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The Sanka in her Styrofoam cup sloshes side to side as her zirconia-studded hand quivers. A chatterbox when she's nervous, Miss Richfield 1981 confesses that she is "on pins and needles" as she awaits her turn on stage at the New York comedy club Catch a Rising Star. "I feel like I'm in one of those pressure cookers," she whispers. "It's like the very first time I called bingo at the Fred B. Babcock VFW!"
She's second to last in a June 8 program dubbed "laugh OUT loud," one of nearly 100 events that make up the sixth-annual Toyota Comedy Festival, held in early June. The raven-haired Twin Cities beauty queen (the creation of Russ King) is testing the East Coast waters with a pure stand-up routine. Tonight, she's part of a talented line-up billed as "NYC's freshest and funniest Gay comics."
The small entourage of fans traveling with Miss R. grows more nervous by the minute. Will a New York crowd cotton to a homespun Minnesota personality? Careers catch fire or fizzle in New York, and there are rumors that several important talent scouts are among the 100 people in the house--perhaps even representatives from Comedy Central. At the urging of his fellow Twin Citians, Mark Addicks, who helps write and produce Miss Richfield's shows, slips backstage to make sure the hometown gal is OK. After all, there's still time to back out. But Addicks returns with a smile and reports: "She's going to do it!"
Just two nights before, Miss Richfield presented "Color Me Richfield," an amalgam of her music-and-musings schtick, to a full house at Here, an eclectic SoHo art center. The queen of suburban chic and her cast--Drew Jansen as nerdy Burt Olafson, accompanist Rhoda Reighard, Steve Herzog as wide-eyed Barbie "Q," and Mattress Fever as the leggy Krystal Kleer--drew an enthusiastic response.
Hailing taxis and strutting along Central Park pathways, the smart-suited lass draws plenty of stares from passersby. "Hi-dee-ho!" she waves to gawkers in Midtown Manhattan. Rousting her cast from their hotel beds and putting a scarf over her head, she makes her way to Rockefeller Center for the live broadcast of Today. It's not the first time she's caught the camera's eye, standing amid the crowds at the edge of the barricade. Last August she flickered across the TV screens of the nation's living rooms in a brief sidewalk interview with host Matt Lauer. "Remember me?" she says as she shakes hands with host Katie Couric. "Who could forget?" replies Lauer.
At Catch a Rising Star that night, emcee and New York drag sensation Hedda Lettuce asks the audience to give a warm welcome for the performer who hails "all the way from Minnesota." A collective gasp goes up as Miss Richfield appears on stage, but astonishment quickly turns to laughter as Miss Richfield hugs her hostess, using extra care not to crush the corsage of Minnesota wildflowers affixed to her bodice. Dressed in a sassy cocktail dress brimming with sea-foam green sequins and white ruffles that wrap around her hips, she steps up to the microphone.
"THANK YOU EVERYONE!" she booms.
The audience is startled but amused. "For those of you out there with whom I am not familiar, my title is Miss Richfield 1981, but you can call me Miss Richfield 1981. And you," she adds, pointing to a clean-cut lad sitting next to the stage, "can call me tonight!"
Within seven well-paced minutes, she not only delivers greetings from "the friendly citizens and responsible merchants" in Richfield, Minn., a place where "butter is a spice" and "the homes are mobile and most of the cars aren't," she also manages to charm the crowd.
"There's a reason this trip to New York has been so important to me," she continues. "You see, I am twice blessed in the department of spirituality: I am half Jewish and half Lutheran. Unfortunately my father says I'm only Jewish from the waist up, so I'm very entertaining, but terribly lonely."
The audience is transfixed. John Schreiber, producer of the festival, will later describe Miss Richfield as "the surprise hit" of the festival. "The show has the potential to become a very funny, popular act," he'll say. "Miss Richfield will be back sooner rather than later. She definitely developed a constituency."
But it's Miss Richfield's performance of her signature number "L-O-V-E" that earns her accolades at Catch. Lip-synching the words of the song, she stands on her head and spells out the title with her shapely legs. The number is over the top, and tonight it earns Miss Richfield plenty of laughs and a standing ovation from the audience. "It's the song that made me what I am today," she explains, before launching into the routine. "It's what won me my title. It's a tune my Mother taught me many, many years ago."
Her dazzling New York review earns Miss Richfield an invitation from Hedda Lettuce to appear at Barracuda Lounge in Chelsea two days later.
Now, back in the Twin Cities, Miss Richfield and cast are prepping for a reprisal of their New York show, slated for the Illusion Theater later this month. But, has urban success put a glint in the suburban gal's eye? Will Miss Richfield abandon Lutheran Land for the Big Apple? "Oh, Metropolis does have its charms," she admits coyly. "How can you not like a town with that many shoe stores? But I've already got tenure at the U.S. Postal Service, and I'm sure the nearest trailer park is in Jersey--so where would I live? You can bet you're ruby slippers, there's no place like home.'"
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