UPDATED — The joke’s on them, and Haysville leaders and residents are not amused.
“We request that you remove all jokes about Haysville and other area communities from Gridiron,” said Haysville Mayor Bruce Armstrong in a Thursday e-mail to several people involved with the show.
Gridiron is an annual satirical production put on by the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists to spoof the news and raise scholarship money for journalism students.
Armstrong said “compromising the well being of the citizens and businesses of Haysville with snide, hurtful and untrue remarks is not an acceptable means to securing the funds for those scholarships.”
Armstrong’s wife, Susan Armstrong of Armstrong Chamberlin Strategic Marketing, also wrote to “respectfully request that you reconsider any skits that portray an entire city–any city–as ignorant or toothless, or cheap. It’s the equivalent of bullying, and it shouldn’t be done.”
She said that “Haysville is growing weary of having our whole community portrayed as illiterate bumpkins. We are working hard to improve the awareness of all the wonderful qualities our city has to offer. Every time you mention Haysville at Gridiron, you hurt our efforts.”
John Burke, superintendent of schools for Haysville USD 261, wrote, “I find this counterproductive to our image campaign and am respectively requesting that you stop making fun of Haysville as part of your production.”
One resident wrote to invite those involved with Gridiron to visit Haysville for a tour – along with coming up with new material and giving Haysville a break.
Sedgwick County Commissioner Tim Norton, who regularly attends Gridiron and spars with the cast, says enough probably is enough.
“Well, I’ve always been a very, very good sport with the sarcasm, the innuendo, the poking and everything,” he says. Norton says, though, the joke is wearing thin.
He says the idea of protesting the Gridiron Haysville jokes sprang from Haysville Forward, which is what he calls the city’s economic development and marketing think tank.
“They just think that this is kind of an anchor for what they’re trying to do,” Norton says of combating negative stereotypes of the city.
Though Gridiron is hardly the only group that teases Haysville and its denizens, Norton says it’s a good place to start.
Denise Neil, a features writer for The Eagle who also is Gridiron’s producer, says she’s surprised that anyone from Haysville thinks Gridiron jokes could affect business or anything else.
“If only we were so influential,” she says.
“Usually, people consider it a compliment when they get on Gridiron’s radar and we know for a fact many people come just to see if they’ll be mentioned. The show tends to skewer all parties equally.”
Neil thinks the Haysville jokes date to the 1960s or ’70s.
“It’s really morphed into a bit of its own,” she says. “The emcee makes a disparaging joke about Haysville, and Tim Norton stands up and boos. The audience loves it.”
Gridiron, which started in 1967, is the longest continuous Gridiron in the country and has raised about $218,000 in scholarships.
This year’s show is April 10-12 at the Orpheum Theatre.
Though Haysville residents hope to not be included in this year’s show, their requests may backfire on them.
“Well, the joke certainly changes at this point,” Neil says. “Now the joke’s about the fact that they’re offended by our jokes.”
She says it’s all in good fun, though.
“We certainly don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Gridiron loves Haysville.”
Armstrong says he’s not joking that the jokes must cease.
“I would hope they truly get the message because if they don’t, we will go further with it,” he says. “I think it will hurt their cause.”
Regardless of what happens with Gridiron, it may be too late to stop new jokes and comments from others over Haysville’s response. Facebook is attracting a lot of them.
“Heck…I remember when Gridiron picked on Derby,” wrote Steve Gladfelter. “Why not use El Dorado!? We would be proud to be immortalized by Gridiron!”
Former Wichita school board member Chip Gramke wrote, “Gridiron made fun of me a lot. I deserved it.”
In a phone conversation, he added, “Basically if you take yourself that seriously, you’re probably in the wrong business.”
Haysville resident Mike Shatz wrote, “There is a lot of things the leaders here could do to change people’s perception of Haysville, but criticizing Gridiron is not one of them…”
This post from advertising writer Bob Hamrick got a quick response for help with Gridiron script writing. It could be a Gridiron Haysville skit in the making.
“Look, Daddy!” Hamrick wrote. “Teacher says every time Gridiron tells a Haysville joke an angel loses a tooth…”