When we had a chance to catch up with Corey Ruffin, the mastermind behind the Grand Rapids-based traveling burlesque troupe Super Happy Funtime Burlesque, he was at the repair shop getting a tune-up on their tour bus. The retired school bus is a veteran of the road and has accommodated the motley crew of musicians and dancers on multiple nationwide tours.
Four of the 10 cast members make up the band, which is based out of Chicago. Five are from Michigan and one from Tennessee.
Though everyone receives their music charts and scripts two weeks prior, they arrive in Grand Rapids with costumes and props in hand, to spend five days prior to hitting the road in nonstop rehearsals -- for a show unlike any other. Imagine a DIY rock n’roll musical production that could make John Waters proud and earn a Frank Zappa seal of approval..
High Plains Reader: How long does it take for you to prepare for a production?
Corey Ruffin: 70 hours a week for years and years and years (laughs).
Booking the tour begins six months in advance. Then after I book it I put together the promotional material, update the website, posters, make merchandise, start on the logistics of travel -- maps, budgeting gas, hotels, all of that kind of crap.
When that’s all done we’re about a month before the gig. Then there’s two weeks of writing the show so everyone has the material for two weeks, then they all come here for four or five days to rehearse the material and then we go.
HPR: So SHFTB has been around for 10-plus years. How do you think your show has evolved?
CR: We’ve been around for 12 years -- I think we’ve been touring for seven or eight. The audiences let us get away with anything. We’ve never had a show where the audience hates it and no one comes to the show. Everywhere we go, they encourage us to do more . We just tend to get a little more ambitious in breaking the mold of burlesque, bands, and theatre. Diehard fans and old friends say to this day that they have no idea how to describe the show when they try to convince people to come.
I don’t know how to explain what the show is either, because it’s so much like a stream of consciousness -- just mental puke onto the stage, so I think that we just have gotten looser and more abstract -- more ambitious in at least the subjects and what we do onstage.
We’ve been on this path of evolving more into musical theatre--sometimes we show up in a town and they think they’re going to see a variety show or a band, then we get up onstage and do a two-hour musical.
HPR: How would you describe the show?
CR: Rachel [SHFTB cast member] says it best. It’s like South Park. I hate to draw from the mainstream for comparisons, but South Park does get away with anything and everything. They can totally put taboos out there and we certainly do. We’re like Don Rickles in a way, where we can say or do anything. We have crossed lines -- serious lines, but we do it with honesty and integrity, so I just say it’s like a South Park musical, with boobs.
HPR: How has the current political climate influenced you?
CR: Ooooooh let me tell you…Our last national tour was September 30-November 6 of 2016. We were on the road the month up to the election. Our last show was two days before the election.
Firstly, we knew Trump was going to win because so much of the mass media doesn’t pay attention to the places you or I are from.
We were at street level--we did a really long run, we didn’t hit North Dakota but we did hit up Nebraska, Iowa, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Florida. We went all over the country and everywhere we went, people were going bonkers for Trump.
We had a Trump striptease in the show where he comes out, builds a wall, and then we have these stereotypical “Mexicans” in sombreros and handlebar mustaches getting beaten down behind it. Then he strips down to nazi swastika pasties and goose-
HPR: Oh yeah, I saw that on YouTube!
CR: We’ve never had boos in our life and anytime we would do that act, half the audience would boo and we’d be like whoa, those people are out there. This is REAL.
In Florida, we heard all of this commotion during the act. It was an outdoor beach bar. Those shows can be rowdy, just because there’s all kinds of random people there. I just assumed some drunk dude was getting into a fight.
When the song ended I was listening and there were three dudes goose stepping at the end of the bar chanting “Bill Clinton’s a rapist…” and then they formed a wall in front of the stage and wouldn’t let anyone see the show, flipping us the bird. One of them said he was going home to get his guns and gun the whole bar down.
So people are really passionate about Trump and they threatened us with violence for making fun of him--it was crazy! So now we’re taking an hour-long musical about him on the road.
IF YOU GO:
Super Happy Funtime Burlesque
Saturday, May 13, 10pm
The Aquarium, 226 Broadway, Fargo
June 19th 2019
June 12th 2019
April 10th 2019
April 10th 2019
February 13th 2019
by John Showalter
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