Wherever she goes in the world, she leaves new friends in her wake
The irrepressible Miss Richfield 1981 has created a sensation since the day she was crowned, unfurling her flag and leaving a trail of glitter and cheer wherever she goes.
Gracing performance spaces across the country and around the world, she hails from the verdant, pastoral land of Richfield, Minnesota where, as she puts it, “butter is a spice and gravy is a beverage.”
Wherever she brings her unique brand of biting comic wit and prudent lifestyle tips — think Phyllis Diller or Don Rickles by way of Martha Stewart — audiences flock to see her and commune with her daffy, whimsical persona. She is unbeholden to convention, “wokeness” or political strife, providing those in her flock an oasis from the workaday world with her off-color, take-no-prisoners philosophy on life, love, beauty, and fashion.
Although she beckons select members of her audience on stage to be the butt of her jokes, it is clearly in service of her good-natured tomfoolery. The hilarity she dishes out is meant to lampoon everyone in her audience equally, including herself and her decidedly Middle American values. She makes it all such effortless fun that people forget to be offended — no small feat in the 2020s.
Furthermore, she never veers into vulgarity — her performances are appropriate for all ages.
She makes herself available for photos and chit-chat after shows, insisting audiences stay and fraternize. Wherever she goes in the world, she leaves new friends in her wake, many of whom buy tickets to see her every year: “I personally wouldn’t come back to my show — but they keep coming back!”
Miss Richfield 1981 is also a staple gay cruise ship entertainer for Atlantis Events and has long been associated with Orbitz. Both companies specialize in making travel safe, welcoming and inclusive for the LGBTQ community. She even appeared in a toe-tapping song and dance commercial for Orbitz with Randy Rainbow, Margaret Cho and Bianca Del Rio that exudes pure joy.
Many also recognize Miss Richfield 1981 as a popular fixture in Provincetown, where she is performing for her 20th consecutive summer. Never one for subtlety, she careens up and down Commercial Street on her signature scooter, calling out to friends old and new alike as she promotes her act the old-fashioned way.
This year, she brings her latest show, Cancel Cultured Pearls, to Provincetown’s Pilgrim House for the summer before taking it to Manhattan’s Triad Theater Nov. 4 and 5.
She also hosts her virtual Bingo Bonanza program with her trusty cat Louis by her side. It currently streams live the final Monday of the month at 8 p.m. ET, with plans to continue through the fall. Playing is free, with frivolity and fun prizes for the winners. Details are available on Facebook and PlayBingoBonanza.com
Miss Richfield 1981 took time between performance preparations to chat with me about her new show, reflect on the glories of being crowned and much more.
You’ve been proudly representing Richfield ever since you were crowned! What are some of the glories of being a beauty title holder?
Miss Richfield 1981: Oh, Rudy, there’s so many, many blessings. It’s hard to really list them. Of course, being naturally attractive and talented, there is always the attention that you get from people who are not as attractive and not as talented, but I think there’s also a bit of responsibility in that, too — to be an example, to be somebody who people can look up to, so they can aspire to being as successful as I am. Being able to take the Greyhound to various cities around the country — it’s just such a joy. And meeting all the people!
Was winning a cinch for you, or did you have to compete fiercely for your title?
MR: Well, you know, it’s interesting. I did have to compete, meaning I had to purchase a gown. I got a beautiful rainbow gown — it had sparkles only on the front, but that’s really all people see. So, I did have to do that, and I of course had my hair done. I also wore lipstick that day, I remember. But in the end, it really was Trudy Olson who was twirling three flaming batons, lost control and took out all the other contestants, so in the end it became a bit more of a cinch since I was the only contestant left after the fire. But I still had to show them my talent portion — which turned out be the musical saw — and I won the title and the beautiful tiara, the sash, the power lawnmower… it was all mine. I was also awarded a bus trip to Warroad, Minnesota to tour the Marvin Windows Factory, which is a lovely trip — it’s just six hours north of the Twin Cities on the Canadian border. Just lovely. It was the first long bus trip I took. Of course, many more bus trips since.
Your competitors in the race — the losers — what are they doing today?
MR: Most of them got heavy. Those that survived the fire — I believe there were eight of them who survived — a lot of them have gone on to be housewives, a couple of them short order cooks at a Denny’s. One of them became a dental hygienist! She’s a career-minded gal. The rest of them, you know, they’re raising children, buying a lot of heavy makeup to cover their burns, so a lot of time in the morning is spent just trying to cover up the scars from the pageant. I don’t know if you’ve ever been lit on fire, but it can be a traumatic experience. I was the only one that day to stop, drop and roll! Most of the girls got up and ran, which you don’t want to do when you’re on fire.
