Fringe preview: Butt Kapinski and Dave
Zoe Coombs Marr and Deanna Fleysher tell us all about transforming into obnoxious men
This article is from 2015.
Cross-gender shows have a long and celebrated history at the Fringe, but while most of them tend to feature men dressed as women, two international performers are bucking the trend this year. From Australia, Zoe Coombs Marr brings us her monstrous creation, Dave, a terrible comedian from Sydney. And from the USA, we have Deanna Fleysher with Butt Kapinski, a naff private eye putting the drag into Dragnet. Both women portray men who are inept at their chosen professions, but that’s where the similarities end.
‘Dave is my male alter-ego,’ states Coombs Marr (picture below) emphatically. ‘He’s like an aggressively mediocre comedian, yet loveable in a way. Dave’s a club comic from Sydney who’s trying to break into the biz by doing a big festival show, except that he’s only got about seven or eight minutes of material and has to somehow fill an hour.’
Fortunately, that’s not where the show meekly ends. ‘Of course, I have much more material than that so I’m trying to keep the show moving and get all the material into the hour slot while Dave is trying to stretch his material. Essentially, everything goes wrong. He’s got the wrong audience, he’s in the wrong venue and he can’t cope with it.’
Described as an ‘ordinary guy, deep in the hearts and minds of all Australians’, is Dave a universal trope or is he specific to the rather unflattering stereotype of an Aussie bloke? ‘He’s certainly Australian and I think the Australian male is quite defined, as is the Australian female, actually. But that thing of having to be quite masculine, very blokey and trying to live up to this sort of thing is also universal.’
Coombs Marr clearly has sympathy for her oafish creation. She has described her performance as a critique on bad stand-up, something she’s encountered many times on the circuit, including from herself. ‘I’ve done a lot of bad stand-up,’ she admits. ‘I first started doing it when I was 15 so I’ve been at it for a long time.’ Of course, not everyone is in on the joke. ‘I’ve had occasions when I’ve done Dave on very big stages and the audience will be a) very drunk and b) quite far away, and those guys will sometimes heckle or walk out loudly, announcing, “this guy sucks!” ’
And it’s not just punters. Comedians can be oblivious to the parody, too. ‘On one occasion I did my act with a lot stuff like, “hey fellas, what about my balls?!” Another comic went on about two acts after me and essentially just did my act! And he hadn’t seen it! So he came out and did the same thing, but without the irony. And that invariably happens when I do Dave on stage with other guys; there will definitely be crossover jokes.’
One benefit of portraying Dave for so long is the lack of preparation which Coombs Marr now needs to get into character. ‘I used to harass my girlfriend quite a lot. I would get dressed at home, wear a breast-binder and glue hair to my neck. And if she was at home, I would do Dave at her,’ she recalls in horror. ‘I’d follow her around and go, “yeah babe! Hey!” Thank god I don’t have to do that anymore.’
(Zoe Coombs Marr as Dave)
As director of 2013’s Fringe break-out show for Red Bastard, Deanna Fleysher also has form with an obnoxious male performer. This year she brings her own solo show to Edinburgh, a semi-improvised film noir with a character called Butt Kapinski. Although, in reality, it’s not entirely solo. ‘I started doing the character with a couple of other actors,’ Fleysher explains. ‘And then at some point I realised that I was much more interested in working with the audience, so I started to ask the question of how I could do that, and what holds performers back from really being able to engage with the audience?’
Given that her alter-ego Butt Kapinski is a private eye, Fleysher figured out an ingenious way to enable her character to walk among the audience, based on the classic film noir image of private eyes lurking beneath street lights. ‘I’m wearing a giant street lamp attached to my back; and that is the only light in the show.’
Perhaps cautious of Red Bastard’s terrifying reputation, Fleysher is keen to assuage any fears that her audience may harbour. ‘I think a lot of people hate audience participation because performers can embarrass them, can make them feel like the patsy or the idiot. And in my show, people find it pretty fun because the truth is that everyone’s really just laughing at me.’ Fleysher never had any doubt she wanted to portray Kapinski as a man. ‘A private eye is a man, and part of the show’s idiocy is some of that gender confusion. That also translates into what parts I give people because I cross-gender cast the whole show.’
The procession of five-star reviews lavished on Red Bastard enticed Fleysher to dip her toes into the Fringe. ‘Part of it was the warm reception which that show received and my feeling that there is interest and excitement in theatre that’s more experiential and about celebrating a spontaneous community. I’m really interested in British audiences. Most of my comedic influences come from over there so it’s kind of humbling and exciting to bring my Yankee self over and see how it goes.’
We’ve heard how Zoe Coombs Marr transforms into Dave, so how does Fleysher physically prepare for Butt Kapinski, elaborate street lamp aside? ‘I slick my hair. I would say I look like a melted Peter Lorre.’
Zoe Coombs Marr: Dave, Underbelly, Cowgate, 0844 545 8252, 8–30 Aug (not 18), 9.20pm, £9–£11 (£8–£10). Previews 6 & 7 Aug, £6; Butt Kapinski, Liquid Room Annexe, 0131 225 2564, 8–30 Aug (not 11, 18, 25), 2.10pm, free.