On Saturday, Feb. 6, 1993, the Garrens Comedy Troupe had their first sellout show — all 319 seats in room 2084 (no longer there) of the Jesse Knight Humanities Building (now the Jesse Knight Building) at Brigham Young University (still called that, for now).
We had just started performing two weeks earlier. We achieved the sellout by advertising heavily at the dorms called Deseret Towers (no longer in existence), where two other cast members and I lived. DT was having a big dance the same night as our show, and we put up flyers everywhere imploring people to come see the Garrens before the dance. Which they did! Many audience members were wearing their formal attire as they laughed merrily at our mirth-making.
The next night, Sunday, Feb. 7, 85-year-old Howard W. Hunter, second highest official in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was speaking to a packed BYU Marriott Center audience when a crazy guy rushed the stage and held the place hostage with a bomb threat.
I was there with 18,000 of my fellow students. Here’s what I wrote in my journal later that night, before I saw any news reports. This was based on my own observations from up in the nosebleed seats, combined with information I gleaned afterward from others who were closer to the action:
Just seconds after Hunter began speaking, a man dressed in a nice suit, hair slicked back in a ponytail, rushed the podium. He had a suitcase containing a bomb and a detonator. He told everyone on the stand ([BYU president] Rex Lee, various stake presidents), except Hunter, they had 10 seconds to get off the stand. They did so quickly.
The bad guy had a sheet of paper that he apparently wanted Hunter to read — a statement to make. Hunter stood there at the podium and was silent, merely regarding the man without really acknowledging him. The man kept various people at bay, warning them not to come any closer.
The several thousand people in attendance were on their feet, watching. A couple of women yelled at the man not to do anything. Many people were crying. Many others were praying.
As the stand off on the floor continued, some people in one corner of the Marriott Center began singing, softly at first, “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet.” The singing floated up softly, and picked up volume and intensity as more and more people joined in. We sang all three verses, loudly and powerfully, and then went on to “I Am a Child of God.”… We were powerless to stop the man physically, so we sang at him instead, just to let him know that 10,000 of us [actually more like 18,000] were against him.
Finally, several security guards and others, perhaps on a cue, rushed the man and tackled him. A mob of perhaps 30 men fell upon him then, wresting the suitcase and detonator from his hands and subduing him. The crowd began to sing “The Spirit of God.” When the man was taken out — carried, actually, as he was fully bound from head to toe — the crowd applauded wildly. Then, when it became apparent that President Hunter was OK, they applauded again, only without cheering. It was simply strong, sustained clapping.
Hunter went ahead and gave his talk, which was on adversity and fear, oddly enough.
(One detail I didn’t mention in my journal that soon became infamous was that after the man was subdued, one of the mob of guys subduing him shouted, “Don’t mess with the elders of Israel!”)
Here’s video of Elder Hunter beginning the talk and being interrupted. We don’t see the offender, but we hear him giving instructions before the feed cuts out and goes to a “Technical Difficulties” screen (I guess they didn’t have a “Bomb Threat” card handy.)
Here’s the text of the talk he gave. He was only on the first sentence when he was interrupted. When he resumed, he gave the talk just as he’d prepared it — with one ad-lib. As the video below shows, at the beginning of the third paragraph, after he said “Life has a fair number of challenges in it,” he couldn’t help but smile, and the audience laughed at what now felt like a significant understatement. He added, “…as demonstrated by…” and then let the thought trail off as he and the congregation laughed some more.
The next day, BYU’s Daily Universe had multiple stories about the incident, which the paper was calling “The Marriott Center Ordeal.” (That part, giving the incident a name like CNN would do, doesn’t get mentioned in the reminiscences.) It was as big a news story as any of us had ever personally witnessed. It had been genuinely upsetting: We thought Elder Hunter’s life was in danger, and possibly ours too. It could have been a disaster. The Garrens and I had been keeping our eyes peeled for BYU-centric events and trends to make jokes about, but this, obviously, was too serious to touch.
And then more facts came out. Turns out the crazy guy, named Cody Judy, hadn’t had weapons of any kind. His “detonator” was a telephone handset wrapped in black tape. His briefcase had not contained a “bomb” but a “BOM” — a copy of the Book of Mormon. Judy claimed to have been in contact with Moses and other ancient prophets. What he had wanted was for Elder Hunter to read a statement in which he and the other LDS authorities would step down and let Cody Judy be the new prophet of the church, as this was something that God had revealed to Cody Judy (which is nonsense, as God obviously does not reveal things to people named “Cody”).
