Sendin the clown

He’smadand bad and it’s dan­ger­ous at his shows. Eric Davis tell­sBrian Boyd the se­crets of Red Bas­tard’s suc­cess

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - SPECIAL REPORT -

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.

Love­hi­mand/orhate­him

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”

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