THE NICE THING about talking to two guys who play with their penises for a living is that you can pretty much drop the formalities. Which is why I have no problem leaning across the lunch table and bluntly asking performer David Friend how it is that one guy manages to find another guy who also likes twisting his flaccid johnson into various shapes and animals. His response sets a basic, rather bizarre theme for the conversation: Everybody does this, mate.
"In Australia, it's quite common," Friend contends, speaking of his homeland. "We drink a lot of beer. It's hot. If someone's in the pub standing next to you with no pants on, that's just the way it is."
This apparently national genital nonchalance led to Puppetry of the Penis (which opens Tuesday, Aug. 5, at the Moore Theatre, 206-628-0888), in which thirtysomething Friend and fellow artiste Simon Bradley wind their wangs and finesse their foreskins into shapes resembling the Eiffel Tower, the Loch Ness monster, and other familiar icons. (Behind them, a large screen projects the results for the folks in the cheap seats.) Yet both Friend and Bradley profess disbelief when I staunchly maintain that, while I have certainly accomplished many things with my penis, the Loch Ness monster is not one of them. After an intense grilling, they finally get me to admit that, yes, I may once have hid my manhood between my legs to create a womanhood, ࠬa The Silence of the Lambs.
"Every single man in the world has done this," Friend insists triumphantly. "There will be no denial!"
FRIEND AND ANOTHER SimonPuppetry co-creator Simon Morleyfound each other when one of Friend's mates walked in on comedy promoter Morley and a headlining comic trading "dick tricks" in a bar's rest room (again, this is Australia for you, I guess). Friend was already well known in his circle as a dick tricker from way back, and he received a call immediately.
"Come down to the pub!" Friend remembers his excited buddy saying over the phone. "There's some other guys doin' it!" He and Morley didn't officially hook up until Friend, performing solo puppetry gigs with his face covered by a mask, ended up in a bar where Morley worked. The virtuosi launched a hit show at the 1998 Melbourne Comedy Festival and now have various touring companies letting it all hang out in places like Iceland.
Which is where Bradley comes inhe joined up after a 2002 open-call audition in Perth. Bradley, too, had long been entertaining university chums with his tool, getting a laugh by smashing his penis against the window in an "installation" he starting calling "road kill." Though he admits that the subsequent audition "was a very surreal experience sitting in the front row of the theater with 30 naked guys."
AND JUST SO YOU knownone of this genital gymnastics is sexual. Not even remotely. Before our lunch, Friend and Bradley held a press conference at the Sorrento Hotel. The duo walked out wearing only a couple of ridiculous capes and started right in on "The Hamburger," a trick in which they twist their testes sideways, fold their members across the middle, and squeeze until the whole package resembles a bursting bit of beef-and-buns. "If you look closely, you can even see the sesame seeds," Friend quips. Not sexy.
The performers do have rather nice bodiesthough, oddly, I didn't notice how very attractive the guys were until they were fully clothed and joking high-spiritedly at the table. But the show is too dumbly good-natured to be a turn-on; Puppetry is frat humor run amok, and it'll seem like a gift from the gods for anyone who finds Jim Carrey the height of comic invention. Yet its wildly appreciative audiences have included giggly old ladies and even a row of "six huge rugby players and a group of queens all dolled up" who somehow found common ground in the cock contortions. And, no, you won't ever see their equipment accidentally enlarged: "It couldn't happen," Bradley maintains. "In front of 1,000 people? No way." ("We get de-fluffed," Friend cracks of their preshow routine.)
Ibsen it's not, and their 40-odd tricks hardly make for a full evening of entertainment. But damned if there isn't something freeing about the inanity. No wonder people have responded with such chuckling innocence: How often is it that playful, full frontal male nudity isand the guys will have to excuse me hereno big deal?
Friend sees the whole thing as a loopy kind of brother act to Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues. Well, there is a basic difference, of course. "Women like to talk about it," he observes. "And guys like to get it out."