Once it was confirmed that no one was ever actually in danger, and once we found out that Cody Judy was a (mostly) harmless loon, it seemed to me, mathematically, that there was no reason not to write sketches about it. I wrote three, and Marc wrote one (the best one, it turned out).
We met at Jenni and Julia’s apartment Tuesday nights to discuss new sketches for that week’s show. Ken said he remembers me coming in and saying, “Is it too soon to do Cody Judy sketches?” and that the idea had not occurred to Ken until that moment. It was a risky endeavor. This was Tuesday; the show was Friday. Based on conditions now, we had to forecast what the audience’s mood would be in 72 hours. We plunged ahead.
None of the sketch titles in the printed program hinted that there was any Marriott Center Ordeal content in the show (“Competency Interview,” maybe, if you were looking for clues). We opened with a harmless Valentine’s Day-themed sketch.
The second slot was always a fake TV commercial (like “SNL” does after the host’s monologue), so here’s where we put our first Cody Judy sketch: a commercial for Crazy Eddie’s House of Insensitive Commercialization, with me as loud, vaguely Southern pitchman Crazy Eddie, whose storeroom was full-to-burstin’ with merchandise from the Marriott Center Ordeal!
High-quality collectors’ items, like —
“I Survived the Marriott Center Ordeal” T-shirts!
Collectible coffee mugs!
“Don’t Mess with the Elders of Israel” keychains!
For the kids, toy detonators! (holds up phone receiver)
Sure, the Daily Universe is selling reprints of its coverage for a quarter, but we’re REALLY trying to make a fast buck!
How about these handy Rumor Clarification Charts? Attach them to your phone for when your parents and friends from back home call you with their heads all full of wacky misinformation! (picks up phone to demonstrate) No… no, Mom… no, weren’t nobody got blowed up by nothing.
So come on down to Crazy Eddie’s House of Insensitive Commercialization! If you get here before midnight, we’ll throw in this set of Marriott Center Ordeal action figures, absolutely free!
I’m Crazy Eddie, I’m insensitive, and I’m just out to make a buck! See ya!
We had props for each of the named items, but since this wasn’t TV and there weren’t close-ups, we didn’t bother to create them accurately or in detail. The action figures were just a couple of random action figures somebody had. (It’s just as well. The idea of an apostle action figure is funny, but actually seeing it would probably feel sacrilegious.) The lone exception was the T-shirt, which we did get made. Producing a physical product for the sake of a dumb joke is an awesome thing.
Crazy Eddie went over great. We followed it immediately with Marc’s sketch (here’s the script), purporting to be a TV movie about Cody Judy’s early life, where 3-year-old Cody (played by Marc) takes his Primary class1 hostage with a jar of bugs that he threatens to smash open with a hammer. The class distracts him by singing “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,” and when they rush him somebody yells, “Don’t mess with the Sunbeams of Israel!” It turns out the “hammer” is just some Legos wrapped in black tape and the “bugs” are just raisins.
We were nervous about this sketch. We felt OK joking about the subject in general, but here we were essentially recreating the incident, beat for beat. We didn’t want to trigger anyone’s feelings of fear, which had been very real at the time. Apprehensive about seeming to make light of something that had been (even removed from its context) an inspiring moment — a congregation spontaneously singing a hymn — we didn’t have the children sing “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam” before jumping Cody. When the sketch went over well, we reinstated that for the subsequent performances. We also didn’t think of having someone yell, “Don’t mess with the Sunbeams of Israel!” until after the show, so that, too, was not introduced until the second performance.
But the sketch killed. It slew. Many were slain by it. Part of the reason was diminutive Marc Shaw, who had skipped a year of grade school and wouldn’t be 18 for another few weeks, who played Cody with the perfect amount of 3-year-old belligerence. The beginning silliness with the other children, unrelated to the plot, also helped establish the benignity of the situation. Our version paralleled the real incident, but reduced it to an absurd scenario with low stakes … which is what the real incident had turned out to be, too. We could laugh at it, and even sort of laugh at ourselves for having been scared.
