"Well," says Laura Bell Bundy, "I didn't know that I would be seven years down the line and have [not] done a Broadway show, you know what I mean? I think that [there] was just a series of circumstances, in terms of being stuck in record deals and being on a TV show and not having that time to actually go, 'Hey! I'm ready now to come back and do a show.'"
Bundy speaks of her decision to leave New York behind at the height of her career to focus on other art. After playing two of Broadway's most bad-ass blondes (the high-haired Amber Von Tussle in Hairspray and the tight-curled Glinda Upland in Wicked), she took on the blondest of them all — originating Harvard Law student Elle Woods in Legally Blonde and earning herself a 2007 Tony Award nomination.
But, she had hopes, dreams and blonde ambition beyond the Broadway stage.
"I think it was just knowing that this was something I knew in my heart I wanted to do, and if I didn't do it that I would regret it," she continues. "I had accomplished something in New York I had always wanted to do, so what was going to get better than that at that moment in time?"
So, the fictional Cooter County and its larger-than-life inhabitants (including her most popular character Shocantelle Brown, stylist at I Be-Weave Hair Salon) were born. They all fall under the umbrella of Skits-O-Frenic, her YouTube channel featuring weekly clips of Bundy and her Broadway friends in skits, dance numbers, music videos and scenarios at places like a belting, Broadway-styled bus stop.
"I've always got these little different eggs in the basket, and I just love creating," she says. "I think that the whole reason I do all of this is because I just love that moment of inspiration — getting that idea and then bringing it to life instead of just sitting on it. For so many years I just sat on it, squashed it and went on auditions for things, and that's fine and I enjoy that, too… There's also just a mountain of other limitless possibilities, and you can either sit there and watch TV or you could actually create something.
"There's something soulless about hustling and running around and trying to convince people that you're worth something — and you can do that — but as long as you feel like you have some other creative outlet or some other thing that's enriching your soul, and I think that's always been the case for me."
"Even when I did Hairspray," she explains, "I had a country music band, and I would do the show [on Broadway], and then I'd go down to Bitter End or CBGBs and do a show on a Saturday night after I'd done two shows. I always had something else, and I think some people would say that's lack of focus. What I would say was [that] it was important for me to not become completely identified as one thing or another — just allow myself to be a creative artist. I'm an artist in this Broadway show; I'm an artist on this stage doing this country music; I'm an artist writing this song; I'm an artist."
Her desire to express herself in these different ways eventually led her to focus on her role as a creator. "I don't know if it was really a decision to go, 'Okay, I'm going to put other things on hold.' I never really put anything on hold, but I directed my free time into an area that was creative — into an area that grew something and built something as opposed to idle — and I think that was the difference."
After leaving Legally Blonde, Bundy headed to Nashville to focus on country music, a passion of hers for over ten years that couldn't fully flourish in New York City. She thought, "What am I thinking? I can't do country music in New York! I need to go be in Nashville, closer to my Kentucky people." She concludes, "That was a good decision."
In 2010, she signed to Mercury Records Nashville and released her first album, "Achin' and Shakin'." Her second album, "Another Piece of Me," dropped in June 2015 under the Big Machine Records label. Simultaneously, Bundy also branched out to television, recurring on CBS' "How I Met Your Mother" and the CW's "Hart of Dixie" and starring as Dr. Jordan Denby on the FX sitcom "Anger Management."
Bundy now lives in L.A. Working on television ("and the boy"), she says, prompted the move. The boy she refers to is Thom Hinkle, the SVP of original programming for TBS, to whom she became engaged New Year's Eve.
Four years ago I met this amazing man @thomhinkle. Initially, it was his biting wit, charm & beating me at Dance Dance revolution at Jerry's Deli that swept me off my feet, but it's his thoughtfulness, massively generous heart & the fact he switched from Scotch to KY Bourbon that has kept me falling in love with him more everyday. That's not some romantic exaggeration for the sake of posting this either. It's the truth. The Bourbon thing really won me over... But in all seriousness.. The way we've come out of differences & challenges as better more fully realized versions of ourselves has only deepened our love & connection... And allows me to believe we have what it takes to grow young together. It allows me to believe in love in general. THAT's when you know if love is true. He is my rock. My Partner. My Best Friend. My roomie. My champion. My greatest most fun challenge. My make-out Partner. He's the reason to my rhyme & he's attempting to make me an honest woman. I said 'YES!' #engaged #happynewyear #2016
Still, her current focus is Skits-O-Frenic, which she describes as a platform for "the uncontrollable urge to burst into song, dance, dramatic scene or comedic sketch." Her friends (and fellow Broadway performers Tiffany Engen and Brooke Engen) star in the exclusive release of this week's episode, "Dirty Dancing," in which a group at the laundromat get down (and dirty) with their weekend chores.
The Engen twins choreographed. "We came up with doing your laundry at the laundromat, and then added this fantasy element to it of: a good-looking guy comes in," Brooke explains. "When we were sitting down and thinking about that uncontrollable urge to burst out into song and dance [we thought], 'What are the places that can happen?' Ultimately they can happen anywhere." Watch the exclusive video below:
"Cooter County was really the first playground where we could just create the craziest, kookiest characters, and they would all just live in this fictional world of Cooter County, KY," Tiffany adds. "The more people that we work with, and the more people that we do sketches with, everyone says, 'Oh my gosh, I have this great character' or 'I have this idea for a sketch,' so this is now the opportunity for us to be able to say, 'You should do that! Can we help you do that? Let's do it together!'"
Where do their characters come from? "Any time you meet someone, and they're a little out there… There's something off — that's a perfect character," says Bundy. "Most people are actually fairly boring. Most normal people that you find easy to have a conversation with or live with, they're never characters that you're going to play… You're always going to want to play people you wouldn't want to go on vacation with."
When it comes to Shocantelle Brown (who spouts Bundy's signature "Okurr!"), "You just have those white girls in small towns that, you know, act like they're ghetto… Shocantelle was kind of born at Legally Blonde backstage. The 'Okurr!' and all that kind of stuff was being said for like a year or two before it was ever put into a Cooter County video."
All the character needed was a name… "I didn't know what to name her. I had a whole character for her, but I didn't know what her name was, and a friend of mine goes, 'Well I sho' can tell you…,' and then we were like, 'Oh my God! Shocantelle! That's her name!'"
Bundy has big plans in store for Skits-O-Frenic, hoping to grow the platform and expand its characters. "I think that this stage — for the last year-and-a-half/two years — has really been about me developing things as a writer-producer-creator-director with music and music videos and this channel," she says. "It's been very developmental on the other side of the camera, if you will, and I'd like to lay the foundation to have that be something that I can rely upon in my life.
"But I miss being on stage, and I miss doing Broadway, and I would absolutely love to come back and do something… Every time I come back into this city, and I hear sirens going by, I just… I love it. I miss it, and I've never had more fun than doing a show."
"I kind of hope I'm still an old lady doing shows on Broadway… Like, it would be the dream to like just drop dead after curtain call!" she adds, laughing. "I've made it all the way to the end! You know?"