In the first ever Gridiron in 1972, Jim Beam, as then-Mayor Jim Sudduth, sat digging in a child’s sandbox onstage for pretty much the entire show. The skit was a dig at Sudduth’s close association with the Civic Center’s construction — it was built on a portion of the lake that had been filled in with sand. (American Press Archives)
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 11, 2012 6:39 PM
In the early 1970s, local ad man Larry Bolich and others proposed the idea of a club in which local professionals in both the news and advertising worlds would take part together — an unusual mix, considering the press-only clubs that remain in place nationally even today.
The result was the Ad & Press Club — and its centerpiece project was, and remains, the annual Gridiron show.
Gridiron is a comedy revue that pokes fun of local newsmakers and the media through skits and song parodies. All proceeds go to scholarships and program support at McNeese State University and Sowela Technical Community College.
This year, Gridiron is marking its 40th anniversary — and performers from across the years shared their thoughts with the American Press.
To create the local Gridiron show, daytime rivals become nighttime collaborators for about six weeks each summer to write, rehearse and perform the show.
The first Gridiron script meetings, in 1972 and a few years following, took place at a table with a cassette recorder placed in the middle to capture the ideas. The meeting’s the location, though, that was the kicker.
“I remember,” said Ruthie Broussard with a nod. “It was John’s Barn.”
Broussard’s husband, Narcisse “Bruce” Broussard, was among the co-conspirators who gathered at the ramshackle tavern to hash out the show.
“Jim (Beam), Bruce, (Don) Kingery, Wayne Owens, Pat and Elton Louviere — and maybe more,” Broussard said. “They put the show together over the suds! Had a hell of a good time.”
Broussard, now 87, still acts and sings in the show. She’s the senior performer — easily outdistancing fellow Gridiron pioneer Jim Beam, who’s a mere septuagenarian.
Others came along in the 1980s, 1990s and the decades since.
“I love making fun of our politicians, local newsmakers and, at times, members of the cast,” said McNeese’s Pam McGough, a longtime performer and club officer. “Of course, it’s all in jest. I love it so much. I’ve been doing it for 28 years and plan on continuing for many years to come. The best part is making the people laugh and bringing a smile to their life.”
Cathy Chapman, a longtime Gridiron favorite, described her experience as “25 years of frolicking, foolish fun — spent skewering insane and salacious snoots and snobs alike. Would I change a single thing? Nope. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.”
As Gridiron warns annually, the show spoofs not just newsmakers, but also member of the media who cover them.
For KPLC-TV’s Britney Glaser, who co-anchors “7News Sunrise,” that may be a motivating factor to be a cast member.
“After seeing my first Gridiron show from the audience four years ago, I quickly learned that the best way to protect yourself is to play yourself,” said Glaser, who’ll be doing that once again in this year’s show.
Glaser has co-starred with John Bridges and Ben Terry in full-blown parodies of their morning show. Glaser has also played such characters as a bikini-clad sun worshipper on North Beach, a hard-partying Contraband Days visitor and even a zombie in a “Thriller” dance number.
Local librarian Cornell Thomas has also played a wide assortment of famous characters —- including Barack Obama, former local bishop Edward Braxton, Sammy Davis Jr. and even Michael Jackson.
“I’m not the president, the bishop, or a member of the Rat Pack — but I’ve played each one of them in Gridiron. That’s 12 years making stage magic and iconic moments based on real-life people who will never publicly acknowledge me and what I’ve done for their image,” Thomas joked.
Laura Heller, American Press city editor and the club’s first vice president, has done 13 Gridiron shows and all sorts of roles.
“I’ve played hookers, Cher, Kim Kardashian and two governors’ wives,” Heller said. “Getting up on stage and acting like a fool helps cure you of any stage fright right away.”
“All I can say about Gridiron is that you haven’t really laughed until you’ve seen it,” said Beth Clark of Stine Lumber, who has performed in the show four times. “The cast and crew do so much more than learn lines and set the stage — they make memories.”
“It’s something I’ve looked forward to every year since my first show in 1980,” said Jo Portie, a retired newswoman. “Every year has been so different, but always so much fun to do — and for such a good cause.”
That “good cause” is support for McNeese and Sowela. It’s a task that keeps First Federal Bank’s Leslie Harless busy soliciting, counting and distributing money.
“After being the club treasurer for many, many years, I found out the reason they keep electing me to the position is that nobody else wants it,” Harless said with a laugh. “But I l really enjoy it.” As for the show, “Being on stage and cutting up with fellow members is a great time,” she said.
Cutting up takes place both on and off the stage, and not all of it is planned.
“I played Scarlett O’Hara in Gridiron 27,” said veteran performer Vera Hollier. “Robert Vizena (a local educator) was Rhett Butler. He had me bent backward. And then he forgot his line. I was trying to feed him his line — still bent backward — without trying to be too obvious. Luckily, he said his line, and I got to straighten back up. What a hoot!”
The idea of not taking things too seriously was echoed by others. For example:
• “Being a member of the Ad & Press Club for 10 years and participating in Gridiron, I’ve come to the conclusion that we really aren’t actors,” said Daryl Boyd — who has appeared in skits and songs nevertheless.
• “After 15 years of participating in Gridiron, there’s one thing I have learned — no one in the group is sane,” said Denise Foster of Creative Concepts.
• In 20-plus years of hearing the gossip, of pushing the limit on what we say about audience members and politicians — I wouldn’t change one minute,” said Patty Hebert of Lagniappe magazine.
This year’s 40th anniversary show will take place at 6 p.m. Saturday, July 21, at the Lake Charles Civic Center Coliseum. Tickets are $60 per seat or $400 for a reserved table of eight. Tickets include pre-show heavy hors d’oeuvres offered by a variety of local restaurants. Also, a cash bar will be available throughout the evening.
Sponsors include American Press, Entergy, Cameron LNG, First Federal Bank, L’Auberge du lac, Citgo Petroleum, Westlake Chemical, Central Crude, All Start Buick GMC, Alfred Palma, Empire of the Seed, DigiKast Media, Sasol and Sowela Foundation.
Food presenters include Becky’s Catering, Chick-fil-A, Cookie’s Catering, Cypi’s Cake Box, Fat Boyz Inc., Jackson’s Catering, Jag’s Bistro, Nobless Oblige Inc. and Southern Spice.
For tickets, to be a sponsor of the show, or for catering information, leave a message at the Gridiron Hotline at 583-4766, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Gridiron 40 page on Facebook.