Journalists laugh at the news in Gridiron Show Nov. 5

Journalists laugh at the news in Gridiron Show Nov. 5
April Wallace

Year after year, the organizers and performers of the Northwest Arkansas Gridiron Show come together to poke fun at the stranger-than-fiction events covered in the news.

Sometimes they’re even played by the ones who covered those events and produced news items, given that everyone on stage is either a journalist, a “recovering” journalist or student journalist.

“We have no thespian standards,” quips Dave Edmark, a founding organizer who helped form Gridiron in its first iteration starting in 1978.

This year’s Gridiron Show is returning after a two-year break due to the pandemic. It’s themed “Keep Fayetteville Funny (NWA Too)” and will take place Nov. 5 at the Butterfield Trail Village Performance Center in Fayetteville. The change of venue is a big one for the little show, since it spent the previous 18 years performing on the Arkansas Public Theatre stage in Rogers.

Patsy Watkins, professor emeritus of journalism at the University of Arkansas, will emcee the show, and Dave Bostwick, a UA journalism professor, is music director. Bostwick will play guitar and piano for the numbers. Proceeds, as always, go to the Northwest Arkansas Society of Professional Journalists’ scholarship program.

All jokes aside, by now Edmark and Charlie Alison — who also joined Gridiron in its earliest years — have plenty of experience writing, editing and performing humorous skits about the biggest, sometimes most scandalous, news of the year.

Edmark says the event began because he and others were brainstorming ideas to raise money for SPJ.

“There were shows like this that journalists put on, spoofs and things like that,” he says. “We had never seen any, but we got together, started writing scripts and made one.”

The first Gridiron show was put on at the Springdale Rodeo Community Center, a location that is now a part of the Springdale airport runway. Edmark was shocked when the place was nearly sold out. He and his friends thought, “We can do this again,” he says.

Alison says he hadn’t seen the show when he auditioned for a part in Gridiron as a college sophomore, but he had seen “Saturday Night Live,” and it seemed a logical extension.

“I found my way there thinking, (with) all these professional journalists, there’s no way they’re going to cast me,” Alison says. “But they got me up (on stage), I read the lines on the script and thought ‘This will be over soon.’”

Roughly 40 years later, Alison and Edmark take a break from Gridiron rehearsal to discuss what’s next for the long-standing show. Audience members can expect skits and songs centered on various aspects of the upcoming election, including the decisions it will result in, focus on the candidates running, efforts to limit voting in several states and the Arkansas governor’s race.

This year’s Timely News Update, a standard portion of the show with bizarre news cast items delivered with photos projected in the background, will have a weather report that riffs on climate change, a healthcare report from a nurse practitioner who discusses the perils of indigestion and more.

Audiences will also see a “January 6 variety show” about the attack on the U.S. Capitol at the start of 2021; a skit about the leaks at Mar-a-Lago; and the show will hit other topics like local jail overcrowding, supply chain and staff shortage problems, covid-19 and, of course, political missteps across the nation.

If you’re afraid you wouldn’t get the jokes, Edmark and Alison say don’t worry. They tend to write punch line after punch line in a way that can be understood without the previous context.

“We stick with national (news) more because more people know about it, so it’s easier to do,” Alison says. “When we look at something local, we try to figure out ways to tell it so that anyone could understand even if they hadn’t heard about it.”



NWA Gridiron Show:

‘Keep Fayetteville Funny (NWA Too)’

WHEN — Doors open at 6 p.m., show begins at 7 p.m., Nov. 5

WHERE — Butterfield Trail Village Performance Center, 1923 E. Joyce Blvd. in Fayetteville

COST — $35; tickets on sale at the website and at the door, by cash or check


Categories: Theater