Our third Cody Judy sketch, a little later in the show, was Cody’s mental competency interview, where his penchant for calling things by the wrong name — detonator for phone; bomb for Book of Mormon — was exploited to humorous ends. (Here’s the script.)
We had a fourth one, too, all written and rehearsed, but we pulled it because we were afraid it would be too touchy. It was me as Cody Judy, immediately before the incident, getting his wife’s2 opinion on things — which tie he should wear? what should he put in the briefcase, a set of scriptures or a stack of Mad magazines? what should he use for the detonator, a telephone receiver or his shoe? (“I’d say the phone receiver. You’ll need to wear your shoe.” “Ah — smart thinking, honey.”)
It was one thing to depict Cody as a harmless 3-year-old or a handcuffed mental patient. This sketch showed him at his full power (such as it was), preparing to go out and terrorize us. We were afraid the sketch just wasn’t funny enough to justify the potential bad feelings. But when everything else went well and we saw the subject was safe to joke about, we did the sketch the following week. (It still wasn’t that funny, but it didn’t seem to bother anyone.)
References to Cody Judy popped up regularly for the rest of the semester. In a sketch where Satan (me, in a red devil suit we rented) chews out an under-devil for recruiting such lame would-be anti-Christs lately, David Koresh and Cody Judy were the two mentioned by name.
On March 22, Cody Judy escaped from the mental hospital! He was on the loose for three days before he got hungry and bored and turned himself in. That week, while he was still on the lam, I wrote a sketch about two campus superheroes named Mormon Man and BYU Boy, very campy and Batman and Robin-y:
(On the back wall there appears a big CTR ring. We’re hoping it looks like the bat signal, from Batman.)
BYU BOY (MARC E. SHAW): Look, Mormon Man! It’s the Mormon signal! President Rex must be trying to reach us!
MORMON MAN (ERIC D. SNIDER): I’ll call him on my special Franklin Planner phone (opens Franklin Planner, uses it like a phone) Hello, President Rex!… Yes… Great Caesar’s ghost!… Yes, sir! Fear not, President Rex — BYU Boy and I are on our way!
BYU BOY: What is it, Mormon Man?
MORMON MAN: Something so terrible I almost dare not even utter it. One of our arch-enemies has escaped from his mental hospital.
BYU BOY: No! It can’t be! You mean—
MORMON MAN: Yes. The evil villain Jody Cooty is on the loose.
BYU BOY: Where do you think he’ll strike next?
MORMON MAN: I couldn’t say for sure, BYU Boy…
BYU BOY: Wait, Mormon Man! He likes large crowds, right?
MORMON MAN: Yes, BYU Boy…
BYU BOY: And the largest crowd on campus right now?
MORMON MAN: Right! Good work, BYU Boy! The Preference dance at the Wilkinson Center! Come! We haven’t a moment to lose.
(They run off, and lights down. Lights up again on the dance. People are dancing. JODY enters, holding a telephone — not just a receiver, an entire phone.)
JODY (BRADEN JACOBS): (very distressed and psycho and unsure of himself) OK, everybody stop! Stop dancing! (everybody stops and watches him) I’ve got a phone here — no, wait a minute. I’ve got a bomb here, and I’m gonna call someone on it — I mean, I’m gonna blow you up with it. Um, I—
(MORMON MAN and BYU BOY burst in.)
MORMON MAN: OK, Jody Cooty. It’s back to the mental hospital!
BYU BOY: No more idle threats for you!
JODY: (as they usher him off) No! Get away! Let me go! This bomb’s got call-waiting!!
There’s no way of knowing how much our tackling of this subject boosted the Garrens’ notoriety (which was growing anyway), but it certainly didn’t hurt. Our campus flyer the next week mentioned that we had Marriott Center Ordeal material; after that, nearly every show was sold out for the rest of the semester.
To me, it showed the Garrens’ usefulness. When something crazy and hilarious happens on campus, it’s handy to have a comedy troupe around. I won’t claim that these sketches helped anyone process their trauma or whatever, but I do think there’s value in localized, topical humor when weird things occur. Many aspects of BYU culture are somber and reverent; it was nice to be part of another side of BYU culture, the side that made fun of the other sides.