“Tradition!” cries Tevye the dairyman in the village of Anatevka in 1905, as he, his wife, Goldie, and their five daughters cope with life in Fiddler on the Roof.
“Tradition!” was also the Hummers (and Stingers) on display at the end of the state House sessions for more than 35 of the past 40 years. Whenever Democrats are the minority House party, the Hummers perform with “digs” at the majority legislators. When Republicans are the minority party, the performance is labeled “the Stingers.”
“Tradition!” partly ended in 2003. The minority Democrats were just too exhausted and angry to be amusing. The show was going to be based on Fiddler on the Roof.
The Democrats were angry because, near the end of the session, Republicans attempted to again revise congressional district boundaries that had just been revised in 2002.
In 2007, according to a Rocky Mountain News article, “the minority GOP nixed coming up with a show after stinging criticism of last year’s (2006) effort, when even Republicans thought their effort bombed in part because it was so mean-spirited.”
“Mean-spirited” is another word for “angry.”
This year, according to a brief mention in the RMN, House Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, announced the restoration of the show, to be written and performed by the Republicans.
Personally, I always thought the Hummers were there all session — that my seat on the floor was a ticket to a great show. I never knew from day to day what I would encounter: comedy, drama, an intelligent discussion, anger, sweetness.
If we look at tradition, the road to an amusing but biting Hummers or Stinger show becomes clear.
The shows traditionally are performed during one of the last days of the session and last 60 to 75 minutes. They should be presented after lunch, when the House technically is not in session.
Avoid complicated scripts, elaborate costumes, numerous props and endless rehearsals. The longer the show, the less funny it becomes.
Hummers got on track by centering the show on simple, formulaic models, such as Jeopardy, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and The Wizard of Oz, and handing out prizes and one-liners interspersed with some singing based on well-known musical standards.
A short skit can work. In 2002, a legislator was all wrapped up in crime-scene tape. He had sponsored a bill on property forfeiture in criminal cases and was getting a little payback. In the skit, a state trooper jokingly tied Shawn Mitchell to his chair by taping around his arms. Mitchell was informed his sale would be without a public hearing because he was considered a public nuisance.
Each year, specific awards do not really have to change. The recipients change. Here are some that are always amusing:
• “Come down to the front and get your award! Everyone says you are playing with half a deck. So, to make up for it, here is the other half.” (Hand over giant playing cards.)
• “We’d like to make you ‘King for a Day’ with a pass into Democratic leadership.”
• “For being herself, the ‘Uptight Award.’”
• “The ‘Cow Bell Award,’ for showing true natural skills in methodically moving from one desk to the
next, munching any and all food in sight.”
• “This legislator left the House and ran for the Senate because she was told older men in the Senate had nicer buns.”
• The “Fun at the Noon Hour Award,” consisting of four martinis presented to four legislators.
• “This legislator is one of the common people. You can’t find anyone more common. He never has to worry about his station in life. Everyone tells him where to get off. He has a surefire way of handling temptation. He yields to it.”
• “This legislator hasn’t been himself lately, and everyone has noticed the improvement. He dines with the brass. No one would trust him with the silver.”
• “For the most consistent reliance on organic foods, the ‘Natural Gas’ award.”
• “This legislator wanted to and might have, but didn’t and won’t.”
• “And ‘The Whiner Award’ goes to….”
• “When this legislator was promoted to the third grade, he was so thrilled he could hardly shave.”
• “For the best living demonstration of the majority party, however elusive, to fill old voided space, the ‘Gasous Defense’ award.”
• “She doesn’t have an enemy in the world. She has outlived them all.”
• “This legislator told voters, ‘I never stole anything in my life. All I want is a chance.’”
The Republicans might award the following two (all in fun) to the majority party members:
• “In the old days, they used to laugh at “jokes” down here. Now they mean the chairman.”
• “This legislator receives the ‘Bare Bones Award’ for paring the budget.”
Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House and has collected scripts from many Hummers and Stinger shows.