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Montreal flop and poetic justice

Barry Smith

I’m back home from the Montreal Fringe Festival, where I was performing my “Jesus In Montana” show. It was an amazing experience – but so what? Aren’t the tragedies far more interesting to read about than the triumphs? Of course. Well, lucky you …First of all, you have to imagine the whole Fringe Festival Scene – young theater artists from all over the world doing every manner of performances. There are burlesque shows, gay Shakespeare interpretations, marionettes, lip-synch rock operas, improv, weird French-Canadian mask dramas, Chinese clown cabarets, interpretive dance and me, standing still behind a microphone, telling a story about being in a religious cult. Yee-haw.Now, I think my show is good, it just isn’t very excerptable. Two minutes of my show doesn’t really do justice to the piece as a whole. This isn’t a big deal, until I get invited to do a two-minute set during the nightly Fringe variety show. The show, called the 13th Hour, is live, starts at 1 a.m. each night in the official Fringe after-hours club, and it a total freak show. Usually they have a few fringe performers each night as guests, do kooky talk show stuff, show a film, and so on. The night I was to appear was the night they were having 10 performers, each with 2 minutes to do their thing.I decided that my thing would be to read my “I Love Coffee” poem, an ode to my favorite drug. It features lots of anxiety-filled yelling and gratuitous use of the F-bomb, basically demonstrating the effect that coffee has on me. Let’s face it, nothing is more potentially boring than a poetry reading, so when I pull out the coffee poem, it just kills. It’s my encore poem. Perfect.I was slated to appear exactly halfway through the evening, so I grabbed a beer and a seat up front to enjoy the show. My first indicator of trouble came during the first act. The performer was teaching the crowd to speak in tongues, as he was doing a show called “Pentecostal Wisconsin,” about growing up in a church where they speak in tongues. Good gimmick, and it was going well, as the crowd of about 100 was enthusiastically babbling some gibberish which was supposedly being beamed down directly from God.”Now, we need someone to interpret what God is saying to us. Anybody want to come up and interpret?”I raised my hand. Canadian beer is very strong.I instructed the audience to resume the gibbering so I could tune into what God was saying, and for the first time it dawned on me that I needed to say something funny. I opted for the surreal, deadpan route.I said: “God is saying, ‘Where’s my wallet?'”I thought the idea of God searching for His wallet, or heck, even HAVING a wallet, was kinda funny, right? And to send this info down in the guise of tongue-speaking was even more … uh …No, it wasn’t. Absolute silence. Even the people in the back who were ignoring the show and talking among themselves stopped talking. Whew. I sat back down to await my official slot at humiliation, as this was just a warmup.Next up was the strip show, then the sexy French marionette woman, then the transvestite slapstick routine, then the fat, topless, loud guys with the name of their show written on their bellies, then the phallic sausage food fight, then the guy who wasn’t funny to begin with coming back to – yawn – read a poem. Yeah, that was me. I could not have brought the room down any more had I handed out Valium and played “Rock a Bye Baby” on the autoharp.Earlier in the evening I’d had visions of how the night would end – they involved me being carried triumphantly from the stage by the transvestites into the eager clutches of the sexy marionette woman. Instead I shouted my little poem with all my heart into a crowd eager to see who was next on the bill. I finished to polite applause, then left the stage to make way for a completely different group of topless fat guys with feather boas eager to introduce their new leg-hump dance craze.I got another beer and slinked to the back of the room, hoping no one recognized me. Canadian beer is strong, but suddenly not strong enough.Read more of Barry’s tour humiliation on his blog: http://www.barrysmith.wordpress.com


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