Puppetry of the Penis broke my spirit. It hurled me into a void beyond time, outside of comedy, and into a version of hell that just makes you feel constantly numb. If you want to be reminded of your mortality, go see this show.
Now, I should say early on that I am not the intended audience for Puppetry of the Penis. If you’re a drunk, heterosexual, 50-something woman or a 10-year-old boy, you may very well love this show. If you find dicks inherently hilarious or exciting, you may feel that the $50 ticket prices are well worth your time. If you are me, my friend Ryan, the two female reviewers sitting next to us, or the entire upper row of The Palms at Crown, you may find the show unpalatable.
Before we get to the actual performance, I feel that I must give some context. While I may not be the intended audience for Puppetry of the Penis, I was prepared to have a wonderful time. I had copped free tickets to review it. I had convinced my friend Ryan to come and to get a little tipsy with me before heading over. At the very least, we thought we would be able to enjoy the show ironically. Ryan, at this point in the night still grateful for the free event ticket, had prepared a fantastic meal for us. We ate well, and we drank the finest booze that $20 can afford. Hell, when we were running late, we rushed into the city, dashing madly through the sweaty mass of patrons at Crown. We were excited.
The Palms at Crown is organised into two levels. On the ground floor, closest to the stage, is a large array of approximately 200 seats. Up half a flight of stairs are a series of small tables and wide booths, all of which have a tiny lamp built into the centre which is nailed to the spot and hot to the touch. I sat at one of these booths. The stage itself is squat and wide, in this instance featuring a 10 X 10 foot screen in the centre. Two identical screens were perched on the edges of the venue. These screens are for seeing the penises up close. The entire room was bathed in purple light, reminiscent of royalty, or a dick-trick show at a casino.
The lights dimmed, and an announcer assured the audience that we’d be in for “a night of cock and roll”, which was a bad sign. Before the penises arrived, Nikki Britton was brought up on stage as the “fluffer”. Many of her jokes were about baby showers, and when she talked about her breasts sagging with age, someone in the audience yelled “Yeah!”
When the lights dimmed on Britton, the men finally came out. Dressed in boots and purple capes, our two performers pranced onto stage, covering their genitals for as long as possible before the show proper. I do not remember their names, but I can say that the guy on the left was Caucasian, and the guy on the right was African-American. Normally, this would not be relevant information, but many of the jokes involved simply stating the phrase “black dick” or vaguely referencing race to get a laugh. This would not be the only questionable joke to appear during the show.
When the dicks were finally revealed and the show proper started, I found myself strangely deflated. The first ten minutes or so just involve the performers jumping around, their cocks flopping around to rounds of applause. There were no actual tricks or so-called puppetry for quite a while. In order to find this section funny, one must find penises intrinsically hilarious and exciting, regardless of context. The ground section sure did. There were screams of joy, impossibly loud laughter emanating from there, just at the sight of two men bouncing their limp cocks around. Somehow, not a single soul in any of my levels booths or tables laughed throughout the show. I assume everyone was a reviewer or a eunuch.
When the tricks begin, it is both exactly what one would expect and so much sadder. Let’s get this out of the way now: Puppetry of the Penis is a tame show. It’s mostly visual puns, with the men stretching their rubberised cocks into vaguely recognisable shapes and saying “The Snail!” or “The Eiffel Tower!” It’s just Carrot Top with Dicks. There’s something perversely asexual about it. For a show aimed at tittering grandmothers and Hen’s Parties, the mere thought of sex seems baffling to these men. The closest anything came to sexual was one of the performers made an unsuspecting audience member look into his asshole. As Ryan said to me early on in the night, “This is the least erotic place on earth.”
It’s not just the tired puns that broke me, though. It’s what’s sat around them. The men on stage had empty eyes. One looked constantly embarrassed, the other on so many uppers he couldn’t stop shaking. Throughout the show, they would occasionally run offstage to grab a prop and, presumably, snort coke off a picture of their children, each time prancing back louder and closer to tears. The performances themselves felt exhaustingly rehearsed, done so many times in such specific ways that the very idea of spontaneity seems antithetical to their existence. But that doesn’t stop them from occasionally pretending to improvise, their heads clearly somewhere else. This faux-improv culminated with a joke about a dick-digeridoo, which was acknowledged as being potentially offensive before the African-American performer said “I’m not sure what they did to black people in this country.” One of the reviewers to the right of me coughed out the word “genocide.”
This could all be offensive. So too could the reference to Caitlyn Jenner when one of the performers stuffed his cock between his legs. So too could the point at which the performers called the audiences “pussies.” So too could the baffling gay panic jokes that reoccurred throughout the show; somehow, two men who stretched their cocks for a large audience were vocally opposed to touching each other’s.
All of this and more could be offensive if it weren’t so fucking sad. These aren’t the words of nasty people, they’re the words of people hopelessly lost in time. It’s clear that, save for the occasional quip about Ms Jenner, the writing of Puppetry of the Penis hasn’t been updated since its conception in the late ’90s. There’s a fucking joke about Drew Barrymore’s drug abuse, and she’s been sober since 1995. Every trick is preceded by a “ladies and gentlemen” like we’re watching a Vaudeville act in the ’20s. I felt like I was in the worst time machine ever. These poor men. These poor, probably rich as shit, men, performing jokes that were written when they were kids, stretching their genitals to the point where they probably don’t really work anymore, selling their souls for the approval of audience members in the ground section who would yell out “SHOW US YOUR COCK” in the middle of a show already full of them.
Full disclosure: I left the show early. With maybe ten minutes left, Ryan looked at me with such despair that I just got up and we didn’t look back. I spent the entire time sitting silently, with my mouth slightly agape, in broken fascination with what I was seeing. “This is popular,” I thought, “This makes money.” A tear rolled down my cheek.
The penises are not the puppets in Puppetry of the Penis. The men on stage are. If you love seeing two soulless corpses held up by invisible strings wave their flaccid cocks in your face, you might love this show. If you want a similar experience but don’t have the money, go watch a Michael Haneke movie.
Puppetry of the Penis is playing in an abyss outside of time, reminding us all of our cosmic insignificance.
Score: I Need to Lay Down/10