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What Would Gepetto Say?

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And I fancy myself an entertainment editor? Where in God’s name have I been? This mild rant from the editor of Variety led me on a hunt:

    It’s tough to take the pulse of the global TV market.

    I never thought “Puppetry of the Penis” would work as a TV show, but it’s found some foreign buyers here at the Mipcom market. For that matter, I never figured Anna Nicole Smith would be a grabber, but E! Entertainment made some deals, albeit sheepishly.

    Perhaps it’s the angst surrounding the TV business that accounts for all this. The suits here in Cannes were complaining last week about declining revenues and cutthroat dealmaking, but buyers still turned out and deals were being cut.

Surely he was making up the part about “Puppetry of the Penis,” but he was not:

    Puppetry of the Penis was conceived by Simon Morley in 1996 as the title of a classy, highbrow art calendar, showcasing twelve of his favourite dick tricks. Years before, Simon’s youngest brother had shown him his first dick trick, The Hamburger’. Natural sibling rivalry with their two other brothers resulted in the evolution of a healthy repertoire of genital gesticulations.

    It was on New Year’s Eve in 1997, with a garage full of calendars to shift and burgeoning requests for live demonstrations, that Simon finally decided to unleash his talent on the world.

    The natural choice of performing partner was David ‘Friendy’ Friend, whose reputation as the life of any party was quickly growing. As a young boy, Friendy began his dick trick career in the bath and developed his skills further when he discovered beer at university in Byron Bay. After completing his degree in Computing, he returned to Melbourne with his own highly individual collection of hanging art. Together, Simon and Friendy became Puppetry of the Penis.

    Their debut season at the 1998 Melbourne International Comedy Festival was a huge hit. Simon and Friendy then embarked on a national tour, circumnavigating Australia. This took eight months, covered 20,000 kilometres and was captured in all its glory in the documentary Tackle Happy.

    Subsequent sell-out seasons in Sydney and Melbourne encouraged the boys to take their wares to the 2000 Edinburgh International Fringe Festival, where they were humbled by yet another sell-out season.

    Prominent West End producers, David Johnson and Richard Temple realised the full potential of the show after attending a performance where the woman sitting next to them had wet her pants laughing. Contracts and mops were brought out, and a deal was made on the spot.

    Puppetry of the Penis was on its way to London’s West End. Initially booked for a five-week season at the Whitehall Theatre, the overwhelming response from Londoners demanded numerous extensions, with the show finally closing after an astonishing 5 month run. Simon and Friendy became the darlings of the West End, delighting the London A-list including Hugh Grant, Naomi Campbell, Elton John, Bono, Mel B and Mel C. Since then, Puppetry has had highly successful runs throughout Australia, the UK and North America.

Wang-wielding as entertainment? Why not? Here’s a review of the live show from New York:

    Come on, admit it. You’re curious.

    I know I was.

    The surprising thing is, I actually kind of liked Puppetry of the Penis. At least I have a healthy respect for it: it’s a show that delivers precisely what it promises: if you’re in the mood to watch two grown men play with their penises and testicles and scrotums, manipulating them into various unexpected and silly shapes, then by all means, this is the show for you.

    Now I have to admit that, in many decades of life on this planet equipped with those very organs, it has never once occurred to me to try to make them look like, say, a hamburger. But David Friend and Simon Morley, the Australian “penis puppeteers” who created and star in this harmlessly silly show, not only thought of it, they figured out how to do it–along with a couple of dozen other “installations,” including the Eiffel Tower, a windsurfer, and, most memorably, a sea anemone. Their craft, or art, is pretty much the same as that of a contortionist, or a fire eater, or a stiltwalker; to wit, they’ve learned how to do something that almost no one else can do. And they’re confident and unembarrassed enough to do it, not just in public but on stage in front of a paying audience. I say: more power to them.

    Puppetry of the Penis begins with about fifteen minutes of stand-up from British comedienne Wendy Vousden; it’s actually the bluest part of the evening, treating sexual subjects of all descriptions that would have been taboo even fifteen years ago. Next comes a short visit from Priapus, “God of the Penis,” who basically sets the ground rules for what’s to come; he’s played by Morley’s brother Justin and also works the video camera, providing live feeds of the puppeteers’ endeavors on a giant screen behind them on stage.

