Reviewing a Puppetry of the Penis show involves a bit of scene setting, and the first person (sorry not sorry), so, indulge me for a moment.
I took my mum to see this show. It was an accident. I’d requested it on behalf of someone else, and then they couldn’t do the review. My mum was visiting from out of town. I had two tickets. So, I took my mum to see Puppetry of the Penis.
It wasn’t as bad as you’d expect. Firstly, my mum is a doctor who has been a practicing GP for over 35 years. Secondly, she is a feminist and thirdly, she was a teenager in the 60s. She’s a hard woman to shock, and this show did not meet the threshold for that. Instead, she was just kind of disappointed (like mums often are). She thought there’d be more puppetry.
Mum aside, once you get over the initial adjustment period necessary to watch two men’s penises not only bounce around live on stage but also magnified 200 fold on a giant screen, nothing in the show is particularly outrageous. Maybe penis-havers would be a little squeamish at seeing genitals like theirs twisted into strange shapes for laughs. Puppetry is kind of the wrong word for it, and throughout the show it’s a little more accurately described as penis origami, featuring moderate audience participation.
Another issue with the show is that it seems to be the same material as 20 years ago. Or at least, I hope that’s the case, and that they didn’t come up with that Caitlyn Jenner joke in 2018. The show opens with some casual trans jokes, which really put both mum and I on the back foot; the performers had to work very hard to come back from that and they never quite made it. Likewise, lamp shading the inappropriate nature of a joke does not excuse its insensitivity. The act is dated, and even the juvenile comedy of it feels like it belongs in the early 2000s instead of 2018. Juvenile here isn’t meant as a pejorative, just an adjective, and it’s not just to do with the use of penises: it’s the form of the jokes, constructed to elicit a laugh from recognition plus absurdity, rapid-fire.
The show is performed by the Las Vegas crew, Rich Binning and Barry Bisco, and the show makes far more sense as a Vegas act, with hyped American audiences caught in the glitz and glamour and the drunken stupor of the strip. (Funny, considering it was actually devised by an Australian and first performed at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 1998). Rich and Barry’s banter is the strongest, and funniest, part of the show. The two are comfortable on stage (which, yeah, you’d bloody want to be), and with each other. Rich’s boyish enthusiasm and Barry’s cynical reservation make for an engaging dynamic that demonstrates non-dick-related comedic talent and excellent timing (and if they’re ever back, doing something together with their pants on, I’ll be sure to see it).
Puppetry of the Penis is, essentially, exactly what you’d expect: juvenile humour best enjoyed after several drinks with a gaggle of your girls on a raunchy night out.
Puppetry of the Penis is on at 9:30pm at the Athenaeum Theatre until 8 April as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets are available via the MICF website.