08 Fringe: “Monkey Poet: The Big Brown Number Two”

Matt Panesh, aka “The Monkey Poet”

Warning:  This show was for adults only.  My review includes some adults-only stuff, too.

On the Wednesday afternoon of the 2008 Indianapolis Fringe Festival, I had just finished noshing at the Performers’ Luncheon and was headed to Henry’s on East coffee shop for some free Internet.  I noticed a tall, bearded man with a wool hat pulled down over his ears walking directly towards me.  He was grinning.

I gave a little smile back just to cover my karma without being too encouraging in case he turned out to be a nut job…but then, as he got closer, I recognized him! 

It was Matt Panesh, the Monkey Poet!

He had just arrived from England.  I was so glad to see him!  He was one of my very favorite performers at last year’s Fringe.  I reviewed his stand-up comedy show for IndianaAuditions.com last year and this year listed him as one of the shows I would see even if I only had $50 to spend at the Fringe.

I caught his new show at the ComedySportz Arena on Wednesday night and fell in love all over again.  This man has a fearlessly raunchy sense of humor, a skilled and willing tongue, and such a realistic yet hopeful awareness of the world that it moved me to tears.

At one point in his new show Panesh asks the audience if we would like to hear something reasonably disgusting or VERY disgusting.  We are Americans, for better or worse, so of course we ask for the biggie size.  (Panesh told me later that although he had the reasonably disgusting version ready, none of his six Indy Fringe audiences asked him for it.)

Oh, my goodness, the story he told was shake-your-hands-out disgusting.  I laughed and laughed.

But here’s the thing.  After he told that story (and no, I am not going to repeat it here!) he said that whenever someone calls him disgusting he tells them this story…

(The following is not a direct quote, unfortunately, just what I remember of it.  He acted it out as he told it.)

“I was around 13 or so and I had convinced this bird to go out behind the pub and have a go with me.  We got out there, I was so excited I dropped to my knees, ripped down her pants, and started going at her, hands to cheeks, when…”

Now, I’ll leave it to Panesh to tell the rest of that story to you some day, if you missed his show this year.  The thing I want to point out, the thing that makes me melt in wonder all over again every time I think of it, is that he did NOT find the idea of going down on a girl disgusting.

Imagine what that would be like: being able to receive one of the best pleasures God ever created without having to negotiate for it or worry about it.

Panesh’ show wasn’t just about sex, however.  Several of his hilarious stories and poems were about politicians (“f*cking whankers!”) and, even more interesting to me, about public support of the arts.  He told about going to a tax-supported visual art show where all of the pieces had signs next to them explaining their significance to Britain.  I did NOT hear him say that art should not be supported by taxes, only that if it has to be explained to everyone, it is not art.

Panesh has so much energy!  As he recites his poems or tells his stories, he bounds back and forth across the stage like a…well, like a monkey.  A tall, goofy, sexy, wickedly funny monkey.

He did two shows back to back on the final Sunday of the Fringe.  I wish I had made time to see the second show. I wondered if he could possibly keep up that high level of energy for that long.

I happened to meet him on the street afterwards, though, and he said that Phil Van Hest had been videotaping the second show for him, so that gave him the will to keep his energy up.

I asked if he would be back to the Indianapolis Fringe Festival next year.  He said he hoped so, and that maybe he would bring another form of performance art other than stand-up comedy poems.

I’ll be happy to see his next show whatever form it takes.  At the end of his show this year, he recited a poem about the various immigrant groups that have made their homes in Britain.  It was a moving poem about patriotism, about celebrating Britain’s diversity not in order to make everyone the same but to appreciate each other for who we are. 

As he was reciting it, I thought, “I feel that way about the United States!”  But as I was talking through tears to him about it afterwards, I realized that I actually feel that way about the planet.

And I thank God that Matt Panesh is on it.

Hope Baugh – www.indytheatrehabit.com

PS – Another thing I love about Panesh is that he always encourages people to go see other Fringe shows AND mentions an artist from home that he particularly admires, even if that artist is outside the comfort zone of most of the “blokes” he knows.  This year it was Doma McPhail, a female stand-up comic.  (I hope I have spelled her name correctly!)

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