This video of Peoria, Illinois resident Jon Daker bravely struggling through "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" and "That's Amore" is the sweetest and most awkward-but-charming thing I've seen on the internet lately. I absolutely agree with Reddit user Beeyull's review, which really sums up the scene:
I feel like I just saw a piece of art. The lady at the beginning had me wanting more and then John swept me away. 4 stars.
Jordan M. Poss provides this more detailed description:
It's an accidental comedy masterpiece, growing continuously funnier from start to finish. Daker awkwardly introduces himself, he misses his first cue and rushes to catch up, he visibly forgets the lyrics to his second number, he tries to recover with a little gesture and movement at the mic only to end up humming his way to the final lines of the song, and all the while Mrs Unsicker, the piano teacher, sits playing away at her upright piano like a machine. Daker's portion of the show is only a minute and a half long, but he wraps those ninety seconds up with an iron-jawed stoicism and an obvious sense of relief.
I had to know more–Who is Jon Daker? When, Where, and Why was this video made?–so I did some poking around and found out some information about the video's origins and about the man who became an unlikely internet hero when the video was first uploaded to YouTube in 2006.
Jonathan Aigner provides some information about the origin of the video:
Peoria resident Reva Singley Cooper Unsicker taught voice, piano, and organ lessons for some six decades until her death in 1995 at the age of 80. For most of those years, her studio recitals were held in the sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church in Peoria where she attended.
I have never found out how this happened, but at some point in the 80s she was offered the chance to broadcast her recitals on local public access TV station. Reva jumped at the chance, which according to one source, elicited a collective sigh of relief among the church staff, as Reva was, shall we say, a bit particular about these recitals.
Nobody was ever supposed to see them again, but God in His mercy had other ideas. While a few brief clips from others remain, much of one 1990 recital is preserved on YouTube.
Jordan M. Poss describes why Daker's performance is so charming and touching:
I've watched this clip every so often for close to twenty years, and it never, ever stops being funny.
But why? Part of it is the obvious—it's awkward, it's embarrassing, he forgets the words, he clearly doesn't know what to do with his face. His utterly rigid body language screams his keen, moment by moment awareness of how badly it's going, and that with the pianist pounding through his two songs like an automaton heedless of his calamity there is no stopping. Then there are subtler things—the perfect comedy timing of his name, misspelled, popping up onscreen after his introduction and in perfect time with Mrs Unsicker's first chord; or the truly daft pairing of Charles Wesley with Dean Martin. The more you watch it the more you see.
But for me, the laughter—and I laugh till I cry—is also a laugh of recognition. It's sympathetic, even affectionate. I see in Daker's ninety seconds of gawping, humming, halting Sprechgesang my own worst-case scenario for public performance. I flop sweat for him as he nears the end of his set. It's the laughter you share with your buddy who completely blew his lines in the Christmas cantata, grateful it wasn't you but glad you can laugh him through the embarrassment. Because in that situation Daker is me, right down to the eyebrows.
I feel all of this so very deeply. In fact, Daker is also me. Daker is all of us. Last year, Jonathan Aigner, upon hearing of Jon's passing at the age of 82, shared this beautiful tribute:
I've laughed, cried, and cringed through many, many viewings since that wonderful, wonderful day. I've since introduced Mr. Daker to everyone I love, or even tolerate. It is, in my opinion, the greatest video in the history of the world. The Jon Daker video is enough to justify the existence of the internet. Everything about it is classic. Reva's nearly incoherent introduction, her expeditious accompanying, Jon's pleasant voice and his ability to maintain his composure, and the brilliant mashup of the Wesley hymn (very popular nowadays) "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today" with "That's Amore."
You see, in a world plagued by sin and evil, in which churches increasingly have no room for church musicians without commercial appeal, Jon Daker represents hope, joy, and faith. Here is a regular guy who has managed to lift the spirits of millions thanks to his love of singing and a willingness to crash and burn with dignity.