concluded with Feherty seated alone on a stool. It was the simplest part of the performance — the Irishman spinning yarns as if he were holed up in a grill room someplace — but also the most riveting, which ought to be a lesson for Feherty’s producers. Feherty shared a story about his old friend Seve Ballesteros, who died from brain cancer in May. Years ago he and the Spaniard were paired together at a tournament in the south of France when Feherty shanked a 2-iron off the tee. The ball rocketed off the toe of his club and ricocheted off a tree. Seve was cramping Feherty’s space on the tee, eager to play his own shot, but when Feherty’s ball suddenly came bounding back toward them, coming to rest on the tee box, Seve backed off.
“I’m sorry,” he said to Feherty. “You are still away.”