Our readers will wonder why you chose the musical saw. What made you choose it?
MR: I’m so glad you asked that! My actual talent at the pageant was with my beautiful puppet called Chopped Liver — that’s his name. He and I were going to sing a duet — I don’t know if you’ve heard of it — “They Call the Wind Maria.” It’s a beautiful tune. But then the fire — well, I was wearing 100 percent cotton, which just melted into a crustacean on me, but Chopped Liver was 100 percent cotton and he perished in the fire — it was a lot of heat. So just at that moment where I thought “What am I gonna do for talent?” — because they were gonna require that before I got the sash and the crown — just then a firefighter called me over, a big, hulky firefighter named Cynthia — but she went by Hal — and Hal said, “Here, try this” and she handed me a saw and a little mallet. I learned how to play the song “Over the Rainbow” since it went with my gown I was wearing, and I won the title! It’s such an interesting instrument and not played that much. It was actually very popular on the vaudeville circuit when entertainers traveled in troupes. They would have a singer, maybe an acrobat, then somebody with poodles or geese or something, and then they would have a saw player! It was one of the things back then — you’d always have a saw player with you. So, I love that I’m keeping that tradition alive in my act and that I don’t have to travel with poodles or ducks. I had thought of doing an animal act, but the saw is much easier.
And less messy.
MR: And less messy, yes, and less expensive! I always thought it would be cool to have geese in the act, but the saw really worked out well for me, and it’s so much fun to do something that’s interesting and different, and it’s nice to set yourself apart. After all, no one can get near you when you wave a saw around! You’ve got to stand apart.
Is it a glorious reception whenever you return home to Richfield?
MR: Every single time I get home it’s the same story. There, taped on the screen door of my trailer, is another bus ticket to go someplace else — so I’m not home very long. Sometimes I don’t even get in the door. Usually I check my answering machine — you know, usually the little tape in the answering machine gets filled up, so I put a new tape in and then I turn around and leave again! I’m on the road constantly because my church buys my bus fares. They’re always one-way tickets, and I’m always going to so many locations, like I get to come to New York every year, P Town every year, and usually to Mexico every year. A lot of people might have a hard time not being home, but I just love traveling and being on the road, and I love to meet people. It’s such a gift, and it’s nice that they love me that much that they keep giving me bus tickets. They want people to know about Richfield — they’re like “Go! And talk about Richfield…”
I actually was named Citizen of the Year in Richfield in 2015. I received a plaque for my charity work and for representing Richfield. It was a gift that I had my mother with me for that — she passed away a few years ago, and it was the last public event she was able to go to before she couldn’t really go out anymore. She was the original Miss Richfield and the first beauty queen in the family, and very talented and very special. We were really lucky to have her come and be part of the city council meeting that day!
I’m so glad you have that memory!
MR: Thank you. The people in Richfield are quite amazing.
And they always seem to know when you’ll be coming back, to put that bus ticket up.
MR: Isn’t that interesting? With a one-way ticket… I’m in the Mile Long Club with Greyhound, so I always get a good deal on tickets. You get premium seating when you’re in the Mile Long Club, so I always get to sit up front and visit with the driver, which is nice.
For those unfortunates who haven’t had the pleasure, how would you describe the evening in store for someone holding a ticket to see Miss Richfield 1981? What is going to happen to them?
MR: This year is really special — Cancel Cultured Pearls is my show this year — and I just got done with all the costumes. I’ve got all new costumes and new music and all of that. What I do this year that I’ve never done before is I talk about specific times where people have tried to cancel me. I talk about that and show pictures, and I’m gonna sing about it, and I’m gonna explain to people how they can react to that — you know, being canceled — because that’s a big thing. It’s what the kids want to do, they want to cancel things! I’ve never cancelled anything in my life, including this interview. I am where I’m supposed to be all the time, so I don’t cancel things, and I don’t let people cancel me, so I’ll talk about that. And I’ll show specific pictures of things I’ve done from the past, and we’ll play a game together, and I have a really fun new video, too.
