Dr. Brown Behaves
Philip Burgers @ The Tuxedo Cat – Studio
11:00pm, Wed 24 Feb 2010
This show is one of the reasons (well, lame excuse, anyway) why I’ve been so lax writing these pieces up; because I’m not just writing about Philip Burger’s fantastically bumbling and eccentric Dr Brown… I’m also writing about myself.
Because I was onstage for (what felt like) half of the performance.
But let’s start at the beginning.
It’s fair to say that, after the odd drink or two upstairs at the TuxCat bar, Irene and I (and most of the other patrons) were ticking along pretty merrily before we went in; her occular abilities parked us in the second row. Across the aisle from us was a very serious looking chap, pensive and irritable. I distinctly remember him scowling with dark eyes, biting his nails. Everyone else in The Studio seemed to be bubbling with anticipation, but not him.
Dr Brown bumbled in at the back of The Studio, dragging a suitcase that was far too wide for the narrow aisle behind him. Chairs were being hit, people were being jolted as he slowly bumped his way to the stage. He makes it to the second row; the suitcase hits an impasse. Dr Brown asks the Serious Chap for assistance; the man waves him off with a scowl. Dr Brown persists; the man gets up and leaves the venue, distinctly unimpressed.
What a prick.
Dr Brown turns to Irene for help; she politely – but ever-so-firmly declines. And so, Dr Brown turns to me. His mark for the evening.
Actually, thinking back on it, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that Irene may have volunteered me.
I help Dr Brown get his suitcase on stage, then hear the audience laughing behind me; I turn to see that Dr Brown has parked himself in my seat and, with legs crossed expectantly, he waved for me to continue the show. I look at the rest of the audience; they look at me, laughing.
Laughing at me, not with me.
I feel horribly awkward and alone. I utter “it’s going to be a long fucking show” and investigate the table that Dr Brown is gesticulating towards. It’s surface is covered with all manner of plastic children’s toys and household objects, laid out in a very organised manner. At a loss for something to do, I pick up a box of sultanas and, after showing them to the audience, decide to throw them one-at-a-time into the crowd. This quickly gets Dr Brown back onstage and he directs me back to my seat. Success! I feel very pleased with myself; I’ve won the audience participation battle. That wasn’t so hard, was it?
Except I haven’t won the battle at all. In fact, the battle hadn’t even started.
By himself onstage, Dr Brown is… bizarre. He communicates in a chirpy, sing-song voice, asking oddball questions of the audience and throwing olives at them (from a huge jar kept prominently in view) to encourage answers. He literally seasons the crowd (using salt & pepper shakers, naturally) for no apparent reason. And then… he handcuffed me to my seat.
Oooooh shit, I remember thinking. I am clearly his bitch, his plaything, now.
He beckoned me onstage; after a sufficient amount of protest (crowd laughing all the time, my blush feeling increasingly heated), he unlocked the handcuffs from the chair and dragged me back onstage. Dr Brown dressed me in a wig (and, perhaps, an apron – the memory is vague), and asked me to pretend to be his wife. “I’m home, honey,” he called, “what’s for dinner?”
I looked around. “Salt and pepper… and sultanas. And olives.”
“Sounds… great. Did you make enough for everyone?” He waves out to the crowd.
“Sure!” I say, and we proceed to empty the salt and pepper shakers in front of the fan that’s valiantly trying to keep the crowd cool. The front-left side of the room is coughing and sneezing and spluttering and laughing; the rest of the room just laughs.
Hey, I realise – these laughs feel pretty good.
“We’re at the beach!” Dr Brown announces, removing his trousers to reveal some stripy Speedos. “You’re a lifeguard,” he turns to me and hands me a bottle of baby oil, “I need you to put my sunscreen on.” He takes his shirt off and faces away from me.
The audience cracks up. I mean, they really crack up. I clearly remember the raucous notes of their laughter as I stood there in disbelief, baby oil in hand.
Yeah, alright, I think. No problem.
So I start rubbing the baby oil into his shoulders and back, giggling with his “oooh! cold” flinches, and going for laughs by reaching around and oiling his breasts, too. He puts me in my place straight away: “On my legs, too.”
I kneel down to rub the oil into his legs, and the laughter intensifies. There’s a definite hoot of hilarity coming from the audience now.
“Oh,” he says as I stand up again, “my inner thighs too.”
The crowd loses their shit. Hell, I lose my shit.
So… I rub the oil onto his inner thighs, with long motions from his ankles to his buttocks, my hands wrapped around his legs until I tailed my thumbs away to prevent contact with his budgie.
And the crowd went wild.
Dr Brown orders me to wait at the back of the stage whilst he “went” swimming. So I watched his brilliant buffoonery facing the audience – christ that was awkward. I don’t reckon I’ve ever felt as self-conscious in my life.
“Oh, lifeguard,” Dr Brown called back to me, “I’m drowning.”
I walk over to him. “Swim,” he hissed, eliciting another laugh. I swim over and whisper in his ear, “I really know lifesaving stuff. We’re doing this shit properly.” I throw my arm over his shoulder and grab his side, bend his knees so his weight is on my hip, and “swim” him to shore, just as I had been trained.
“Thank you,” he said. “Oh no! I’m not breathing.”
Again – the laughter, the cackles, the hoots from the audience felt overwhelming.
I remember shaking my head in disbelief (again). He looked back at me and whispered, “it’s cool.”
So… we kissed.
Kinda sorta. At the very last moment, in a manner which amazed me because it was clearly so practiced, so calculated, that most of the crowd wouldn’t have been able to see it, Burgers covered his mouth with his hand before ravaging my face.
Look – I’ll be honest. I’ve no idea how the show ended. I remember Dr Brown showing me back to my seat, and I remember pats on the back from people sitting behind me. I remember cheering like a madman when Burgers bowed at the end of the show, and I remember feeling awed when he directed the audience to thank me. But most of all, I remember what it felt like being on that stage, feeling wholly out-of-place… and being washed along by those waves of laughter.
Philip Burgers must have massive balls to put on a show this free-form, this bizarre, this audience-dependent, night after night. It’s an incredible effort to put yourself out there like that, I reckon. And, speaking to him after the show and at other times during the Fringe, he just appeared to be a normal guy.
A normal guy who just happens to harness the surreal on a nightly basis.
I like that.