Laura Bell Bundy had a village in her head — a sassy hairdresser, an elderly cable talk show host, bickering housewives and an Eastern European salon and taxidermy shop owner, to name a few. Then a friend suggested Bundy give her village a name.
"My friend Sam Easley and I were hanging out one night over some bourbon at a restaurant in Nashville, and he said, 'You need your own Yoknapatawpha,' and I said, 'My what?'" Bundy recalls.
Yoknapatawpha is the fictional Mississippi county where author William Faulkner set almost all of his novels. Bundy created Cooter County, a fictional Kentucky community where she has set her Web series.
We're not sure of the population, but Cooter County videos have had more than 1.8 million views since launching on YouTube in early 2010.
It's part Saturday Night Live, part In Living Color and part Hee-Haw — though more overtly naughty than the old country-fried variety show.
Some of the initial videos promoted Bundy's major-label country debut, Achin' and Shakin', released in April 2010. But the series has since taken on a life of its own with a full cast of characters and actors, including some established stars like Dierks Bentley and Bundy's fellow Kentucky native Billy Ray Cyrus.
"He wanted to play the opposite of his character on the Miley Cyrus show," Bundy says, referring to Hannah Montana, the Disney Channel hit that ended earlier this year. "He was so tired of being the good dad, he was like, 'Let me be the worst father ever in this,' and I said, 'You've got it.'"
Cyrus' character is Don E. Goode, a self-absorbed, philandering good ol' boy who likes to show off his extensive tattoos.
Some other celebrities have appeared as themselves, including the reigning first couple of country, Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert, who submitted to an ill-fated interview with Euneeda Bisquit, the Cooter County senior citizen who hosts a cable-access talk show that would make Wayne's World look professional.
Euneeda is played by Bundy, as is Cooter County's most popular character, Shocantelle Brown, a hairdresser whose purring catchphrase, "Okurrrr," has been repeated back to Bundy by numerous people including pop diva Katy Perry onstage at a Nashville concert.
There are several dozen Cooter County episodes now, from extended pieces such as episodes of The Real Housewives of Cooter County and Nativity Idol to short pieces such as a commercial for the town pizza joint, Cheeses Crust — perfect for your youth group dinner.
"It's like we're playing and there's a video camera going," Bundy, 30, says.
As far as the audience goes, Bundy says she didn't know what to expect when she put out the first Cooter County videos two years ago.
"When you put something out on the Internet, you're just slapping it up there and then you're tweeting about it," says Bundy, an active user of Twitter. "Some people love it, and some people say, 'What the hell is this?'"
Bundy, a Tony Award-nominated actress, is a busy woman maintaining careers on Broadway, in country music, and on television and film. But she says she sees the Internet as a growing venue for distributing original entertainment programming.
"You're going to be able to get on the Web and watch Cooter County with pretty much any TV you buy this Christmas," Bundy says, referring to the rise of Internet-connected televisions. "So it's on your TV, even if we're not on a network."
But Bundy has bigger plans for her little village beyond YouTube, saying she is discussing the possibility of a Cooter County movie with an independent filmmaker, and she is open to the possibility of a mainstream TV incarnation. But Bundy gets a lot of satisfaction from the success Cooter County already has had.
"There's so much pride in it for me because it's my creation that I know no other business counterpart is involved in," Bundy says. "There's no network or studio involved. There's no label telling me how it needs to be done. It's just me throwing stuff up there, and people are laughing at it."