I always look at my shows like a variety show. You’ll see musical numbers, you’ll see a big video, you’ll get a chance to say hello to me in the audience, and I usually have a musical number that I close the show. Also, if you haven’t met me during the show, you can always meet me after the show, because wherever I am I come out after the show and take pictures and talk to people. Even if I’m playing in the city, you’ll find me out there on the sidewalk! I like saying hello to people. My show’s very interactive.
In your show you often find people in the audience and give them advice about love, life, makeup, fashion and more.
MR: Well, so many plain, untalented people come to my show that it’s really easy to give advice. It would be more difficult if it was like in Los Angeles, for instance, where everyone’s had plastic surgery and they’re independently wealthy. That makes it hard. But generally speaking, my audience is people who just — it’s like they’re asking for the advice. They come to the show expecting it. They’re going to learn something not just about the cancel culture, but learn something about how to look nicer, because really, that’s what it’s about it. It’s what people see that really matters, because not everyone’s gonna get to know you, but a lot of people are gonna see you. So you might as well look your best all the time.
Have you ever had any successes where people have taken your advice and followed up with you later?
MR: Oh, many times! I’ve had a woman say, “The last time I was at your show I went home and threw my outfit away!” and I call that a victory, you know? One woman said, “Oh, I’m wearing vertical stripes today because I knew you might call on me and I wanted to make sure I have my stripes on” because she was wearing horizontal stripes the last time she saw me. I literally have had people do things like that, sometimes sending me a follow-up photo.
Congratulations on 20 years of bringing your show to Provincetown every summer, by the way.
MR: Isn’t it amazing? There are times in your life where you feel like “God, I’ve been doing this forever!” and other times where you feel like you just did something for five years, but really, it’s been 20. That’s how it is in P-Town. It just doesn’t seem possible. Literally, it feels like, at most, ten seasons. P-Town is my home away from home, and when I’m there I feel like I’m at home in many, many ways. It’s a very special place, and really the place where I became a full-time artist — it allowed me to make enough money to support myself and not constantly be begging for money and stealing, you know? I can’t say enough good things about it. I’ve had the same cute little rental with the same landlady — she’s 97 years old now — and the same neighbors all this time! There’s so much to do while you’re there, so many great places to eat — it’s just a lovely, lovely place.
Have you ever been able to figure out your enduring popularity with — as you say — the homos? How did it all begin?
MR: Well, it started all started when I filled in for someone who had to be gone and they needed an MC for a show. The place is called The Gay 90’s in the Twin Cities. When I got in there, I thought it was a VFW, because it was mostly guys. And then I noticed that these guys were a little different — they combed their hair, they all wore belts. They smelled good. It was definitely not like the VFW. I realized my feet weren’t stuck to the floor like at the VFW, and I thought “For crying out loud, this isn’t the VFW!” You know, I’d taken the bus and I ran in the door so quickly I didn’t really see the sign out front. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I realized it was homos, and they just adored me, and I didn’t know why.
But you know what, sometimes in life you just don’t ask, and the mystery is better. It’s better not to know, you know? So, I didn’t ask why they liked me — certainly they weren’t interested in me in an intimate way. At all. Ever. In fact, sometimes they offer me a jacket or a blanket or something just to cover me up, quite honestly. I think they like someone who’s talented. I think they like my baritone voice, a gal that has a commanding voice. I mean, they love Bea Arthur! I think they like a woman who’s commanding, who can stand up for herself, so they really have been the backbone of my career.
To that end, you’ve also enjoyed a long history with Atlantis Events as a cruise ship entertainer.
MR: In fact, I’ve worked with them longer than I’ve been in P-Town. We started together in 1999! Rich Campbell and my friends at Atlantis Events have played a very important part in my career, standing behind me. You know, you’re not always a star — sometimes you lay an egg. But they’ve hung in there with me. I so appreciate them.
There are other places, like the Triad in New York, where they always invite me. Just wonderful places. I’ve been lucky, and I’m very loyal. The Blue Moon in Rehoboth is another place I’ve played pretty much every year since ‘04, and there have been new places with bigger stages and more seats. But you know what? I go back to where people have been good to me, and that has always paid off in my life. You want to be good to people who have been good to you. That is the lesson I have learned over and over in show business, and it’s just really helped me over the years.
You were also able to perform not just virtually during the height of the pandemic, but in-person by performing outside during your summer in Provincetown.
MR: Well, P-Town, with the ingenuity of those homos… they want entertainment!
