Waiting for Guffman (1996)
February 22, 2018 6:20 PM - Subscribe

An aspiring director and the marginally talented amateur cast of a hokey small-town Missouri musical production go overboard when they learn that someone from Broadway will be in attendance.

Independent: The film tackles the delusional nature of amateur actors with much the same panache that Spinal Tap skewered heavy metal. These are people with the unwavering certainty that they have what it takes to make great art despite all evidence to the contrary. The irony, of course, is that the actors portraying these characters are skilled performers improvising the dialogue throughout in a manner Larry David would adopt for Curb Your Enthusiasm a couple of years later.

Chicago Tribune: On-screen improvised comedy is usually hit-or-miss and forced. Some of the jokes here are quite funny -- like Dr. Pearl as the eagle-eyed scout going cross-eyed on stage without his glasses or the final wait for Guffman, with Paul Benedict in another sweetly daffy routine. But most of the movie is overbroad and silly. "Guffman" is sometimes as clueless about small towns as those small-towners who think every American metropolis was designed by the planning commission responsible for Sodom and Gomorrah.

Variety: The film assumes that small towns and their residents are, by definition, worthy of ridicule. Blaine was founded when a 19th-century guide told westward-heading settlers that he smelled saltwater and they therefore must have reached the Pacific Ocean, albeit at low tide. This might seem funny sitting around the pool in California, but is not likely to go over well in the heartland.

AV Club: Guest knows that people are never so funny as when they're taking themselves seriously, and, as in Spinal Tap, this knowledge is exploited brilliantly here. Unlike Tap, however, Guffman occasionally comes off as either too mean-spirited or too gentle. After all, small-town middle America is second only to pretentious heavy-metal bands as far as broad satirical targets go, but it's also more likely to provoke sentimentality and bullying. Scenes of natives discussing UFO landings are a little too obvious, and Guest's mincing closet-queen character can wear thin at times. All that aside, it's a very funny, convincingly acted movie made all the more so by its semi-improvisational style.

Roger Ebert: The comic tone of "Waiting for Guffman'' has grown out of Second City and the classic SCTV TV show. Attention is paid not simply to funny characters and punch lines, but to small nudges at human nature. Consider, for example, Bob Balaban in an understated role as the long-suffering local teacher who knows how outrageous Corky St. Clair is, but never quite acts on his knowledge. Or listen to small touches as when the descendant of Blaine's original settlers sighs, "I know how the Kennedys must feel.'' Some of the laughs are so subtle you almost miss them, as when Corky warns the dentist that his oversized plastic glasses would be out of place in a scene set in 1846--but neglects to remember his own earring.


Full movie


Why Parker Posey Was Devastated After Waiting For Guffman, And How Mascots Saved Her

Waiting for Guffman: Ranking the Thespians

Filming locations

"Waiting For Guffman" Is The Funniest Movie You've Probably Never Seen
posted by MoonOrb (23 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Stool boom!!!!!!!! One of my top three songs I sing at the top of my lungs while vacuuming (usually while moving the bar stools out of the way). Always a good movie to rewatch, though not as good as Best in Show or A Mighty Wind.
posted by jenjenc at 6:59 PM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Paul Benedict is in both this and This Is Spinal Tap!
posted by Chrysostom at 7:36 PM on February 22, 2018

if you have been in any amount of community theater productions, Catherine O’Hara’s Acting! strikes that perfect chord of terror in your heart

also I know a kind of Corky St. Clair. he’s not delusional and he’s happy in his town AFAIK, but he is perfectly capable of telling someone “I hate you and I hate your ass face”
posted by Countess Elena at 7:53 PM on February 22, 2018 [5 favorites]

Around our house, anyone we don't like is/are bastard people, and any time one of us asks the other to move something or put it away, the other almost invariably says "You want me to strike it? I've worked with Corky before; I know the lingo."
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:23 AM on February 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

If you haven't already, please watch the deleted scenes..."This Bulging River" is legitimately a great song. The only remains of it in the actual movie are in the melody of the overture.
posted by doctornecessiter at 5:33 AM on February 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

I was expecting Mr. Godot to show up, the writers really missed out on a classic scene.
posted by sammyo at 6:03 AM on February 23, 2018

"Some for selling, some for keeping!"
posted by ian1977 at 7:43 AM on February 23, 2018 [6 favorites]

The town's exteriors were shot in Lockhart, TX about an hour outside of Austin. Anytime I'm visiting, I make sure to take a daytrip there, mainly for the barbecue (which is world class) but also to see Blaine city hall (Caldwell County Courthouse) and Corky's apartment (though I've never climbed the stairs.)
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:16 AM on February 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

I swear, MoonOrb, it's like you're in my head. You keep making posts about movies I recently watched. Are you my cat?
posted by guiseroom at 10:28 AM on February 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

Stop naming nuts!
posted by KatlaDragon at 11:12 AM on February 23, 2018

Stop naming nuts is from Best In Show, not Waiting For Guffman.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:15 AM on February 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

The naming nuts bit is enduring and eternal and it should be in every movie ever made.

