Comedy icons prepare to leave show business behind
Uff-da! Thirty-one years you say? Well, you bet'cha those years were chock full of side-splitting, rollicking good times! After all, they're Minnesota's golden girls, dontcha know?
They're comediennes Sue "Tina" Edwards and Annette "Lena" Watkin, who made a name for themselves across the state and around the country as the dynamic duo Tina and Lena.
This year, they're tying a neat bow on their many years together and saying thanks for the memories.
Their last shows include appearances at the Minnesota State Fair on Aug. 27 and 28 and final performance in Alexandria on Aug. 30.
The duo has performed across central Minnesota, including Wadena, over the years.
Becoming Tina and Lena
Sue was in for a surprise when her family moved to Canby west-central Minnesota in 1965.
"I didn't know anybody and walked into algebra class first day of ninth grade and looked around," Sue said. "I sat down and this very friendly, smiley, giggly, crazy girl turned around and said, 'Hi! I'm Annie.' And we've been dear, dear friends ever since."
Years later, the witty women found themselves in the working world. Annette taught K-12 vocal music at Osakis while Sue taught in Raymond.
Opportunity to form an act presented itself when Osakis principal LeRoy Mackove was searching for entertainment for his Shriner group.
Immediately, Annette contacted Sue, and they put their puns together.
"We called ourselves Tina and Lena," Annette explained. "We are a couple of retired school teachers ... because she doesn't have any class and I don't have any principles."
March 19, 1984, Tina and Lena came alive for the first time at The Colonial Club in Nelson.
"It was a pretty fancy-shmancy eating establishment," Annette said.
"We got $25!" Sue said with bursting excitement, then whispered, "We split that."
They learned how to manage and market their show, so much so that they committed to the act full time in 1990.
Involving the audience
Tina and Lena developed into a Minnesota act through and through, complete with lutefisk jokes, stories about Ole and Lena and Minnesota-themed songs.
If Sue and Annette could rate their own level of Minnesota-ness, what would it be?
"I guess we can't be a 10 if we don't eat lutefisk," Sue said.
"But we're both a couple of 'hot dishes,'" Annette said, nudging Sue. They erupted in rolling laughter.
Sue and Annette focused on entertaining associations, conventions and other concentrated groups, customizing the show based on the audience, which they said made their act unique.
According to Sue, they put "huge" emphasis on audience involvement.
"It's so connecting. There's no Plexiglas between us and the audience that separates us because we can go flying off that stage at any moment," she said. "It's just so wonderful for us to know that the audience knows that it's about them and not about us."
Annette added, "When we go in the audience, everybody starts laughing. We just get out in the audience often and celebrate the people."
To keep them laughing, the duo pulls stories from real-life teaching and home experiences, creating a show rife with puns and music.
"Through the years, it's evolved so that we also do motivation," Sue said. "And one of our big mottos in our motivation is 'from there to here and here to there, funny things are everywhere.' We encourage everybody to look for that stuff and celebrate it. Just lay your head back and belly laugh."
'Fading into the sunset'
Thirty-one years, 21 states, and countless laughs after they first channeled the Minnesotan gems, Sue and Annette are finishing up their final tour this summer as Tina and Lena.
"I think an amazing part of it is being friends in high school and then our families are friends and then to become business partners for 31 years," Annette said. "I think that respect, not only personally, but professionally, that's pretty amazing."
"Some people say, '31 years and you're still friends?'" Sue said with a laugh. "It's just like a marriage. You have to work things out. One of the biggest challenges is agreeing on what's funny. I'll think something is so funny and she'll go, 'Eh.'"
Now that both women live in Alexandria, they have plenty of hobbies and family to enjoy, but first they have to finish the farewell tour, which includes 18 county fairs and the Minnesota State Fair.
As they look back on all their performances, they are grateful for the individuals and businesses that helped them along the way. They especially appreciate those who came to watch the show.
"As things have evolved, we've really just solidified in our minds that it's not about us," Sue said. "And life really isn't about just yourself. It's about the impact that you have on other people and that has just been so rewarding. It's just been great to know that we did give people an hour of laughter and that that made them feel good."
So what comes after Tina and Lena hang up their vintage dresses and Minnesota merriment?
"Then we're Annette and Sue after Tina and Lena," Annette said, smiling.
Sue tilted her head dreamily. "And then we're just going to fade into the sunset."
She paused, then fell back with laughter as Annette held back giggles.
One last Hurra-Ha-Ha
Tina and Lena's final performance, The Last HurraHa-Ha: Thanks for the Memories, will be Aug. 30 at 3 p.m. at the Alexandria Area High School Performing Arts Center. The show is free and open to the public.
A free-will offering will be accepted for the Douglas County Food Shelf or Glacial Ridge Hospice. Non-perishable food items will also be accepted for the food shelf.