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Doo Dah Parade UnOfficial Starter, Joe Theibert (1948-2017)
In his own words - How It all Began
May/June 2017 Issue

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Joe Theibert, 2016 L. Hamill

The following is a previously unpublished 2013 interview in which Joe Theibert describes the birth of the Doo Dah Parade

Gregory Carr, my buddy, was the founder, and I was the UnOfficial Starter, beginning in 1984. He got the idea from the Pasadena parade. I lived out there, and he asked me about it. I was kind of like, “Columbus is too conservative. They won’t do it.” He said “Well, let’s try it anyway.”

The first parade was a Spanky and Our Gang production like Little Rascals. I mean, we had a transvestite, we had these painted dogs, and kids, and balloons, and a couple clowns. And then we always have the Doo Dah band, which is still original today. Really amazing after thirty years. It consisted of a kazoo, a couple trashcan [lids] for cymbals, a drum, and a guy playing a tuba with a conehead. And somehow we started it, and we got good TV coverage and press.

Of course you had the regulars, like the Marching Fidels, Martha Walker Power Lawn Mower Drill Team, the Briefcase Brigade, lawyers and briefcases, and they did a little parade thing, a little dance. And year after year it started just adding on. People came. It could be one person, it could be two, it could be a group with a car or truck. And they – how could I put it – meshed, just came together.

We did walk down High Street, just not the long way we do now. It was a very short route. And it was like I said, a so-so parade, and then, oh, I’d say the third year – the second year went like that, too, but it got a little bigger – then the third year, it hit. And we didn’t have cell phones or walkie talkies, and I remember Gregory and I, we started off at Goodale Park and were coming across the park going, “I wonder what the crowds are like?” And we came out on High Street and they were two-deep all the way down High. And that’s when the birth of Doo Dah started. We said, “Oh my God! We’ve got a parade!” And all we had were bullhorns, and we said, “Thank you for coming to the Doo Dah Parade!”

And that was kind of the start. That’s probably about ’86. The popularity just caught on, and it got bigger and bigger. We never got recognized from the city of Columbus. They never really, you know, backed us or anything. And then one year, I think it was ‘88, somebody in power downtown wanted to put on a parade at one o’clock in the afternoon. And, you know, we have ours at one o’clock. We’re the only parade on the Fourth of July at one o’clock. And we outdrew ‘em four to one, and that’s when they finally recognized us. City Council gave us a charter kind of thing, you know, “you are the only parade in Columbus in the afternoon.” We are the
official Doo Dah Fourth of July Parade.

We started to get advertising. Merchants on the block were helping us out. And we had a couple sponsors. They were kind of fun like Bil-Jac Dog Food one year, which was a mistake because they were giving out these milk cartons with dog food in them. Well, they turned them into missiles. You know, they start throwin’ stuff. And then, we stopped that. Quit the Bil-Jac Dog Food. And then we had Odd Lots one year. They were great.

Gregory Carr and Joe Theibert, 2009 photo L. Hamill

About 1990, the water balloons started coming. That got a little crazy. You know, they were throwin’ stuff, and I remember I had an elephant in this parade. The elephant wanted to be with the kids and the dogs in the beginning, because he didn’t wanna be behind some trucks, you know, sniffing gas. And I said, “Can you control that elephant?” And this guy, little Hare Krishna guy goes, “Oh, yeah.” So I said, “Well, hold him!” And sure enough, the kids started walking and the dogs, and the elephant moved forward, and I said, “Aw, heck.” I’m thinking: water balloons hit elephant. Mad elephant tramples kids and dogs. But I said, “Oh, let the elephant go.” And the elephant and the kids and the dogs got along just great.

It always started as satire. If you had a gripe against the government or city, whatever, anything, you need to come out and express yourself. As long as you don’t embarrass your family. I’ve been the starter since the beginning. And I’ve only had to kick out a couple of people. One was a politician that didn’t wear a funny hat. Ya know, he said, “Vote for me.” And I said, “No, no. You can’t do that.” And another one was just a group of drunks. They didn’t have a sign and they weren’t anything.

Over the years I am simply amazed at Columbus, the way they have a thumb on what’s going on in the world. And they express it. And they have a great imagination, and they do it well.

It’s funny being the starter, because I have no idea what’s gonna happen. There’s no signup. And I don’t see the events, and I don’t see the floats until they’re there. And it’s pretty amazing. Columbus is very diverse. We get the Republicans, Democrats, Liberals, Conservatives. Like I said, the imagination is very good in Columbus. And now the parade has exceeded with Deb [Roberts] taking over. Deb does all the mailings and getting the funds from the merchants, and it’s just gotten bigger and better every year.

It’s basically the neighborhood that takes care of it. And the T-shirt sales we do. We sell beer now, afterwards. We never did that before. In the beginning we bounced a check one time to pay the police. We thought that was Doo Dah. They didn’t really think it was that funny. But we took care of it obviously, the next check, because in the beginning we ran it on a shoestring. We were always kinda in the red. What helped was posters. Steve Sevell, in the very beginning, he was great with the posters. Everybody worked gratis, put their time in and got it going. Now it’s thriving and it’s a main event. Yeah, so the Short North’s come a long way. Along with that was the Doo Dah Parade; it came along with the success.

We had a cast of characters. Bill Kiener, who passed away, he was a big help. We used to have a committee, and we all worked on that, Doug Ritchey – Deb came in later, and, like I said, Deb has kinda taken over. She’s done a wonderful job of it. Gregory was working and doing things and I was also working, and it was like a full-time job almost. Deb said, “Well, let me work on this. Let me talk to the merchants.” She organized it very well, or disorganized it. That was the name of the group that always met at the Short North Tavern. We were called the DisOrganizers [or UnOrganizers].

Bill Kiener, he was called Mr. Doo Dah. He was our cheerleader. Then Deb started as the Chair Chick, the Queen of Doo Dah. And Charlie, her husband’s the King of Doo Dah. Gregory and I, we didn’t have any names. Gregory was the founder and I was the UnOfficial starter. Everything’s unofficial. We always said the unofficial, Less-Than-Grand Marshal and stuff like that. We came up with little cute things like rain date July 3rd. It’s just all satire. Just all a lot of fun.

Besides Gregory and I and Kiener and Deb, I mean, the disorganizers do a lot of the work. They come and they go over the years, but they’ve done a great job – from the parking to picking up trash, to putting out signs, getting out the word, security. I mean, we couldn’t have done it without the volunteers. Oh, and the police, also. Always, after they’re done, they come down and sign up immediately to do it again! They love it. One year Lt. Barth – he does it every year – he went backwards. He drove backward with his cruiser at the end. He went in reverse, just like Doo Dah. Yeah, lots of great stuff.

Please visit our website at www.shortnorth.com/Theibert.html to read Dennis Fiely’s 2008 profile of Theibert, A Great American. See also a tribute by the editor on page 3. And photos of Joe.

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