Sendin the clown
He’smadand bad and it’s dangerous at his shows. Eric Davis tellsBrian Boyd the secrets of Red Bastard’s success
Who is Red Bastard? That’s simple: he’s a whore and a fascist. What does he do? He does something very interesting every 10 seconds. How does he do this? He does to stand-up comedy what Jimi Hendrix did to the guitar. Why does he do this? To heal the world – and himself.
You’re not seriously asking me to provide an explanation or analysis of Red Bastard in print? This whole supplement could be filled with what happens at one of his shows and you’d still be no closer to understanding. Not that “understanding” has anything to with it. We’ll go back to the whore and fascist thing.
“Red Bastard is a whore because he will do anything to please his audience,” says Eric Davis, the US performer and comedian who plays him on stage. “He is a fascist because he has own agenda and he bends the audience to him. He’s also an anarchist because he liberates feelings”.
When you go and see Red Bastard perform over four nights at the Vodafone’s Comedy Carnival in Galway, you will enter into a contract with the performer – as consenting adults. You are the material, and you’re secrets, dreams, regrets and fantasies will provide the narrative of the show. If you’re the sort of person who has “boundaries” . . . handy tip: you don’t here.
On a basic level, Red Bastard is a clown. Not a red-nosed, big-footed happy clown, but a clown as drawn from the Italian 16th-century tradition of commedia dell’arte, which was a creative comedy of improvisation. Think The Jerry Springer Show as as hosted by Sigmund Freud. It’s a one-night stand for the mind,
Red Bastard shows have seen people propose marriage, quit their jobs, and reconnect with family members they haven’t talked to in years. Sometimes the show feels like a 12-step group meeting; at other times it’s like an evangelical rally. Moments of transcendent bliss sit alongside moments of excruciatingly discomfort. Some audience members join in with abandon; others watch nervously – eyes agape, their hands over their mouths.
Red Bastard has been selling out at festivals in Edinburgh, New York, Los Angeles and beyond. A look at recent reviews from the Edinburgh Fringe tell their own story.
Along the one-to-five-star spec-
Some audience members join in with abandon; others watch nervously – eyes agape, their hands over their mouths
trum (where one is the most awful thing ever and five is the best thing in the world ever), the Red Bastard show got every single star possible – a few ones and twos, a good few threes and fours, and a lot of fives. People have walked out disgusted after 30 seconds; others think it’s the best thing they’ve ever seen.
It would be unfair to such a skilled and sui generis performer to reveal how Eric Davis does what he does. But such is the intensity and strangeness of his show that a UK publication ran a story headlined “How to Survive a Red Bastard Show” as a sort of parental advisory for people thinking of wandering in. The advice was straightforward: Come with an open mind; do what he tells you.
As Davis himself puts it: “Think of it like a rollercoaster: sometimes it’s thrilling, sometimes it’s scary, sometimes you’ll be laughing, sometimes you’ll feel like pissing your pants. It can be intimidating but, for me, it’s a beautiful fucking thing”.
Davis has been refining the “exquisite monster” of Red Bastard for the last 12 years. Originally from a small town in Kansas, he found himself in the drama world as a teenager because of the death of his mother when he was just 12.
“If you look at a lot of people in this world, you’ll find some tragedy in their background,” he says. “I think we’re all trying to fill a vacuum.
Excelling at improvisation and comedy, Davis joined a clown company. One day they all got in a van and headed for the bright lights of New York. Through a series of workshops and shows, he gradually developed his character – helped greatly by the fact the he assumes a different “body” when playing Red Bastard.
“It was a movement teacher once who got us all to “bring in a body” for a performance, he recalls. When he came in as Red Bastard,a look influenced by the Venus of Willendorf, “people really responded to it”.
Due to the transgressive nature of the show (audience members and their personal confessions form the ever-changing script), Davis has had to tread very carefully at times.
“He’s not as terrifying a character as some people think. I think I am a very good and a very sensitive listener. I’m not there to break anybody. Yes, there is tension – but there is also fun. But when I say tension, it’s a differ-
You really don’t want to get Eric Davis and Red Bastard mixed up. Whereas the latter is an audacious force of nature, Davis himself is introspective and kindly
ent kind of tension than you’d get at a show. You really just have to see it in action”.
The word Davis hears most frequently is “shamanic”. Red Bastard provokes, then seduces. But the audience must go with him on the rollercoaster. And in many ways, the quality of any given show depends on what type of people are there, and why they are there.
Also, you don’t want to get Eric Davis and Red Bastard mixed up. Whereas the latter is an audacious force of nature, Davis himself is thoughtful, introspective and kindly.
But come the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd, Davis exits and Red Bastard gets down and dirty: “He brings them to a new world, he transforms them and then brings them back with a new awareness.”
Ultimately, there’s as much in this magical mystery tour for Davis as there is the audience.
“Red Bastard has taught me to have courage in my life and stand up for myself,” he says. “I want audiences to have that too.”
Do Not Miss This: tickets at vodafonecomedy carnival.com
Red warning Such is the intensity and strangeness of his show that a UK publication ran a story headlined “How to Survive a Red Bastard Show”