As one of the evening's guests joins her on the dais, Dawn Brodey jokes to the audience, “God, I just got 35 percent better-looking, didn't I? I'm certainly the cutest bitch on the couch.”
Brodey's use of the B-word isn't just for shock; she means it literally.
A feisty redhead, Brodey is the host of the monthly oddball variety show Trailer Trash Talent Review, held in the rec room at the Balboa RV Park in Van Nuys. Her guest this week is Sweepee Rambo, a 17-year-old Chinese crested chihuahua with milky eyes and a shock of scraggly white hair, who was recently crowned “Official Ugliest Dog in the World 2016.” Sweepee's owner, an imposing bearded man named Jason, informs Brodey that the dog even has professional headshots. “To those of you who may not be in the entertainment business,” Brodey says, “that's a critical tool … that Sweepee and I share.” Sweepee, however, doesn't have an agent.
“I'm doing slightly better, then,” Brodey concludes, to laughter from an audience peppered somewhat liberally with uncomfortable elderly people who have perhaps just pulled into the park for the day.
While a lot of comedians archly comment on the perceived redneck demographic, and many others claim to be from that oft-maligned yet exotically appreciated subgrouping — see the entire Blue Collar Comedy universe — this is probably the only significant comedy show held in the community center of an actual trailer park.
Brodey, a native of rural central Wisconsin, feels uniquely equipped to simultaneously honor, satirize and tweak the cultural grouping that's often — perhaps unfairly — referred to as “trailer trash.”
“I grew up on a dead-end road that led to 85 acres of unfarmable land in an unincorporated town that didn't get a name, it got a district number, like in The Hunger Games,” Brodey says. “We used to lay in the middle of the highway and look at the stars, 'cause there was so little traffic it was certain that no car would come along. If they did, we'd see the headlights for miles.”
In a world where image and persona may not always square with the objective reality of one's history — Jeff Foxworthy grew up the son of an IBM executive in Atlanta; Kid Rock's family owned car dealerships, horses and an apple orchard — Brodey feels genuinely comfortable among this milieu. She and her husband currently call the RV park home.
“I've always felt most at home among 'trash,'” she confides. “As much as growing up in the middle of nowhere does that — my dad is a butcher, my mom is a secretary — there was a rejection of what they would call 'highfalutin' people.”
Brodey also credits a couple of key periods of her adult life with molding her legitimate appreciation for those who make the most with very little, materially.
After going to Minneapolis to earn degrees in theater and history from the University of Minnesota — a decidedly un–trailer trash endeavor — Brodey lived for years on a houseboat on the Mississippi River in St. Paul, where she became part of an informal fraternity of eccentric individualists called “river rats,” while simultaneously pursuing acting and comedy gigs.
The freezing-cold winters and inconveniences of the marine life were more than offset by the inspiring location and the neighbors, who were full of life and possessed a plethora of compelling stories.
Cut to 2015, when Brodey and her husband, filmmaker Andrew Melby, drove their 1971 Avion camper to L.A. and settled in the Balboa RV Park, adjacent to Van Nuys Airport.
Less than a year after moving here, Brodey started Trailer Trash Talent Review — which she describes as “Jimmy Fallon meets Hee Haw — in her own backyard, so to speak, with the full support and cooperation of the trailer park's owner, as well as the maintenance crew and the other residents.
An average TTTR show is standing room-only and features some generous combination of musical guest, comedian, burlesque dancer and “off-the-wall element,” such as the “World's Ugliest Dog” or a professional stuntwoman who staged a mock beating of Brodey in the parking lot. A bunch of successful actors have been guests, with a cast member of the Amazon series Transparent expected for September, and during every show an audience member's name is picked from a hat with the option of getting interviewed onstage by Brodey.
“At the risk of sounding clichéd, one man's trash is another man's treasure,” Brodey says. “How often do we look through the garbage heap to find the diamonds?”
The next Trailer Trash Talent Review features actors Cleo King and Alex MacNicoll, singer-songwriter Kevin Yee and stand-up comedian Nnete Inyangumia.
Balboa RV Park, 7740 Balboa Blvd., Van Nuys; Sun., Sept. 25, 7:30-9 p.m.; free. dawnbrodey.com/trailer-trash-talent-revue.html.