Michael Perry: How Ya Doin’ is a new television special with an old twist.
In the program, premiering 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 5 on Wisconsin Public Television, celebrated Wisconsin author and humorist Michael Perry looks back on his Clodhopper tales of life in Wisconsin with an eye toward the ways his stories of the past connect us to the future. Checking in from north of Wisconsin’s Highway 64, Perry reflects on the people and places that shaped his life, while sharing stories relatable to every Wisconsinite.
Laurie Gorman and Grant Fenster, co-producers of Michael Perry: How Ya Doin’, sat down with us to discuss the upcoming special.
Read on to learn more from the people who put this new program together!
What does this special look like and how did it come about?
LG: This is a collection of Clodhopper essays. We have to give a lot of credit to not only Michael but [WPT producer] Andy Moore and [former WPT videographer] Wendy Woodard. They produced this series of essays about 12 or 13 years ago as a feature on our Friday night news and public affairs show, Here and Now. There’s a bunch of them; I took a look and thought, “We can put something together here and make a show out of it.”
I approached Michael with the idea and he was game. He wrote some new material to introduce the concept and to transition us between stories. We worked with him on the script, Grant went out and did the shoot in September and edited it all together, and now we’re ready for air.
GF: It’s a retrospective show. He’s looking back at these old pieces he’s done. The show is all about change; he’s looking at what’s different, what’s the same, why that’s good, why that’s bad. We go along on that adventure with him. It’s a good time.
LG: There are some really key moments that highlight the passage of time. There’s one story that was produced years ago where he’s sitting by the corn crib and the camera pans off to the left to an open field. We then dissolve to a present-day version of that same exact shot and you can see how the land and the landscape have changed. I think the first time Michael saw that he was pretty amazed at the changes.
And he has less hair…
I was looking at the promo and saw that he had a mullet in some of the old stories.
LG: Yes. He doesn’t want to talk about the mullet.
GF: He refers to it as the “skullet.” It’s vintage Michael Perry. He’s looking at his version of Wisconsin and musing about these fun different aspects of it.
LG: It has a nice balance. He has a real reverence for Wisconsin, but he’s also able to laugh at himself and us.
What is the significance of the title?
GF: He started every single one of the old essays that way, and we wanted it to be inviting for viewers.
What is it about Michael Perry and his stories that seem to connect so well with audiences?
GF: He’s a rural philosopher, and he doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s just a brilliant guy. He can tap into something that you might think seems small or mundane and be pretty profound about it in a humorous way.
What was it like working with him now, putting together this special?
GF: He’s great to work with. I didn’t do those old pieces, so this was my first experience with him. We did a couple of pre-production meetings just to get to know each other and hammer out the concept. He was very open; he is what you see on there.
Of the old stories, which one is your favorite?
LG: I love “Chopping Firewood.” I still chuckle at that line when he says, “I chop my own wood because I’m a man.” It has such a nice payoff as he’s walking away. The mumblings he does. It’s a nice signature moment.
GF: I think my favorite is probably “Farm Auction.” I think he’s got some great jokes in there. I grew up in a rural area and was exposed to a lot of farm auctions, so it was familiar in that sense: just the idea of him having to put on this persona, and not just him specifically but anyone. You’ve got this code that you’ve got to abide by while you’re at the farm auction, even to the point where he demonstrates how many degrees you should nod your head when bidding.
It was fun from an editing point, too, because we could find some music stings to extenuate jokes.
How do you think WPT audiences will react to the prospect of a new Michael Perry special?
LG: We put the promo on Facebook and it’s already had a huge response, so I think it’s going to do really well. Our audience intersects with his audience. It’s a good fit.
You had a sold-out live event recently in Eau Claire as well, right?
LG: A screening in Eau Claire at the Pablo Center. Which was great.
GF: That’s when you can finally be relaxed, in the sense that they were laughing when you were expecting them to laugh and they even laughed in parts where we were unsure. We can watch it a hundred times ourselves, but when you finally watch it with other people you pick up on other things.
LG: It got a great, warm reception.
Photo credit for featured image: Lee Butterworth.