‘Everybody Dance!’: 15 Trivia Tidbits About 'Waiting for Guffman'

‘Everybody Dance!’: 15 Trivia Tidbits About 'Waiting for Guffman'

Before Christopher Guest and his recurring cast would give us a string of mockumentaries like Best in ShowA Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration, there was Waiting for Guffman, the tale of a bunch of quirky locals putting on a musical to celebrate the town of Blaine, Missouri — also lovingly referred to as “The Stool Capitol of the United States.” The stakes are raised when a famous Broadway producer, one Mort Guffman, gets invited to the opening of Red, White and Blaine, and if you’ve never seen the movie but are familiar with Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, you know how it ends. However, watching these amateur characters dream of stardom remains a hoot from start to finish. 

So let’s dive into the making of the 1996 cult classic that taught us that “it’s a Zen thing, like how many babies fit in a tire.”

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‘Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman’ Led to ‘Waiting for Guffman’

After Guest directed HBO’s TV movie adaptation of the 1985 science-fiction film, he was contemplating where to go and what to do next. “It was harder and more complicated, that film,” production designer Joseph Garrity remembers. “It was about effects and miniatures and a lot of complicated things; a lot of trucks and a lot of hardware. Not that (Guest’s) bad at it, but I think he’s more comfortable keeping it small. He told me, ‘Joe, I’m going to try something next, and if this doesn’t work, I don’t know what I’m going to do.” 

That something next was Waiting for Guffman, and it went back to Guest’s famed 1984 mockumentary, This Is Spinal Tap, but with one major change: “I decided to remove the interviewer from the film entirely, and so you never heard any questions, and it’s more of a hybrid in the sense that it is a more conventional film in its style than Spinal Tap was.”

How Kids Influenced the Show

While trying to come up with the concept of his new movie, Guest attended one of his kids’ high school productions of Annie Get Your Gun, and the idea of community theater popped into his head. “Here were all these little kids with handlebar mustaches, and he thought it was just hilarious and sweet at the same time, and wanted to translate that into a movie,” actress Deborah Theaker (who plays Gwen) revealed in Best in Show: The Films of Christopher Guest and Company. “That was the impetus.”

Eugene Levy Thought Guest Was Pranking Him

When Levy got the call from Guest, asking him if he wanted to co-write Waiting for Guffman, he thought it was a prank. “It wasn’t until quite recently that I found out he called me because he liked my work on SCTV,” Levy has explained.

Of Course, There Wasn’t Much of a Script

Guest and Levy scripted the musical numbers and did the setups for the characters and their situations, but the rest was all ad-libbed. “Eugene calls it a screenplay without dialogue,” Guest once explained. “This is just the way I could get the funniest material. I rely on actors heavily to create these scenes and breathe life into them. They’re masters of the craft.”

Parker Posey Was Cast Within 10 Minutes

Guest told Back Stage West that even though Posey didn’t have any improv background — unlike the rest of his main cast — he knew she could do it. “I met (her), and about 10 minutes in, I thought, ‘Definitely,’” he has said.

A Lot of Subplots Were Cut for the Theatrical Release

Guest shot 58 hours of footage for the movie, taking a year to cut it down to its 84-minute theatrical release. Some sequences that didn’t make it include a scene where the play’s director, Corky St. Clair (played by Guest), gets into it with a basketball coach who wants to use the auditorium where the cast is rehearsing, and way more scenes about the townsfolk of Blaine discussing their not-so-famous first ever UFO sighting in the United States.

Ron and Sheila’s Alternative Ending

In the final cut, Ron (Fred Willard) and Sheila (Catherine O’Hara) are shown still trying to make their way to Hollywood, while doing commercials to keep their acting careers going. In an alternate ending, the two have moved to the City of Angels, where Sheila has become disillusioned and depressed, and Ron is still his insufferable optimistic self. And they still don’t have a car.

Levy Couldn’t Stop Laughing While Filming the Movie

“There was a group of us in most of the scenes,” Levy told Kelly Clarkson, “and I would move myself behind the group as the scene was being shot, drop to my hands and knees, and crawl off the set so nobody would notice that I was laughing in the middle of the scene.” He explained that it was necessary since they were improvising and couldn’t just yell “Cut!” and recreate what they’d just done.

The Origin of Corky St. Clair

Entertainment Weekly put St. Clair on its 100 greatest characters of all time list. For the piece, Guest wrote about the inspiration behind his theater nerd: “Corky is definitely a compilation of people I’ve seen or met over the years, some of whom worked in regional theater. The heart of that character is how guileless he is. He has no concept of his lack of talent. I thought it would be funny if he had a toupee.”

Some Folks Thought Corky Was Real

Guest explained that “Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and I were doing a tour. I sang ‘Penny for Your Thoughts,’ which is from Waiting for Guffman. People would ask strange things like ‘Where is he working now?’ I’d say, ‘It was actually a film.’ At one of the performances, a group called the Blaine Players or the Corky St. Clair-something Society showed up. It was about 12 people, and they have meetings. Well, I don’t know exactly what they do. The movie is discussed, I guess. They had T-shirts and a lot of, well, information.”

’Red, White and Blaine’ Was Turned Into a Stage Parody

In 2014, the improv-based iO theater in Chicago staged the play from the movie to sold-out crowds donning T-shirts of the mockumentary. “Waiting for Guffman is like Rocky Horror for theater people,” director Jeff Griggs said at the time. Griggs used most of the original screenplay, some deleted scenes and a whole lot of improv to bring the play to life.

The Original Concept Was an Elaborate Parody of ‘The Wizard of Oz’

The movie would’ve had a running joke about The Wizard of Oz, with Blaine instead being located in Kansas and the town’s stage getting destroyed by a tornado before the premiere of Red, White and Blaine. Corky would also have owned a memorabilia shop called “Over the Rainbow.”

Martin Short Wanted to Do the Movie (But Was Too Famous)

Fred Willard revealed that when Guest talked to him about doing the movie, he learned that Short wanted to be in it. “(Guest) said, ‘I ran my idea past Marty Short. And Marty said he loved it, and he said, ‘Let’s do it.’ And I had to tell Marty, ‘No, we want people who aren’t well-known,’” Willard relayed, laughing. “So that brought me down a notch.”

Judd Apatow Calls ’Waiting for Guffman’ His ‘Citizen Kane’

For Apatow, Waiting for Guffman knocks Citizen Kane off its “greatest movie of all time” pedestal. “Has anyone watched Citizen Kane more than three times? Maybe eight people,” he wrote in Variety. “Does anyone think Orson Welles’ performance is better than Eugene Levy’s in Guffman? If you were feeling down about the state of the world, what would you watch, Waiting for Guffman or Citizen Kane? Christopher Guest is a legendary comic force.”

The Deleted Scene Where Bob Odenkirk Sings

Sony Pictures Classics

While Odenkirk can be spotted in the theatrical cut wearing a Dracula outfit as he waits to audition, the character never reappears. In a deleted scene, we see that he at least got to show off his singing skills for Corky and company.


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