Waiting for Guffman: Ranking the Thespians
This week, we’re throwing it back to 1997 and the “tall tale that grows taller with each passing year.” That’s right — 20 years ago this week, Christopher Guests’s mockumentary Waiting for Guffman hit theaters, and audiences everywhere were introduced to the (fictional) town of Blaine, Missouri, Stool Capital of the World and the site of the first real UFO sighting.
In commemoration of Blaine’s sesquicentennial, the eccentric Corky St. Clair (Guest) puts on a production of Red, White, and Blaine, an original musical chronicling the small town’s rich history. In casting his opus, he calls upon the denizens of Blaine, each more delusional than the last: local dentist Dr. Allan Pearl (Eugene Levy); seasoned community theater amateurs Ron and Sheila Albertson (Fred Willard and Catherine O’Hara); Dairy Queen employee Libby Mae Brown (Parker Posey); taxidermist Clifford Wooley (Lewis Arquette); and the handsome, reluctant mechanic Johnny Savage (Matt Keeslar). Assisted by the high school music teacher Lloyd Miller (Bob Balaban), Corky leads his unlikely group of stars to musical theater glory — with the promise that Mort Guffman, an important Broadway producer, will come see the show.
In honor of 20 years of Waiting for Guffman, we’ve ranked the Red, White, and Blaine thespians from worst to greatest. See our pick for the greatest Blaineian star of them all, below.
8. Johnny Savage
Corky said it best when Johnny dropped out of Red, White, and Blaine just a few hours before its debut: “I hate you, and I hate your ass face!”
7. Lloyd Miller
Of course, the angst of poor underappreciated Lloyd, the music teacher at Blaine High, is understandable: It’s never easy to have something taken away from you, especially when that something is the artistic directorship of such a hallowed institution as the Blaine community theatre. But he doesn’t seem to fully grasp that he’s stepping aside for Corky St. Clair himself, one of the most visionary artists that Missouri has ever seen. Just step down gracefully, Lloyd. You still get to be musical director, after all.
6. Ron Albertson
Oh, Ron and Sheila. The wonderfully obnoxious married duo, in their matching track suits, are veterans of Corky’s productions, but we must say, they pale in comparison to some of his new discoveries in Red, White, and Blaine. Ron ranks below his wife, if only for the moment that he insisted on introducing her to the fake Guffman as “Mrs. Ron Albertson” after she called herself “Sheila.”
5. Sheila Albertson
Though she still needs to learn to “change my instincts, or at least ignore them,” Sheila ranks above her husband because he’s just a little bit more insufferable — and also because of her truly breathtaking hair techniques. That thing she does with her bangs? Incredible.
4. Clifford Wooley
We don’t see much of Clifford Wooley behind the scenes; in the brief times we do, we see — and we celebrate — that he wears a hat that says “old fart” on it and that he is very committed to his craft as a taxidermist. He ranks high, however, not because he once dreamt of being an actor after getting out of the Coast Guard, but because he is genuinely great in his role as the narrator of Red, White, and Blaine. It speaks to Clifford’s humility — and to Corky’s vision — that one of the greatest talents in the show is the one who didn’t even audition, and never sought the sesquicentennial spotlight at all.
3. Dr. Allan Pearl
The breakout star of Red, White, and Blaine got one taste of the limelight and never looked back. From the moment he says he wasn’t the class clown growing up “but I sat beside the class clown, and I studied him,” we just can’t help but root for the dentist with a dream.
2. Corky St. Clair
We would be remiss to rank Corky St. Clair — our hero, the maestro, a consummate artist, a dreamer of dreams, and the Blaine theatre community’s fearless leader — any lower (and struggled with whether second place was even good enough). While of course he performed more than admirably as Johnny’s last-minute replacement, he occupies a special place in our hearts mostly because nobody can take on a great challenge — like the DIY production of an under-budgeted Red, White, and Blaine — with quite as much style and verve. In his own words: “It’s like in the olden days, the days in France, when men would slap each other with their gloves and say, ‘d’Artagnan! How dare you talk to me like that, you!’ and smack ‘em.” That’s the spirit!
1.5. Mort Guffman
Okay, so he doesn’t actually show up. But he gave all these Blaineians something to aspire to! He gave them leave to let their dreams take flight! Maybe they were left waiting, but isn’t it worth something that, for a brief moment, they had something to wait for?
1. Libby Mae Brown
Blaine’s own ingenue may seem like an unlikely choice for the best of the thesps, but we salute her because she is the only one for whom Red, White, and Blaine marks the beginning and the end (as far as we see, at least) of her theatrical career. She starts out at the Dairy Queen, listing its many ice cream options, and when we bid farewell to this merry band of actors she’s just smacking another piece of gum at another DQ — but this time with a tiny bit more inspiration, and a new dream of inventing a “healthy, low-fat, or non-fat, um, healthy Blizzard.” Her moment in the spotlight was brief, but it was beautiful. She poured her soul into that performance of “Penny for Your Thoughts,” dammit, and she deserves to be recognized for it.