By Micah Lally
There are cult media followings everywhere, from TV shows, bands, and films. Most rise due to their underground novelty or indie status, garnering attention because it flips the script or pushes boundaries. But the Park Grubbs Tapes reached new heights in the 1980s, offering a good time via recorded, obscene, prank phone calls. Call to Okies: The Park Grubbs Story shines a light on the elaborate scheme that became notorious, simply by being shared hand-to-hand. While Park Grubbs’ true identity is never discovered, Bradley Beesley and Ben Steinbauer use some truly innovative editing, interviewing, and storytelling, to give the history of the man who rocked Oklahoma’s sleepy nature and earned fans as famous as The Flaming Lips.
This 18-minute documentary puts its focus on the story behind the legendary Park Grubbs and the impact his shenanigans had on the community. The enigmatic ringleader of the group who rose to underground notoriety by imitating a grumpy, old, southern, man at the age of 17 opts out of being interviewed, but the recounts of the rest of the crew behind his prank calls paint a portrait of absolute, genuine, delinquent fun. With a recorder and a lot of improvisation, Park Grubbs would call up unsuspecting adults for one made up reason or another. Most victims were good sports about it, but others were offended by his crass, inappropriate conversation. That’s what made the tapes so hilarious and popular.
Beesley and Steinbauer showed true ingenuity by retelling the story of Park Grubbs through personal anecdotes of those involved. It gives the documentary a very sincere, good-natured feeling that parallels how most pranks are received: annoying, but also fun. The ringleader said it best when he declined to be a part of the film, stating that he “…was making my own entertainment in a boring, stuffy town.”
Park Grubbs was meant to be no more and no less than entertainment. But it went far beyond that, as the testimonials of friends and fans alike tell. The interviews are pieced together well, offering a complete story without drawing out the facts and figures in a way that would be considered “boring,” a stigma in which many documentaries are wary.
Ron Pippin and Mike Melendi’s unique editing method also keeps the film engaging by animating the tape recordings in such a quirky art style. Creating a visual project centered on audiotapes could have been a disaster, but the clever use of drawings and the interviewees saying the recordings from memory makes all the difference.
Though the crew did a great job with creating a complete, finished product, one has to take their hats off to all of the Park Grubbs victims that were interviewed. Every single one had a good humor about them and were willing to talk about their experience. Some of the calls were downright offensive, but those involved were happy to laugh about it years later. Their good nature enforces the positive, nostalgic vibe that Beesley and Steinbauer implement into the film, presenting the Park Grubbs story as a fun phenomenon rather than a disruptive nuisance.
Documentaries aren’t for everyone, but this thorough look into what sparked such a crazy prank and how it rose to notoriety is such a fun film that most would be able to smile at its absurdity. The appearances of Wayne Coyne, Steven Drozd, and Tyson Meade, definitely don’t hurt. Their endorsements and musical contributions are the icing on the cake. What feels like an investigation into some secret joke that no one else gets makes “Call to Okies: The Park Grubbs Story” a true welcome into an exclusive club of pranksters.