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TALENT TALK: Comedy for the Open-Minded

5 Sep, 2002 By: Holly J. Wagner

At first blush, “Puppetry of the Penis” sounds like it should be an adult title, something steamy that caters to a fetish.

“People have preconceived notions about what it is,” said penis puppeteer David Friend, aka Frendy. “They would see the word penis and just see red.”

But in truth, there is little that's sexual here (“It's impossible to be aroused when there's 300 people laughing at your genitals,” Frendy noted). This is standup comedy with a twist. It's performed by two Australian men in the nude (except for the socks and tennies), bending and stretching their genitalia like balloon animals or shadow puppets.

To hear Frendy tell it, “dick tricks” are fairly common in bars in Australia. “You can go into a local footy club and find guys doing this. It's a locker room thing.”

The public show, which has spawned three videos (only one, Tackle Happy, from Music Video Distributors, is available in the United States), began with Frendy performing a few simple tricks for a group of 10 or so friends in the corner of a bar.

“I've just always got up and done it to amuse myself,” he said. “I've been doing this all my life. I've only been doing it for money for about four years.”

Fellow puppeteer and showman Simon Morley was tending one of those bars when he learned of Frendy's talent. Frendy credits Morley with the idea to put up a screen and relay the show to the crowd via a video setup that's the barroom equivalent of Diamondvision.

“It's a party trick that went too far,” Morley conceded, adding the show started out as a joke.

“We decided to do a couple of tricks for the Melbourne comedy festival. We invited all the press down and figured they would slam it,” Morley said. “They called it the outright best show at the festival.

It is truly eye-opening. For one thing, these men have overcome any shyness about their nudity.

“When I first did this show, I was terribly nervous, but it was a lot more about getting up and talking in front of people than about being naked,” Morley said. “It's a piece of skin, get over it.”

But what makes this funny is that it doesn't occur to most of us to accept our bodies with this much humor and, in an odd way, grace. You have to admire anyone who can completely abandon convention and embrace ridiculous, perhaps primitive, behaviors in a way that makes anyone who lives in a human skin laugh.

Tackle Happy gives viewers a 75-minute ride on the show's first tour through Australia, interspersing performance clips with interviews.

“When Tackle Happy was filmed, it was just improvised on stage,” Frendy said. “Now it's fully scripted. We had to sit down and write down all the cues and the music cues.”

And they've become accomplished at the setups, a vaudevillian performance that makes each trick more of a stunt. Props are few, but all of the tricks have a mini story leading into the physical punchline. The result is the hilarious ultimate in physical comedy. And to top it off, they hold auditions and train new showmen from among the few, the proud, the flexible.

“We have a live video and another one called Cock Stars (on the Canadian Critical Mass label). You have the show here called “Pop Stars” where they created a band. We filmed our first auditions and followed the success of our winners.”

Those winners perform in cities all over the world. Morley and Frendy hope to eventually leave the stage to their trainees and manage the worldwide enterprise. The pair also hopes to create more videos for foreign markets.

“We've got Cock Stars and what we're hoping for is that as we train these guys up, we want to do a series of half-hour shows and do them in France, Japan and Greece,” Morley said.

The redeeming social value here is that somehow they make us laugh at ourselves and our hangups. It is, after all, just flesh. You forget that it's sex organs and it becomes more of a sculpting medium with an absurdly comic soundtrack. How could it not be funny when the theme is men using their penises as Play-Doh?

“I think dick tricks have been in the closet,” said Morley. “Most men have a couple of installations tucked up their sleeve.”

Women have always suspected as much.

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