Like any institution with a tradition, the Northwest Arkansas Gridiron Show has built up a surfeit of terminology that only makes sense to the initiated. Below, the Gridiron writers offer a few explanations of words, phrases and characters that have become part of our vocabulary.
cold open – Just like Saturday Night Live, the Gridiron Show begins without any setup by the emcee, referred to as a “cold open.” Because the show is written by journalists, the cold open is very often set in a newsroom or at a media conference to lament the current state of the Fourth Estate or simply to make fun of it. By necessity it’s also written in such a manner that the entire cast ends up on stage for the opening song.
Brother Billy Bob – In the mid-1980s during a surge in the political influence of the Moral Majority, Mike Gauldin created a character named Brother Billy Bob and his Bible Bonanza of Brentwood who expounded on the virtues of righteous indignation, frequently reciting verses from the book of Adverbs, verily.
Johann Sebastian Crock – During the early years of the Northwest Arkansas Gridiron, a reporter and columnist named Guy Barnes brought to life one of the characters from his column, a slightly tipsy and frequently irreverent visitor to the Springdale Jail. Guy covered Springdale City Hall and city police, so he never lacked material.
Elvis and Elton – The NWA Gridiron Show was produced at the old Fayetteville Elks Lodge about 1990. The lodge’s large meeting hall wasn’t really designed for a theatrical show. Among other minor issues, the taxidermied heads of two very large elk hung on opposite sides of the hall near the front edge of the stage. We considered asking the Elks Lodge to take them down during the show but instead incorporated them into the show with speaking parts as Elton and Elvis and their own turn in the spotlight.
emcee – Each year, the Gridiron Show prevails upon a well-known person from the region to serve as the emcee for the show. Mayors, professors, civic leaders and university chancellors have taken a turn as the Gridiron emcee and have generally escaped with their dignity.
Gridiron Liberation Army – The Gridiron Liberation Army was established in the 1980s along the lines of the Symbionese Liberation Army, but in this case, cast members in ski masks occasionally hijacked a script that was particularly dull. Like the SLA and Patty Hearst, the GLA faded into history as the writing got better.
Leko – In the 1930s, a spotlight was developed and brand-named as Lekolite. It became the dominant spotlight used in theatrical venues, but Gridiron is not traditional theatre and the writers knew nothing of such. One year a local journalist joined the troupe to offer stage direction and, as she let us know, she was of “the theatre.” It was not a good match, but we didn’t really recognize the issue until she started yelling from the top of a ladder about “lekos” and their lousy placement. In some measure, the Lekos became a metaphor for us, because we never seemed to enter or exit or simply be where we were supposed to be, according to the theatre person. So Lekos today is about as strong an epithet as we can deliver.
Macadoodles – This beer and wine shop began business just over the Missouri state line and quickly became a favorite of anyone living in Benton County, which was “dry” at the time and didn’t allow liquor sales. The name itself was funny, so it soon became a reference in at least once in every year’s show, occasionally taking center stage such as the year that Gridiron writers allowed Macadoodles to start selling medicinal marijuana.
Col. Meyers – During the 1980s, the Republican party in Washington County had only a smattering of members and very few candidates for elective office. Col. Bill Meyers, a Republican, became a perennial candidates for office, unsuccessful each election cycle until he ran for coroner. His chief recognizable accouterments were very loud ties, which became a Gridiron tradition during the 1980s whenever an actor was called to portray the colorful Col. Meyers.
Dr. Red Neck – As part of the Timely News Update, a character was introduced to provide news of medical discoveries. The character of Dr. Red Neck was based on a real TV doctor, Dr. “Red” Duke, a trauma surgeon from Houston who became nationally popular during the 1980s for his reports on medical research. Steve Voorhies has played the part of Dr. Red Neck with similar Texas panache, pontificating on the latest medical discoveries, even if they only exist in his head.
shepherds – The quick turn-around between each sketch doesn’t give actors much time to make costume changes. So we assign a “shepherd” to each sketch who has the responsibility of making sure all the participants in their sketch are ready and then informs our stage manager of the same who notifies the tech manager to be ready for light cues.
Elmer and Letitia Mae Stufflebeam – The Stufflebeams, Gridiron’s version of American Gothic, have presented clear-eyed commentary annually on matters both trivial and extraordinary, from Jesse Jackson’s run for president in the 1980s — “He’s not one of us. … He’s a Baptist!” — to climate change in 2017 — “Mother Nature appears to be going through the change.” Ain’t that right? That’s right.
talking dogs – The Gridiron writers try to ground most sketches in reality. During one writing session, though, we created a sketch with several dogs talking about a particular plight related to animals. Later during the same session, a draft for a political sketch drew sharp debate about some anomaly in the writing that didn’t make jibe with reality. At some point, though, one of the writers suggested that reality wasn’t necessarily necessary, after all we had just written a sketch about talking dogs. Since then, “talking dogs” has lived on as a shortcut to challenge any instance in which we become too attached to the seriousness of reality.
theater – The Gridiron Show has been performed in five different venues. Its first show was in the old Springdale Rodeo Community Center, which was near what is now the north end of the Springdale Airport. The show moved to the Arts Center of the Ozarks for nearly a decade. The show moved to the “new” Rodeo Community Center just east of the rodeo arena. The last venue during the PGW Period was the old Fayetteville Elks Lodge on Zion Road. Since the Gridiron was reorganized in 2004, it has been performed at the Victory Theater, first under operation by Rogers Little Theater and now managed by Arkansas Public Theater.
Timely News Update – Just after intermission each show, the first sketch in the second act is a news show with two anchors and a surfeit of twisted news. The news show was based on the recurring and long-running Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live. Dave Edmark has nearly always been one of the co-hosts for the show. Peggy Trieber, Stacey Roberts and Antoinette Grajeda are among the women who have served as a co-anchor. Dr. Red Neck, played by Steve Voorhies, also appears during each news segment.