Dr Brown Befrdfgth
Philip Burgers @ The Tuxedo Cat – Yellow Room
9:45pm, Sat 25 Feb 2012
I bumped into Philip Burgers in the TuxCat foyer earlier in the evening; it’s the first time we’d chatted this year, and – after the greetings et al – he asked what I was seeing; “Telia, then you,” I said, “but please don’t pick on me this year. I want to see the show, not be in it… for once.” “Oh,” he said, wide-eyed and honest, “you should come later. I’m running on empty.”
“Running on empty?” I queried. “What do you mean?”
“I’ve got nothing,” he admitted. “It’s all improv.”
And off he dashed to prep his show.
The net result of this conversation is that I was almost giddy with anticipation, but tempered with confusion. After all, last year I thought that he was “improvising” some audience abuse, when it turned out to be a fundamental part of his (then) current show… but now he’s telling me he’s really got nothing? I was salivating at the uncertainty of seeing what he would deliver.
Into the Yellow Room… and it’s pretty much full. I’m perched in the third row, dead centre, and the crowd around me is bubbling with anticipation. Dr Brown has generated quite the reputation in the last couple of years, and most of the people here are repeat customers, comparing notes from the performances they’d previously seen. And I must admit that there’s a secret thrill listening in on other people’s descriptions knowing that there’s a pretty good chance that they will describe a show during which I was on stage.
The house lights drop, and Dr Brown appears through the red curtains at the back of the stage, wearing a black robe and headdress, only his eyes visible… but that’s expressive enough as he glares at a few premature chucklers. He drags the curtains back, exposing the junk-littered backstage area, then takes position at the far wall, some three or four metres behind the stage; he starts jogging towards the audience – two short steps – then turns and jogs back to the wall. Three steps this time, return, four steps… soon he’s running up to the front row of the audience, turning, and running back. There’s a nervous wave of laughter in the crowd now, wondering what Brown’s next move would be…
Well, it was obvious, really. He ran through the crowd, spotting the odd empty seat and leaping (or stumbling) his way to the back of the room as the audience either shuffled seats to open his path or, trapped, shrunk in place to at least allow access to their arm-rests. There’s much laughter… and then a couple of late-comers arrive. Brown gives them the glare, returns the curtains to their original position, and repeats the entire exercise again.
We’re all laughing – if it’s not the expression in his eyes, it’s the ludicrous physicality of his scrambling.
Headdress exposing his entire face now, he attempts to mime the act of nailing himself to a cross – his clowning is coming to the fore, and his actions are preposterous. He starts riding an imaginary bike; reaching for the bell, his eyes draw a response from the audience – “ring ring!” we all start yelling, and before long he’s got us well-trained with other action/noise pairs – “honk honk” we’ll blare, “hiiiii!”, “bye!”, “woah!”, and “ahhh!” all join the vocabulary, with a nice “gonggggg” to wrap up the segment.
Brown trots out a bit of a song, before offering the audience the opportunity for the audience to choose their own ending: we had to sit in a particular front-row seat and ask him to perform… well, anything, before being banished. The first few suggestions raised some incredulous eyebrows from both Brown and the audience before later requests played into Brown’s hands, allowing him to milk more laughs; with requests petering out, I took the hot-seat and made a simple request: “Take a bow.”
The resulting applause was thunderous, rapturous. I was very happy with that :)
The woman after me – the final request of the night – asked him to resurrect his “pornographic puppet” sketch (as seen last year), which – once again – brought the house down. And from the back of the room – where all previous requestors had been banished – I laughed and cheered with the rest of them.
And Burgers’ words kept echoing in my head: “I’ve got nothing.”
Here was a man who, by his own admission, had nothing to work with other than his imagination and a metric fuckton of comedic clowning talent… and still managed to keep a roomful of people delirious with laughter for an hour. I mentally made a note to myself to pencil in a later show, because I was insanely curious as to what this “nothing” would develop into… because the raw “nothing” was pretty bloody special indeed.