This is a story of how a random meeting can turn into a career changing moment. If you've ever seen the television show, "Impractical Jokers," then you know one part of the story. What you DON'T know is that there's a local angle to the story.

Yesterday, I had lunch with my friend Jeff Johnson. I met Jeff about 20 years ago. He worked in downtown Cedar Rapids, at Norand, which became Intermec. You may know his name because Jeff has booked music, comedy and entertainment shows in the area for years. He also owned Penguin's Comedy Club and to this day, owns the name. Still, he had the 40-hour a week job to take care of in addition to his side business, USA Entertainment.

"I always wanted to get into the entertainment business full-time," he told me. That's where an e-mail to the Impractical Jokers inquiring about booking them in the area turned into a life-changing moment. "I watched a show of theirs and I sent an email to them." The guys responded, set up a phone call with Jeff and the rest is history.

"They asked, 'Everybody else wants a piece of us, why should we trust you?' I can understand that because this business is tough. So, I explained to them my background and talked about my Iowa/Midwest work ethic and they were impressed that I had built my business by working in nearly every feasible position." By this, he means merchandise, booker, travel agent, fixer, get the idea.

Photo: Johnson

He booked them In Cedar Rapids and Dubuque. The shows were a huge success and everything clicked... that was five years ago. Fast forward to today, and now he's the tour manager for one of the nation's most popular comedy shows on tour across the country. "We've done a cruise, we went to Hawaii and now we're heading to the UK. We started out on a tour bus and now it's private jets to the venues." But that's not all....Jeff also has his hands in a few other things.

Ever heard of a dude named Wayne Newton? Yup. He's an agent for him. Ever seen the television show, "The Carbonaro Effect?" Yup. Him too. In fact, Carbonaro has a lot of shows coming up. He's performing at The Fox in Atlanta this month, a place a lot like the Paramount Theatre here in Cedar Rapids.

Photo: Johnson
Photo: Johnson

So, this guy sitting across from me wearing the Baltimore Orioles hat hangs out with some of the most successful and up-and-coming acts around. And we're in Cedar Rapids! Amazing. And Jeff told me the Jokers are really, really cool to hang out with. "When we're on the road, I'm with them and see them every day. When we're off the road we talk, we text. They are truly great guys."

Then he reads me a text from a fan one of the Jokers gave Jeff's cell number to, and the guy is asking for the Jokers to come to his wedding. In addition to everything else, Jeff is the gatekeeper for the group. "I've got no problem being the heavy if I need to be. I work hard to take care of them because they're more than clients, they've become friends."

Through all of this, Jeff is a family man. His wife's name is Erin and they have two children, Andrew and Piper. I'm sure it's hard for him to be away from them when he's on the road. Johnson told me, "My wife is very supportive, I couldn't do it without her."

So, over chips and queso at Carlos O' Kelly's, I heard the story of success that was a result of hard work, honesty, friendship...and a little luck. The next time you watch "Impractical Jokers," "The Carbonaro Effect," or hear Wayne Newton singing, "Danka Schoen," remember the local guy, Jeff Johnson, who is repping Cedar Rapids to the world.