Last Thursday, I attended the dress rehearsal of Tulsa Gridiron, a musical-style lampoon of yearly events, at the Tulsa Jazz Hall of Fame. The event, which occurred Friday and Saturday night, consists of individual songs poking fun at some topic around Tulsa or the country. There were political jests and jabs aplenty, Playboy bunnies paired with Youtube trolls, serenades from Ted Cruz and Blue Bell ice cream. It was a wild night.
The term “gridiron” originated from the name of a metal grate used over a fire in cooking, and to “throw someone on the gridiron” was to make it hot for them. The tradition of the political gridiron goes back to the 1800s, with such groups as the Oxford Gridiron Club and the Gridiron Club of Washington D.C.. Our local Tulsa Gridiron has been going for over 80 years now, and, as far as we’re aware, is the oldest gridiron tradition west of the Mississippi. The Tulsa Gridiron has two goals: making fun of local and national political figures, and raising money for scholarships to help students working for a free press. (Which is where the money from the entrance fee goes.)
This particular Gridiron was titled “The Farce Awakens,” and although it focused primarily on politics, there were some other Tulsa-specific skits thrown in to mix it up. The music for each song was provided by a live jazz section, appropriate considering the venue. As for the skits themselves, they were a mixed bag for me. As a non Tulsa-native, I felt lost in several of the songs, though that more comes from my lack of experience with Tulsa and Oklahoma politics than the songs themselves. The songs about national issues, or issues I otherwise recognized, though, were quite enjoyable. The songs, parodies of popular tracks, we’re mostly one-off jokes, but delivered with a full cast, sharp choruses, and a slight bit of audience participation. In particular, their Hillary Clinton impersonator stood out as a dead ringer in their take of “Hooked on a feeling,” called “Hooked on my emails.”
Other highlights for me included Youtube and Twitter trolls explaining their actions to the tune of Taylor Swift, as the “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate”; Trump singing “We will, we will, Trump you” and proclaiming his love for “Tusla,” Oklahoma; and Barack Obama living it up in the white house for his last year there to the tune of “Uptown Funk.” The event evokes feelings of a pre-SNL world, where political roasts are local and community-driven, without the huge production quality and comedy stars. The core concept, however, remains the same, and remains important. Political satire has been around as long as politics, and serves as an unofficial part of the checks and balances between the government and the people. You might not get as much out of the event if you don’t have experience with the politics of Tulsa and Oklahoma, but the Tulsa Gridiron is a worthy tradition to hang onto.