Peanut. Hazelnut. Cashew nut.
posted by mochapickle at 11:18 AM on February 23, 2018 [6 favorites]

Ha, yeah, I saw both those movies in the theater and often get them all muddled up in my head but indeed, in every other movie these guys made I found myself wanting for more nuts.
posted by KatlaDragon at 11:20 AM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

There aren’t that many movie scenes that will crack me up no matter how many times I see them, but all the audition scenes in this picture make me lose my shit every single time.
posted by holborne at 6:32 PM on February 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

I love this movie so much. Having been involved in local amateur theatre for decades it strikes so many chords. What I like best about it is that in the production that Corky finally scrapes together (despite the miserliness of the local council -what's a measly million dollars for a one off performance anyway?) the script, directing and acting are so awful (except for the narrator, he's just perfect) but the musical production is so incredibly good.
posted by h00py at 12:28 AM on February 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

That scene in the Chinese place is like every unhappy subruban post war American marriage novel condensed into a stock cube
posted by The Whelk at 5:59 AM on February 24, 2018 [5 favorites]

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t see very well.
posted by The Gooch at 7:06 PM on February 24, 2018 [4 favorites]

the script, directing and acting are so awful (except for the narrator, he's just perfect) but the musical production is so incredibly good.

This parallels what a musician friend of mine said about This is Spinal Tap: the premise is that the band is bad, but the music is really good.

One thing that maybe some drama kids/pros can answer that I've always wondered: there was a scene in which Corky was talking about his career and at one point, I'm not sure if he's talking about Hollywood or the stage in NY but he says something about how he "got the joke." Is there an actual joke, or is it just the notion that, no, you're not going to make it, ha ha?
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:35 PM on February 24, 2018

Oh God, this movie. I saw if for the first time about ten years ago. I happened to catch it on TVO when it was just beginning. I'd never seen it before, and had never even heard of it, so I spent a few minutes trying to figure out what it was and whether it was worth watching. Town Councillor Gwen Fabin-Blunt comparing herself to the Kennedys answered both of those questions for me. I did some acting as a student and so could appreciate the realism of the movie. I had a high school drama teacher who was basically a female Corky Sherwood -- she wasn't a bad teacher, and not a bad director, but owing to her complete lack of self-awareness, she was a horrible playwright and actress, she wore ridiculous clothes (for instance, a top with those crying and laughing masks on them in glitter, worn with very badly cut leather trousers), and she threw pathetically childish tantrums when she didn't get her way.

Small North American towns do do these town origin plays to celebrate their centennial anniversaries. My nephew was in one when he was 13. Almost the only thing that rang false was that the play was put together in such a short time and the actors all took time away from their jobs -- or even quit them(!!!!) -- to be in the production. In real life, community production rehearsals begin months before and are held twice a week and scheduled in the evenings or on weekends.

Just a few months later, I was talking to a co-worker about how he belongs to an amateur rep theatre, and I said to him, "So, is it like Waiting for Guffman?" I think the comparison was a little too close to home, as Paul didn't laugh. He grimaced, and said, grimly, "Sometimes, it's a lot like that."

As other people have already noted, the music *is* utterly professional and damn near perfect. But then it often is in amateur productions. A lot of people think they can act and sing, but no one thinks they can play an instrument unless they can, and so instrumental music is generally left to the competent.

"My first show was Barefoot in the Park, which was an absolute smash, but my production on the stage of Backdraft was what really got them excited. This whole idea of 'In Your Face' theatre really affected them. The conceptualization, the whole abstraction, the obtuseness of this production to me was what was interesting."

"I call them the Lunts of Blaine."

"I was shopping for my wife Bonnie. I buy most of her clothes and Mrs. Pearl was in the same shop! And it just was an accident you know, we started talking... about panty hose, she was saying... whatever that's not the point of the story...."

"People say, 'You must have been the class clown'. And I say, no, I wasn't. But I sat next to the class clown, and I studied him."

"We don't associate with the creative types. We have our Scrabble club. We associate with people with babies."

"Don't get me started about beans."

"He can act and he can sing and he can dance. There's only one other person in the world who can do all that, and that's Barbra Streisand. GOD, I wish I were in the show!!!!"

The deleted scene of Parker Posy's audition monologue is hilariously fucked up.

My favourite joke of all is in the very last minute of the movie, when Corky displays his "The Remains of the Day" lunchbox for the camera.
posted by orange swan at 1:23 PM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I had a high school drama teacher who was basically a female Corky Sherwood

Corky St. Clair. Corky Sherwood was the role Faith Ford played on Murphy Brown.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:58 PM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also: Catherine O'Hara now has her own stamp.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:59 PM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Soooo many things I could say about this movie -- all of which tie into my loving it.

The deleted scene of Parker Posy's audition monologue is hilariously fucked up.


Red, White and Blaine: A Tribute to "Waiting for Guffman"

posted by DrAstroZoom at 8:54 AM on February 26, 2018

posted by mynameisluka at 8:03 PM on March 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

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