Butt Kapinski – 'The deeper I go into my own shame, the more laughs I get'
- Gareth K Vile
- 31 July 2017
Deanna Fleysher, the woman behind noirish comedy private eye Butt Kapinski, talks about how pain can become pleasure
First arriving at the Fringe in 2015, Deanna Fleysher's Butt Kapinski impressed audiences with its combination of absurdist humour, existential noir and unique lighting. Pacing the room, Kapinski carries a street lamp on his back, not so much breaking the fourth wall as re-inventing the performer as a portable stage. With a background in improvisation, clowning and bouffon (the art of mockery), Fleysher has a fearlessness in performance with a sensitivity to the audience that allows her to attack darker themes without losing a sense of playfulness.
In conversation, Fleysher is thoughtful, aware of the contradictions that exist within her onstage creation. Citing 'gender dysphoria' as an influence – alongside 'Raymond Chandler, Burning Man, DIY and immersive theatre' – Fleysher ponders the irony of Butt's appeal. 'It seems like as soon as I let go of trying to be a woman on stage, I got a lot more laughs,' she says. 'There are reasons, both my own and cultural, why it is easier to laugh at a man: I would say a lot of women who do comedy experience a lot of discomfort. In my own gender discomfort, there is a great deal of humour and something that originates in me as pain ends up being a pleasurable experience for the audience.'
Given her association with the Naked Theatre Lab, a touring workshop that explores interactive theatre, Fleysher is unsurprisingly fascinated by the importance of engaging directly with the audience. 'One of the things I get fired up about is how aggressive engagement with the audience ruins it for the rest of us who spend our lives thinking about how we invite the audience into our world,' she says. Rather, she emphasises the importance of consent and collaboration, wanting the audience to feel 'surprise, delight, an increased connection to the other people in the room, and possibly one or two body fluids.'
The nature of the clown is an important factor in achieving this affect. 'The thing that is most important to me is the vulnerability, allowing myself to be the butt – pardon the pun – of the audience's joke, laughing at me way more than I am laughing at them. I am interested in how does my personal shame cause amusement for the maximum number of people? The deeper I go into my own shame, the more laughs I get.' However, she isn't keen on over-emphasising either the clown or bouffon elements of the show.
'Americans tend to be freaked out by that word so I tend to use it less and less in my own work,' she explains. Her blend of clowning and bouffon admits other influences from physical comedy and improvisation: when asked about the genre of Butt, she laughs. 'I am on the spectrum: I don't think bouffon and clown have to be so separate. I really don't care. When I am talking about the show, I don't use either of those words, you don't have to know them to enjoy nice weird comedy!
'I think that there are other things that I don't fit in with,' she continues. Aside from the gender confusion of Butt himself, and the incorporation of the audience into a gender-swapped cast, Fleysher's rejection of the fixed stage for a roving street-lamp asks questions about how performance is experienced and how watching is an act of complicity. Yet within these high and challenging ideas, Butt Kapinski is a witty parody of film noir, a sardonic take on the problems of identity that isn't afraid of broad humour. It's an experience where fear of audience participation gives way to a celebration of collaborative comedy.
Butt Kapinski, Pleasance Dome, 5–27 August (not 9,14, 21), 8.10pm, £8–£10 (£7–£9). Previews 2–4 Aug, £6.