Gridiron Show Oct. 6-7 spoofs politics, remembered political reporter Blagg

Gridiron Show Oct. 6-7 spoofs politics, remembered political reporter Blagg

Brenda Blagg was a very serious political correspondent, a staunch advocate for the Freedom of Information Act and author of “Political Magic: The Travels, Trials and Triumphs of the Clintons’ Arkansas Travelers.” But when she died in December 2022, she also left a legacy of laughter. Blagg was one of the founders of the Northwest Arkansas Gridiron Show and will be remembered, along with the late University of Arkansas professor Hoyt Purvis, when Gridiron takes the stage Oct. 6-7.

“We very much miss her,” says Gridiron director, performer and longtime F.O.B. (Friend of Blagg) Rusty Turner. “She had a wicked sense of humor, and she is missed as much for her work on the writing team” as for her trademark performances as Letitia Mae Stufflebeam. “She was always a happy presence and made everybody feel welcome. It was fun to be around Brenda.

“Brenda would have wanted people to walk away laughing,” Turner says of the tribute, “so that’s our goal.”

Turner, who could never be quoted in these stories before because of his previous role with this newspaper, is fair game now. And he credits — or blames — Blagg for his involvement in the annual spoof of the year’s news events as written and performed by local journalists and journalism students.

“I was drafted,” he demurs immediately. “When the Gridiron came back after … hiatus, I think in 2004, Brenda asked me to be in the show to sing one song. It was a pretty challenging song, and no one in the cast wanted to try it. She knew I had a singing background and knew I could do it.

“I was hesitant because both our kids were still at home, and my wife and I were really busy,” he remembers. “Brenda promised it would only be for one sketch and just a few rehearsals. Of course, I showed up, and they kept giving me more roles to do and more songs to sing. Once we got on stage, I was hooked.”

Over the years, Turner says, he’s had roles he’s happy to remember — and a few he can’t forget.

“I had a great song one year as Houston Nutt,” he says. “It was during that time when Gus Malzahn was on the Razorback coaching staff and those great players from Springdale were freshmen, and there was a lot of pressure on the team to win now. Then it all fell apart. The song was to the tune of ‘As Time Goes By’ from ‘Casablanca.’ It got a huge response from the audience.

“I’ve also enjoyed playing Frank Broyles a few times, especially the year we did a sketch called ‘The Hogfather.’ I’ve played Bill Clinton, David Gearhart, Al Gore, John Roberts, and even Big Bird. The last several years, I’ve played Donald Trump, but I’m getting tired of him. I think the audience is as well.”

Turner says while Trump will be talked about in this year’s Gridiron show, he will not be on stage — as of this writing.

“I should add, though, that because it’s a news-based comedy show, we’re actually writing up until the performances,” he says. “We’ve added and dropped things on opening night. We’ve even changed punchlines between one performance and the next. News never sleeps.”

This year titled “The Penpire Strikes Back” in reference to the Hollywood writers’ strike, Gridiron will be emceed by Larry Foley, a longtime professor at the University of Arkansas School of Journalism and Strategic Media, who says: “They’re all friends so how could I say no!”

“The writers have lots of material to work with in these crazy political times,” Foley muses. “My job will be to keep the train moving down the track. Live shows are always challenging and kind of scary — like a tightrope act without a net. I’m happy to be of service.”

Also returning to the stage will outdoors writer be Flip Putthoff, who says getting a standing ovation the first year he was in the show “was the most incredible feeling. Truly a great natural high. I was hooked.”

And, he assures, “there is plenty to laugh at without being a big news consumer. I don’t think everyone gets every joke, even me!”


NWA Gridiron Show:

‘The Penpire Strikes Back’

WHEN — 7 p.m. Oct. 6-7; doors open at 6 p.m.

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

COST — $35


FYI — The Butterfield Trail parking area is most easily accessed from Old Missouri Road, using Fargo Road. Parking is immediately on the left, and a shuttle will operate between the parking lot and the theater entrance before and after the show.

Categories: Theater