This substitute Night Ranger did not drop acid or spend too much time in the sun on a recent Saturday. But we did make the trek to Jerry's Bait Shop in downtown Lee's Summit, lured by the promise of a Donkey Show.
Lest minds leap to filthy conclusions, we're not talking depraved, Tijuana-variety donkey action. We're talking instead about an occasionally freakish variety show that has successfully infiltrated midtown clubs over the past few years. Each themed Donkey Show is unique with new musical, dance, spoken word and skits. There also are brilliantly simple contests with audience participation, such as a recent staring contest that brought out our inner stubborn child.
We're fans, but we drove to Lee's Summit mostly to gauge a suburban audience's reaction. We were pretty sure that the city had never been the site of a show that referenced in its name unscrupulous acts with a burro.
Arriving at Jerry's around 9 p.m. with research assistants Renee, Sarah and Susan, we found the place covered in streamers and palm fronds. A beach ball bounced in the crowd. The show's theme was Hawaiian, and those in costume got two bucks off the $10 cover. The place was packed with people wearing floppy straw hats, flowered shirts and leis.
The only place to stand was around a table with a guy named Mike. We ordered $7 pitchers of Miller Lite and a vegetarian pizza. When we turned our attention to Mike, a 28-year-old construction worker, he revealed that he had no idea what was happening when he showed up at Jerry's. We pressed: Would he have come had he known? The man could not tell a lie. "No," he replied. But he added a universally recognized truth: "But you never know what might happen."
Ah, indeed. It is a Donkey Show, after all.
Bill "Roach" Sundahl, the man dancing with the donkey and one-half of the brains behind the Donkey Show, introduced the first act, a bluesy rock duo called the Bob and Al Show. As the band began to play, we made our way over to a rather intense-looking older man wearing a grass skirt. He had just taken a turn waltzing with the donkey. He gave his name as Hawaiian Charlie.
"Did you at any time feel violated by the donkey when you were dancing?" we asked. At the mention of the word violated, his eyeballs boggled in opposite directions and he brayed. He shouted, "No, 'cause I'm half-donkey!" Then he proceeded to hump our knee.
"Yikes, did you just mildly hump our leg?" we asked, nimbly stepping away.
"I can hump better than that!" he said. We didn't want to test Hawaiian Charlie's humping abilities, so we made our way back to our own table.
The next act up was a doozy called the Mattel Star Choir. It consisted of some local rockers with battery-operated guitars made by Mattel. The presentation was hilarious given the badass swagger of real-life musicians Jay Zastoupil and Cody Wyoming. They played those kid-sized guitars as though they were in Motorhead. And they actually sounded good as they pumped out a Stooges cover to an enthusiastic crowd that responded with whoops, hollers and devil horns.
Looking around, we noticed that most people were really into it, clapping and cheering away. The demographic was a little older than that of the average Donkey Show more in the 25-to-48 range. Just about everyone looked tan and healthy, as though fresh from Longview Lake.
Next came the night's contest: a hula-hoop-off in which the contestants had to hold a cup of water. The one with the most water left after 30 seconds would be the winner. The most formidable contender, Jennifer, wowed the crowd by actually drinking from the cup while hula-hooping, showing her confidence that she'd win even with a sip missing. We expected some kind of final showdown among winners toward the end of the night, but alas, that was not to be. In our minds, however, the crown belonged to Jennifer.
After that, Sugar Puppy and the Lovely Dumplings finally brought the freak. The lithe young Sugar wore a droopy, brown plastic dog mask, a pink Afro wig, a fur-covered swimsuit and a long boa made of what appeared to be willow leaves. She strummed a ukulele and, with great exaggeration, mouthed the words to Judy Garland's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."
Finishing the Garland number, Sugar leaped up, grabbed a picnic basket and began dancing all over the place to an upbeat song. She pulled a handful of Tootsie Pops from her basket and flung them, rainbowlike, across the room. One of them landed a foot away from a woman who had been yelling at a seated man about leaving right now. The woman grabbed the Tootsie Pop, hurled it at Sugar and screamed, "Fuck you!" Then she stormed out.
Aloha! Sugar was a little weird, but sheesh. Maybe the woman felt the whole thing blasphemed Judy Garland. Or maybe it reminded her too much of her last acid trip.
Massive Tassel, an amazing belly-dance troupe, came out next, much to the audience's delight. The entire bar crammed in front of the stage to snap pictures and whistle.
Everyone was drunk and extremely merry at this point, an ideal mood for the finale by pseudo-rap act Baconshoe. The two-piece is notorious for bizarre, grotesque lyrics and a sweltering presence they fry bacon onstage. Some of the crowd backed away, but suburbia, it turns out, was mostly ready for the Donkey Show. At least, ready for the version without the Tijuana donkey.