Paul Currie: Release the Baboons
Paul Currie @ Garden of Unearthly Delights – Cupola
9:45pm, Thu 12 Mar 2015
Despite that fancy Internet thing, I didn’t know much about Paul Currie when I entered the Cupola… but his blurb mentioned “absurdist” and “clownarchist”, so I figured that this show would probably be there or thereabouts for me.
Let me tell you about Paul Currie, friends: He Is Anarchy.
The Cupola is – charitably – about half-full this evening, and – as is my wont – I took a seat down the front. When Currie entered, looking mad as a hatter with wide piercing eyes and rambunctious beard, he didn’t like the layout of the crowd… and proceeded to rearrange members of the audience. My new neighbour, separated from his friends across the aisle, looked quite wary; “Don’t worry, you’ll be right!” I assured him.
You know what? I was wrong.
Crowd arranged to his satisfaction, Currie then worked to get us cheering to an appropriate level, invoking The NeverEnding Story fist-pump. Party-poppers were freely distributed and, maybe ten minutes into the show, we emerged from the introduction with an ebullient hubbub.
But then I discovered how much Currie leveraged the audience during his show. While performing a feigned-masturbation percussion piece, he maintained uncomfortable eye contact with me; he later slapped a shampoo shield over my head and folded it down so that I couldn’t see anything. I could feel him ruffle my hair, and hear groans from the audience as I assume he licked his hands to tease my tangerine follicles. The shampoo shield is tied to a “No More Tears” segment that I gleefully participated in, shredding my voice in the process; the cheers from the audience when I kept upping the volume felt good.
With a manic bluster, he’d roam the audience and demand that they “kiss the [rubber] duck”; to end the show, he perpetuated an all-in bread fight with the entire crowd.
Currie’s audience participation bits were equal parts terrifying and hilarious; the fear came as he stalked the audience for “volunteers”, with laughter of relief (that he’d found someone else) being replaced by laughter of disbelief (at the absurdity of his actions). And participation was almost demanded: his ability to bellow at audience members and not get punched was impressive, and his blunt crowd management of the chatty chaps down the back of the room – pointing at them and yelling “Fuck off!” repeatedly – was brave… and crazy. As a result, the moments where he focusses his craft on the stage for some bizarre little sketch almost feel like respite, like introspection, like a chance for Currie himself to catch his breath.
There’s no doubting that Paul Currie is confident, and absurdly manic, and funny… but, months after the fact, I’m still trying to figure out whether he oversteps the line with his audience participation. He’s almost aggressive in the pursuit of the joke-at-the-audience’s-expense, and whilst most of the crowd was with him this evening, I would hate to see what would happen if they weren’t. His sketch comedy bits were wacky enough, but I think he’s trying to turn audience antagonism into performance art… and he’s bloody good at it.