Tuesday, April 5, 2016

ARTISTS AT WORK, PART 2: The Toughest Festival Yet

What follows is not a conversation, it is 2 one-way streets.

Two different characters. DEANNA. BUTT KAPINSKI.

DEANNA: a human being. A working artist and teacher. A generally kind soul with occasional flashes of intelligence, but also very concerned with the usual mortal things that eat away at human souls and make us into nervous machines who will become extinct quickly.

BUTT KAPINSKI: It ith a mithion. It ith a thacwed cawwing:
Make a fiwm noiw.
Be weth awone.
Caww it a night.

Butt and Deanna are at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival together for the first time.
It is a festival where famous comedians do comedy, and also Butt Kapinski.

I've done 2 weeks of shows. So far, the audience size, in terms of sheer numbers, are the smallest of Butt's performance career. Once in Dallas s/he did a show with 8. Here in Melbourne so far, the average is 10-15. Mostly comps.

Those on Deanna's production team assure Deanna that it is early in the festival yet, that "people are talking"—whatever soothing sounds they can make, anything to cheer her up. Deanna is eating sliced apples. She is taking baths and lighting candles and doing pilates in the living room. She is working on making it through. She heard a young comedian in the green room the other day talking about his show—
"... And we're in this huge venue, and there are like 10 audience members watching us. It is AMAZING. It is HILARIOUS."
—And she takes him in with wonder, astonished and inspired by his devil-may-care stance. Deanna is not that person. She forgives herself for her small feelings; after all, work and colleagues and money are all important things, but she wishes she were more like the 22-year-old who still feels like it's all a big joke.

Butt is like that, sort of. Butt doesn't really care how big the house is.
The mithion ith awwayth the thame:
Make a fiwm noiw. Caww it a night.

I don't think this happened automatically. It started when I did that show for 8 in Dallas. Boy I felt it then, right before those shows. I was pretty scared. Butt was scared. We didn't know if we could do it. Two shows of 8, it ended up being. Half the audience was comp. Maybe more.

But here's what's (not) crazy: those audiences threw down. Those shows were really fun. The audience members stuck with me. Maybe we stuck with each other. I really remember the energy at those shows. It was live-action role-playing sex-nerd energy, electric.

But still, even though I've had beautiful, transcendental experiences as a performer with a small house, the ego in me really gets bummed out. It's a funny tug-of-war, a to-and-fro, between Deanna the human to whom everything has way too much meaning, and Butt the force who doesn't give a shit.

Here's what happened a few nights ago. 17 people tops, half comps at least, probably more. Mayyyyybe 4 paying ticket-holders. For some reason, everyone in the room was totally into it. They did crazy things, surprised me. They came up with a new ending involving a courtroom scene and an old lady sending her cat to sniff the defendant and assess his guilt. And after the show groups of people all stood around in wonder and said, "what the fuck happened." So.... THAT. I mean, what I'm saying here, how can that not make the world better? SOMEHOW?

The other night, I had to cancel my show. Did I have to cancel? I don't know. There were 2 comps. That was it. I spent the 20 minutes before showtime crying. And then I cancelled.

They were lovely, those 2 middle-aged women who stood there in the lobby and forgave me for not giving them a show. "Have a drink, put your feet up," they said to me. One of them said she went dancing the other night. I had a sense, in their presence, of human beings who were fun, who had fun in life, who would've been fun to do something with, even if it was just me taking them into an alley and acting out murder scenes against a brick wall.

But the other night I couldn't do it. I was too miserable, too full of Deanna for Butt to come out.

I'm not going to do that anymore in this festival. If anyone shows up, we have a show. We have something. Because you are not going to beat me down, Melbourne International Comedy Festival. You are not going to convince me that I'm nothing just because not that many people are coming to my show. You are not the mirror that I need to assess myself by. It's uphill, it's exhausting, it's unbelievably nerve-wracking and I'm not eating enough and fuck you. But you're not going to take what matters from me.

And in the black, in the shadows, Butt is always there, already ready, bursting out of me and making me forget everything else. Nothing matters but Butt. That's who I'm following into the darkness. That's who makes the most sense.

BUTT: That'th what I awwayth thay, dowwfathe.
It'th a thacwed cawwing.

Make a fiwm noiw.
Be weth awone.

Caww it a night.