    Finally, the two stars appear, and after some introductory banter they disrobe, revealing the real stars of the evening, which prove to be startlingly pliable and versatile. The thing is, once Morley and Friend get naked (or nearly so–they keep their shoes and socks on), there’s nothing sexy or naughty or even vaguely dangerous about the show: they’re so comfortable performing au naturel (as indeed they must be) that even us uptight Americans relax with them and pay attention to their show.

    What follows, for about 45 minutes, are bizarre little set pieces, punctuated by ample, generally clever patter. Most of the creations are silly; a few are genuinely witty. All astonish in their way: these guys have definitely been practicing.

    The audience mostly howls with approval (though I noticed a few men leave the theatre in the middle of the show).

    The only thing sillier than Puppetry of the Penis is pretending there’s anything wrong with it. For consenting adults in search of absolutely unadult fun, this is an entirely respectable diversion. Now don’t see this show if the thought of two men contorting their genitalia publicly turns you off. But if you think that might be your cup of tea, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

    2002 UPDATE: This show, which demonstrates the “ancient Australian art of genital origami,” features a pair of young men performing what’s described as a series of “penis installations.” The two naked penis puppeteers stretch and twist their organs into such shapes as The Pelican, The Windsurfer, The Eiffel Tower, The Loch Ness Monster, and The Hamburger. A video camera projects their work onto a large screen on stage, for the folks in the back.

    Note: Original cast members David Friend and Simon Morley have left the show. The new penis puppeteers are fellow Australians Daniel Lewry and Jim MacGregor.

    This is, as you have probably figured out, a “non-sexual adult show.”

Okay then, so the show is twisted but harmless. The performers were just on Leno last week, talking not performing. Even this was too much for the Mormons:

    It is the programmers versus The Penis.
    KSL-TV (Channel 5) decided Tuesday not to broadcast tonight’s Jay Leno show because it will feature performers who contort their male organs into such shapes as the Eiffel Tower and the Loch Ness monster.
    The two Australian artists from the stage show “Puppetry of the Penis” won’t be performing on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” — they will just talk about their stage performance. But that is too much for KSL, the NBC affiliate owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
    “It’s inappropriate and something I’m not comfortable with having on KSL-TV,” said Jim Yorgason, the station’s vice president and general manager.
    “There are times when they have programming we find objectionable or unacceptable,” he said. “It’s a fine line, and we take it on a case-by-case basis. This segment is not anything I can support at KSL.”
    NBC programmers are negotiating with Utah’s WB station, KUWB-TV (Channel 30), to air Leno’s late-night show. KUWB had not decided by Tuesday night.
    “It will cause a big shuffle,” said KUWB creative services director Jim Crownover. The station would have to move the risque dating shows “Elimi- date” and “Blind Date” to accommodate Leno at 10:35 p.m. “If we can’t get out of our other programming commitment, there’s no place to run it.”
    While Leno’s show will headline actress Jamie Lee Curtis and rocker Beck, Yorgason was rattled by the performers of “Puppetry of the Penis,” David Friend and Simon Morley, who call their show the “ancient Australian art of genital origami.”
    Yorgason has not seen the stage show but was advised of it by a viewer who learned they would be on Leno. Yorgason then made the decision with other KSL programmers after visiting the “Puppetry of the Penis” Web site.
    “I can’t in my wildest dreams think that what they do on the Internet site they will do on the Leno show,” he said.
    A “Tonight Show” spokeswoman said that after a producer saw “Puppetry of the Penis” he invited the two artists “to come on and just discuss their show.” An NBC spokeswoman said there have been no other complaints from affiliates.

Nor are complaints apparently anticipated from a few entire countries, accordingly to Bart’s Variety report, which indicates the actual show will be shown on TV somewhere on this mortal coil.

I’ve got to pay more attention – anyone out there actually seen the show?

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About Eric Olsen

  • http://flyovercountry.blogspot.com Chris

    I’ve got a friend who can make his into a chicken leg, maybe he needs to try out.

  • Kenan Hebert

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anything so perfectly Austrailian.

  • http://orsoithought.blogspot.com Bat Boy

    I believe they had open call auditions in new york last year. I can only imagine the type of audition that went on for that show.. Lol.