For nine months after graduating from college, I worked as a nonsalaried data-entry employee at Shook, Hardy & Bacon, the juggernaut law firm at 25th Street and Grand. Shook's business — defending Big Tobacco, Big Pharma and other comically villainous corporations — is pure evil, but I was always struck by how friendly everyone there was. It was terrifying, when you really thought about it, how we all smiled and chatted and drank coffee, and then returned to our collective task of making really rich people even richer and less accountable for their actions.
That perverse juxtaposition was on my mind Friday night, March 30, as I entered the opulent, corporate-art-lined lobby at Lathrop & Gage, just a couple of blocks down Grand from Shook. Up the elevator, on the 22nd floor, the similarly high-powered law firm was hosting the second annual "Telebration" gala for Whoop De Doo. A fancy corporate firm opening its doors to a feral circus of Kansas City weirdos? Yes, that interested me.
What is Whoop De Doo, exactly? I wouldn't be surprised to learn that its creators, Jaimie Warren and Matt Roche, don't know exactly what it is. But that seems to be part of the fun. I'd call it a sort of Tim and Eric for children — a kid-friendly, faux-public-access television show that is staged as a live event. What is a "telebration"? How about I just tell you some things that happened, and you can draw your own conclusions.
I arrived around an hour late, at 8 p.m., to a crowd of maybe 200 people. The food was mostly gone, and the line for booze — Charles Shaw red wine, McCoy's beer and a pink vodka-based concoction called Hot Tub Water — was about 20-people deep. The greeter was wearing a pointy blue sorcerer's hat with gold stars on it. Two women inside the same yellow, Slip-n-Slide-like dress walked past. Everywhere you looked: grotesque makeup.
On my second trip to the bar, I asked for two glasses of wine. I pointed vaguely at the crowd, as though saying, This other glass isn't for me; it's for my friend. Then I slinked off to a window in the corner and poured one glass into the other. It almost spilled over. I slurped at the rim and looked out at the sun setting in the west.
"You can see Lenexa from up here," somebody said.
"Rosedale, at least," somebody else said.
In the restroom, I happened upon four men dressed in tightfitting drag, huddled around the sink, arranging themselves in front of the mirror. I was wearing a shirt I bought at a J. Crew outlet store in Bonner Springs. I felt like the squarest square in the world.
It was time for the show. The audience was herded into a conference room, which had been rigged to look like a TV studio. We sat cross-legged on the floor. A smattering of kids sat up near the front. Goofy, oversized TV cameras flanked the stage area. In the corner, about 10 colorfully dressed people were sitting up on a two-tiered platform. They pretended to field calls from donors, on phones that appeared to be made from white cardboard. A telebration, I began to infer, is what happens when art freaks try to run a PBS-style fundraiser.
Warren, dressed as a popcorn box, and Roche, wearing wolfman makeup and a blue blanket, emceed the first portion of the show. They introduced a reputedly famous performer named Orrin B. Sanger, who thundered onto the stage wearing tight blue polyester pants, a brown vest, a '70s-style button-up, and a dreadlike Afro. He paced around and spoke of his old soul songs from back in the day. "No, no, I'm not going to sing that song for you guys," he'd say. Then he would wait for the crowd to plead with him to sing the song, at which point he would sing it enthusiastically. In real life, Orrin B. Sanger is Jabulani Leffall, who, as host of KCUR's Central Standard, sometimes comes off a little clumsy on-air. As a fake R&B singer, though, he was a natural.
The evening also included performances from an Israeli dance group and a group called the Midwest Cloggers. There was much jumping and dancing. My favorite character of the evening was the Wet Clown, who held smudged cue cards for the hosts.
"Wet Clown, the cards are all wet. I can't read 'em," Warren said, and the Wet Clown frowned. Later, a contest was held in which children threw spitballs at the Wet Clown. The Wet Clown's hair was a dull-purple mop head on one side and a dull green mop head on the other. How the Wet Clown got wet in the first place was not revealed.
At some point, hosting duties shifted to beloved KC actor Ron Megee, who came out dressed as Cher. In addition to being a hilarious and talented performer, Megee also displayed a knack for coercing audience members to part with their money. The donation box was a silver trash can with a foot pedal.
"Why do you like Whoop De Doo?" Megee asked, leaning down to a little girl in the front row. She stood up and tilted the microphone toward her.
"Because it's weird," she said, and the crowd roared.