At the start of Jim Stafford’s Christmas show, he told the audience he had a special announcement.
“I just signed a new contract with Capitol Records,” said Stafford, who once had a TV show on in the 1970s. “If I buy two CDs every month, they’ll give me an extra one free.”
Anyone who has seen Stafford’s popular show in the heart of Branson
knows to expect the unexpected.
But one thing you can count one from Stafford – two hours of family entertainment with great music, laugh-out-loud comedy and a deep-rooted good nature.
That innate goodness surfaced in his Christmas Show in early November. Stafford asked for applause for the wives of service men who stayed home while their men served their country.
Many Branson shows acknowledge those in the military, but Stafford said one night he was inspired to add a salute to those wives who stayed home, got jobs, raised kids and held the family together while men risked their lives in war.
In an interview with the Tulsa Beacon, the 64-year-old entertainer talked about his show in Branson, his famous friends and what the future might hold.
Back in the 1980s, Stafford had played in Branson for several years, including performances with Roy Clarke.
He was stricken by the number of theaters in this small town in the Ozarks.
Stafford fell in love with Branson and in what seemed at the time to be a risky move, built his theater here.
“I still can’t believe this is happening,” Stafford said in his office at his theater. “I can’t believe I’m here in this toy box. Sometimes, I just walk around backstage and stare. It’s the most wonderful thing. It’s always thrilling to me.”
One of main attractions for performers who settle in Branson has been having audiences come to them rather than being on tour all the time. They get to sleep in their own beds.
“It’s not just getting off the road but it’s getting to play at the same place each night,” Stafford said. “There is quite a list of details that have to be taken care of to put on the show. With the same people and location, all that concern goes away. You more time to work on the show. I get to try a lot of new things.”
Stafford, who was the lead writer for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour for two years in the 1960s, writes about 70 percent of his show. He is meticulous about the material – both the music and the comedy. It pays off in laughs and applause.
He said he has several projects that he hoped to incorporate into the show in 2008 but they aren’t quite finished. Some new elements can take up to six months to perfect.
Instead of changing his whole act periodically, he just plugs in new pieces. He is working on a tongue twister number and a takeoff of the movie Chariots of Fire.
Another piece on Route 66 will feature “Route 76” in reference to the infamous traffic jams in Branson along the main drag.
Some of Stafford’s more familiar hits include “Cow Patti” (complete with complimentary foam cow patties tossed into the audience) and “Spiders and Snakes.”
Stafford hosted 56 episodes of Nashville on the Road. He was on the Tonight Show 26 times and also performed on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. He co-hosted Those Amazing Animals with Burgess Meredith and Priscilla Presley. Stafford is self-taught on guitar, fiddle, piano, banjo, organ and harmonica.
Stafford finds inspiration everywhere – even the Internet. He is fascinated by the wealth of videos on comedy, music and magic on http://www.youtube.com/
“You can see videos of some great guitar players,” Stafford said. “It’s better (for research) than the Library of Congress.”
Not only is the content of Stafford’s show – and almost every show in Branson – suitable for families, Stafford said he draws a lot of children in his audiences.
Almost since their birth, he has incorporated his son Shea (who plays the piano and a mean fiddle) and daughter G.G. (who dances and plays the piano) into his show.
“A lot of my writing is for children,” Stafford said.
Dreams are made in Branson.
“All over town, there are people who come here with a dream,” Stafford said. “In Branson, they might find a place to fulfill that dream. They get to pursue show business.”
Down the street from his theater, Stafford said there is a wonderful Elvis impersonator working the crowd at McDonalds.
Stafford was with a friend in another restaurant when he heard a wonderful singer, saw a talented magician and heard a comedian during lunch.
“Where else in the world can you go to lunch and see four or five acts like that in a Cracker Barrel restaurant,” he asked.
Stafford’s show, like many in Branson, respects Christian faith and the traditional values of America.
During the Christmas show, Stafford’s wife, Ann recites One Solitary Life, a beautiful essay on the impact of Jesus. Every Sunday morning, The Jim Stafford Theatre
converts from a theater to a local church.
One thing you can’t find in Branson is gambling. Consistent with its clean-cut, family image, entertainers and businessmen in Branson led the fight against bringing in casinos a few years ago.
Had the gambling advocates won that battle, Branson would have changed forever, he said.
“People would still come here for the shows, but it would have been a different set of people,” Stafford said.
Entertainer Wayne Newton brought his Las Vegas-style act to Branson for a while but then left. Stafford said Newton, a good friend, left because he was offered more money in Vegas.
“What people don’t know about Wayne Newton is that he pays his own way to entertain the troops overseas,” Stafford said. “Wayne has probably been to Iraq more than any other entertainer.”
At 64, Stafford shows no signs of slowing down. An avid tennis players, he works hard to keep in shape so he can sing and dance at the levels audiences have come to expect.
His friends Tommie and Dick Smothers are in their middle 70s and still performing. In Branson, Stafford’s buddy Andy Williams
is still doing shows in his 80s. “Andy is amazing,” Stafford said.
His father was 86 and going strong when he passed away.
“(Humorist/pianist) Victor Borge was still performing in his 90s,” Stafford said. “I am going to do it as long as I can do it. Hopefully, my kids will take on more and more of the show. I think Shea will be a unique magician and I think G.G. will develop into a comedienne. I feel good about the future.”
Stafford performs almost year long but November and December are special. His Christmas show is at 8 p.m. every day in November (except Nov. 14 and 21) and he does a 3 p.m. matinee on Nov. 18, 20 and 28.
The two-hour Christmas show runs until Dec. 13, with one 8 p.m. show each night except on Dec. 4 and 11.
His regular show resumes on Dec. 27 and then he ends the years with a special 3-hour show (9 p.m. to midnight) on New Year’s Eve.
Restrooms are available during the show’s intermission.
Stafford tells a story about the rural roots of his late father, who wandered out into the parking lot during the intermission of another Branson show, thinking that the facilities were outside.
He couldn’t find an outhouse but then he looked up and saw the logo for Andy Williams’ huge “Moon River Theater.”
It seats over 2,000 and that’s all Jim Stafford’s daddy needed to hear.
Information courtesy of Tulsa Beacon