The residents of Korn County will bring their music and laughter to Wamego for the 10th year beginning Friday.
The 10th annual production of “Hoo Haw,” the Columbian Theatre’s answer to the classic country comedy variety show “Hee Haw,” brings back familiar characters like Minnie Pearl and Junior Samples, portrayed by actors who have been playing them for years.
“I come back because of the fellowship and the relationships I’ve found,” said Drew Horton, who plays the Junior Samples character among others. “We’re friends who enjoy coming together and making dumb jokes.”
When the first “Hoo Haw” hit the stage, the band was little more than a fiddle and a guitar. With time and increased success, the show has incorporated the Pott County Posse, a band from Wamego that offers a much fuller sound, as well as the Hoo Haw Vocal Band, a barbershop quartet.
“The music is phenomenal,” said Mindy Thierolf, who has been in the show every year since it began.
Although “Hee Haw” aired for more than 20 years in various forms, “Hoo Haw” cast members say they still find it hard to explain to people exactly what to expect.
“I say it’s like a country version of ‘Saturday Night Live,’” said Christie Horton, another cast member.
Like both “Hee Haw” and “SNL,” the show has a series of recurring sketches, staples that are performed every year. The most recognizable of these, cast said, are those including the Minnie Pearl character, which has been portrayed by Shelley Rickstrew for all 10 years.
Rickstrew said people have approached her and called her “Minnie” occasionally over the years.
“It’s fun to be recognized for being someone so funny,” Rickstrew said.
They also experiment with new sketches and jokes from year to year.
The sketches, updated with new jokes each year and written mostly by director and cast member Troy Hemphill, are laced with wellknown country and gospel songs such as “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Wayfaring Stranger.”
Hemphill took over directing responsibilities when the show was in its fourth year, and cast members said his efforts have helped to keep the show afloat.
“We call him the conductor of the train,” Thierolf said. “We wouldn’t even be on the tracks without him.”
Hemphill is one of many who throws himself into the show every year. They’ve done so many shows together, they’re like family, Christie Horton said.
Horton and her husband, Drew, celebrated their fourth anniversary on Thursday with a “Hoo Haw” rehearsal. They even performed a show on their wedding day.
“We kept joking that were having a Hoo Haw honeymoon,” she said. “We didn’t want to let our ‘Hoo Haw’ family down. It was fun.”
Thierolf said the show has helped her through difficult times as well. Her mother died on the morning of opening night last year. She knew her mother was in poor health and others had told her they could adjust to her absence, but that it might be good for her.
“They told me, ‘You can use all the laughs you can get right now,’” Thierolf said. “These guys helped me through all of it.”
With those kind of tight-knit relationships, it’s not a surprise that the actors return every year, despite others waiting in the wings to take their place. Rickstrew said people ask about the show and how they can get involved.
“We have a good time, and people want to be a part of it,” Rickstrew said. “You don’t want to quit because you want to get your spot back.”
Drew Horton said the audience members also feel that connection and enjoy feeling like they are a part of it.
“It’s a good country feeling on the stage and in the audience,” he said.