There were just two venues in town during that terrible, terrible summer of 2020. Quite honestly, I had been [doing Bingo Bonanza] usually two times a week at that point, and we had a wonderful community we had built online — and we’re still meeting now. It’s a beautiful experience to get together — but when I got to P-Town that summer it was my first opportunity [in a while] to be in front of a live crowd, and we had to perform in a parking lot. It was either stone or gravel — I don’t even know to describe it. It was just really crazy.
I did 30 shows outside. Normally I do 60 shows a summer. It felt like the hand of God [blessed us] because sometimes in P-Town you can get a week of rain, and I don’t think we ever had to cancel — maybe we got rained out a little bit during one of the shows. That was it. It was just amazing.
We were only allowed to have 46 people in the audience, and I ended up doing half the shows and making 20 percent of what I usually make in a summer — but I was never more grateful in my life than I was that summer. I still had a little money left after expenses, but more than that, it got me through emotionally, especially since that next fall everything was closed again, plus it was too cold to bring things outside, and even some outside stuff was cancelled, as you recall.
It meant a lot to be together with other people, too. I remember we were allowed to have people come in groups of up to six people, with everybody six feet apart — meaning those who came by themselves would sit solo with six feet around them, which was a riot. It was therapeutic for all of us.
I realize how fortunate I was. After all, 20 percent of the money is better than none of the money, and because of that and my online work I didn’t get any PPP money or need to go on unemployment.
Have you been able to find time for a Mr. Richfield, or are you still a single gal?
MR: Well, I’m keeping my single status because I’ve really prepared for the next beauty pageant, which I feel could be right around the corner, so I don’t want to ruin that. I’m keeping my single status, my trailer, trying to maintain eligibility for future pageants. One could be right around the corner, Rudy. Plus, I’m always keeping my girlish figure up, always having my hair done. I drop it off Tuesday and pick it up Friday for the week, and I’m ready to go! At any moment I could be in the next beauty pageant. There’s time, of course, but I can’t take that chance on spoiling my virginity, and you know how rumors start. I can’t do that.
You have worn your patriotism proudly over the years. Would you ever consider running for political office?
MR: I did run for office in 2016, and that didn’t go so well, as we all know. There were two gals running that particular time.
You know, I don’t know if I would run — I find it to be sort of a negative environment. Could you deal with that? I don’t know if I could deal with that. And the other problem I have is I’m so truthful, and I think that would be very difficult in politics to be truthful and honest. I would think about it, but I just feel it could be kind of difficult because I’m upbeat, glass-half-full kind of gal. I feel like our politics are not just glass-half-empty — I think somebody broke the glass and went in the cupboard and broke all the other glasses, and I think they also broke the tap where the water comes out. I feel like we’re in deserts right now when it comes to politics.
But maybe I should run for office and cheer everybody up a little bit. Now you’re giving me thoughts. I’d have to think about that. When is the next Presidential election?
MR: I have time! I could plan that! But I do like our current President. I don’t know if I want to take anything away from him. Maybe City Council or something. Give me some time to think about it and get back to you. If I do it, you’ll be the first to know.
There is so much negativity out there, with ugliness and in-fighting. It seems so many just can’t get along. What does Miss Richfield 1981 do to stay sane in these crazy times?
MR: I’ll tell you what I do — I focus on me. I find that I don’t look out a lot — I do want to keep up, I don’t want to be dumbo and not know what’s going on — but at the same time, you know, I don’t get too wrapped up in it.
I try to remember the scripture verse that Jesus said. He was having that last lunch with his disciples, right before everything really went south, and he had that last supper and they took that picture. You’ve seen the photo of them all eating the dinner together — and you may remember in the Bible that one of the last words that Jesus said to his disciples was “It’s important to be nice, but it’s nicer to be important.” I try to remember that, and I think I’m pretty important, and that makes me feel good.
That’s one of the reasons I don’t think I’ll ever retire. You ask how I keep my attitude positive and my spirits up – I find when I get up on stage and I’m singing and dancing and I’m playing the saw and I’m talking to people and I’m offering unsolicited advice that, you know, I can’t be unhappy at times like that.
I can’t imagine life without that right now, especially the way the world is, because as the world gets negative and changes sometimes, my show is always the same. You know, I mean it has new music, new costumes, and a new theme, but always the same jokes. That helps. It keeps me comfortable and consistent and happy at all times, always, and that will never change.
Miss Richfield appears at the Pilgrim House in Provincetown through Sept. 17 and the Triad Theater in New York City Nov. 4 and 5. For tickets and information: