For 75 years, the Tulsa Press Club Gridiron has entertained Tulsans by highlighting our follies and vices, holding them up under the unforgiving theater lights for inspection and ridicule.
Each year, local journalists, media personalities, PR professionals and others come together for an evening of songs and skits designed to make us laugh at issues that generally cause us to grit our teeth when reading about them in the local paper.
“We try to singe, not burn,” says DJ Morrow Ingram, Chair of the Tulsa Press Club Educational and Charitable Trust. The Trust is the entity that receives donations, such as the money raised during Gridiron, for the purpose of providing scholarships to aspiring journalists. One such recipient was Ralph Schaefer, now editor of Neighborhood Newspapers, and a cast member of this show.
What can audiences expect when they attend Gridiron? Well, don’t expect a highly polished, extremely professional show such as those usually produced at the Performing Arts Center. The Gridiron cast and crew is made up of people with various levels of experience and skill. Amateurs mix easily with more skilled singers and actors. The flow is sometimes uneven, cues are sometimes missed, but that only adds to the show’s charm. What the audience can expect, Ingram says, is “good old-fashioned American humor and satire.”
Last night’s show carried that in abundance. Facilitated by Interlocutor Sam Jones (where has he been all these years?), the show (also showing tonight) makes fun of this year’s ice storm, the wooing of the Drillers by Jenks and Tulsa, the River vote, the BOK Arena and more. National issues are not ignored as the Gridiron finds something to laugh at in the current elections and the baseball steroid scandal. Local targets include Mayor Taylor (seated front row, visibly enjoying the satire with her husband Bill Lobeck); County Commissioner Randi Miller (portrayed in an unforgettable rendition of Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman); City Councilor Roscoe Turner and Governor Brad Henry, whose jetsetting ways expose him to the writer’s sharp pens and the laughter of the audience.
There is some great talent on that stage. Bob Hendrick, who sings about Roscoe Turner’s role in the River Tax vote in a song based on Old Man River, is a natural born showman. Ditto for John Cory, who totally rocks Rod Stewart’s Maggie May, singing as God, to Richard Roberts.
In a twist of irony, Kathy LaFortune, wife of former Mayor Bill LaFortune, sings a plaintive ballad about all the street construction. Sharon King Davis portrays herself, in what Bob Hendrick called “excellent casting,” in a skit about the Belvedere. She has a rich voice and a commanding stage presence.
Rebecca Ungerman sings about the re-emergence of the Osmonds in Mick Jagger’s Angie, and by the way, when is Rebecca Ungerman never brilliant?
One sidenote: As a Gemini, I am an ideological/political schizophrenic. I have a tendency to see both sides of an issue, to take the opposing side whenever I see bias in media, be it liberal or conservative. I was prepared to see a great deal of liberal bias in this production. It wasn’t there. The Gridiron writers did an excellent job of being, in Sam Jones words, “equal opportunity offenders.”
Dealing with our societal foibles by targeting them with the sharp arrows of wit and satire seems to be a uniquely American tradition (true, the Brits started it, but Americans made it cool). Even politicians stop taking themselves so seriously when mimicked by a Phil Hartman or Darryl Hammond or sung about by Rebecca Ungerman. One reason Saturday Night Live has remained on the air for thirty plus years, despite some periods of significantly weak ratings, is that there is constant fodder for the show’s tradition of social and political satire. The same can be said for a 75 year Tulsa tradition. We are one of the few countries in the world where people can write stinging editorials against our political leaders and where comedians can stand up and openly skewer them for laughs without fear of recriminations.
If you are easily offended, this show may not be for you. But if you can set seriousness aside for one evening, and simply appreciate the humor found in everyday local and national events, and not take it personally, then come out for tonight’s Gridiron.
Where: Liddy Doenges Theater of the Performing Arts Center
Tickets are $20 for adults, and $15 for seniors, and can be purchased at the PAC ticket office at 596-7111.