Doo Dah Parade creates its own kind of over-the-top fireworks

Abernathy Miller, Columbus Alive

If you aren't prepared to laugh, stay the hell out of the Short North on Saturday, July 4. The Doo Dah Parade is set to barrel through the Short North and Victorian Village in all the over-the-top glory Columbus has come to expect over the last 32 years of the event's existence. We chatted with the official "Queen of the Doo-Dah parade" Deb Roberts about her favorite memories, and why Doo Dah is the most American thing to do on Independence Day. If you plan on being a party-pooper, stay home.

"The Doo Dah Parade is all about freedom of speech. It started in 1983, but you could say it started in 1776," Roberts said. "During the holidays, you're normally with your in-laws.You're not allowed to talk about politics, sex and religion; at the Doo Dah we highly encourage everyone to talk about those things - because people have things to say."

As any Doo Dah veteran knows, sex, politics and religion will be talked about - at length - through hilarious puns, pranks and general tomfoolery throughout the parade. From Fidel Castro to Hobby Lobby, nothing in the cultural zeitgeist is safe. Though the topics have sparked many heated arguments (and Facebook posts), it's best to trade in your angry growl for a belly laugh.

"People just love to say what's on their minds, and that's what we want," Roberts said. "But we don't want them to be pissed, we want them to laugh. If you don't like to laugh, don't come to the parade!"

Laughter has been a cornerstone of Doo Dah since its inception in 1983; according to Roberts most people were laughing at it, rather than with it. However in the past 32 years the parade has garnered a cult-following that is nearly impossible to ignore, and Doo Dah got the last laugh.

"Nobody took us seriously until our 10-year anniversary. [Former mayor] Buck Rinehart said, 'I've got these fools in my office trying to get a permit for a parade. I gave it to them so they'd get out of my office!' I guess he thought we wouldn't be back," she said. "He was the Grand Marshal for our 25th anniversary year."

The spirit of Doo Dah is best communicated through the clever ways the parade participants air their complaints, or make social commentary.

"When the Short North started going chain-like, a group dressed in made-up Applebee's uniforms were telling people they were tearing down the North Market and building an Applebee's. They were handing out coupons and everything. People were pissed! They thought they were serious because they were so good," Roberts said. "The next year one of our performers told me he hadn't talked to one of his friends since he saw him supporting Corporate America in the parade. That was a good one."

The party kicks off at 10 a.m. with free live music, beer and food vendors, and the parade starts moving at 1 p.m. According to Roberts, Doo Dah is the best place to get crazy, and let your freak-flag fly.

"Why make an ass of yourself in your own backyard when you can do it in public," Roberts said. "Don't bother your neighbors with your shenanigans - you irritate them 364 days a year - this is the day to take it to the streets."

The Doo Dah spirit isn't just rhetoric. All involved share a satirical sense of humor - organizers don't even mind when the joke's on them.

"Last year, the kids from Franklinton pulled a good one on DooDah. The parade was coming up Neil Avenue, and all the sudden all these people holding cardboard salmon were walking the opposite direction. They were 'swimming' against us. They were 'Salmons against Doo Dah,'" Roberts said. "They made their political statements known! They got us good."

Doo Dah Parade + Block Party

10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, July 4

Parade starts at 1 p.m.

Short North