For three days in mid-September, Julie Brown had been filming her Showtime parody of Madonna's "Truth or Dare," called "Medusa: Dare to be Truthful."
Brown and company attempted to navigate the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center labyrinth, moving cast and equipment from one theater to another, trying to stage an entire world tour without ever leaving Long Beach.
In the morning they were in the 14,000-seat Arena, pretending they were in the Philippines. In the afternoon they were in the Center Theater, pretending it was Japan.
Brown, all dressed up in her Madonna ponytail hair weave and grape-colored nun's habit, was heading up yet another stairwell, to another stage door, this one supposedly in Atlanta.
Ready on-stage for a production number takeoff on Madonna's "Like a Prayer" called "Party in My Pants" are male dancers wearing leopard-skin bikini briefs, garter belts, Flying Nun-style wing-and-a-prayer headgear and brassieres with doll faces on the cups. The female dancers have on fishnet stockings and altar-boy smocks. As Brown takes her place at the center-stage communion rail, the extras in the audience are told to raise their lighters on cue as the assistant director yells, "OK, Julie, slide that cross to your right. Perfect."
Julie Brown, whose "Just Say Julie" is the only show on MTV that actually makes fun of rock stars, had been considering a full-fledged Madonna parody for several years. When "Truth or Dare" came out last spring, she knew she could wait no longer. "Even before I saw the movie," she said, "I knew we could do this Spinal Tap version of her."
"I think it took Charlie (Coffey, her longtime writing partner) and me about 10 days to write the whole thing, and it wouldn't have taken that long if I hadn't gone on vacation."
Because Madonna's act so often seems like a parody itself, there are moments when it's hard to distinguish "Dare to Be Truthful" from the real thing.
Just as in Madonna's film, backstage "documentary" scenes were shot in black and white, onstage production numbers in color. Where Madonna was almost arrested in Toronto for simulated masturbation, Brown's Medusa is almost arrested in Atlanta for doing a backflip without any underwear. Madonna had her famous encounter with an Evian bottle. Medusa deflates a watermelon. Madonna visits her mother's grave. Medusa goes to a pet cemetery. Madonna's dancers wear pointy bras, Medusa's do, too. Only theirs are the size of highway cones.
"There are a couple of things in this, like where I'm licking the video screens, where I realized this isn't any more outrageous than the things she does. She just hasn't thought of this yet," said Brown, who hired Madonna's assistant choreographer, Smith Wordes, to choreograph her parody dance numbers.
"People keep asking me, 'Oooh, do you think Madonna will be mad?' Which cracks me up. I mean, like she's going to care what I say about her. And besides, I think comedians have a function in society, which is to make fun of our icons."
Brown, 32, has always been pretty good at that. She grew up in Sherman Oaks, a quintessential Valley Girl whose sentences still come out sprinkled with "cool" and "neat" and "like, you know." Her keen eye for dissecting the shopping mall culture from which she came led to the classic satirical music video "The Homecoming Queen's Got A Gun" and the feature film "Earth Girls Are Easy," in which Brown, who co-wrote the script, starred alongside Geena Davis.
And even if Madonna isn't bothered by "Dare to Be Truthful," it takes plenty of shots at other celebrities. There are thinly veiled swipes at Warren Beatty and Sean Penn, not to mention the lyrics of "Vague," which includes such lines as:
Brooke Shields, Dawber P a m. Personalities of Spam
Christ ie Brinkly, Brosnan Pierce. Bland and Boring, something Fierce.
Brown realizes that, parody or not, some groups are likely to be offended by some "Dare to Be Truthful" sexual and religious references. "Oh, I hope so," she said. "It would be thrilling if I could be boycotted or something. I think that's part of the thrill Madonna gets, when you know you've hit a nerve. But that doesn't scare me. To me what would be a lot scarier would be like appearing on an episode of 'Full House' or something."
Once "Party in My Pants" was finished ("Julie," the director had said at one point, "Can you grab your dress a little lower when you lift it up? We can't quite see Thomas sticking his head out"), Brown headed back to the convention center's downstairs maze. If there had been a film crew shooting real backstage footage, it would be nothing like "Truth or Dare." There are no temper tantrums to film, no posing or movie star boyfriends.
There would just be Brown, still wearing her Madonna wig and corset, asking if anybody wanted a cookie while her mom and stepfather are looking at the dancers in their costumes and whispering to themselves, "We should have brought the camera."
"Medusa: Dare to Be Truthful" airs tonight at 10 and Thursday at 9:35 p.m. with other airings throughout the month on Showtime. "Just Say Julie" airs Sundays at 9:30 a.m. on MTV.