IN LOVE AND HOPELESSNESS: The Life and Death of The PErculator.
I dunno. I think I need some comedy today. I think a lot of us do.
A lifetime ago I didn’t have a CD or record player. I worked hard in the bush and put every cent I have towards writing, so owned nothing. I guess I was hopeless. Once a week I’d drive over the ranges to do a show on “Old Duff” radio at an inland town. Every town has one. A station up a rickety stairwell, above a sports store, that’s a place for the lost, the fuddled and awkward, and lovers of music - usually show tunes!
There was no way, in the logging community I lived, I was doing it straight, or even as me, so I invented The Perculator. A bloated, gravely-voiced obnocious ex-wrestler with a love heart sewn onto his chest. I even wore the mask in the studio some times. Each week, for two hours, there would be chaos! Myself, my sidekick Laurie, a dominatrix, a guest comedian, our Human of the Week, a band, their instruments, and randoms we’d pulled in off the street, all crammed into a bathroom-sized booth, and fed two slabs off beer brought by me to get everybody in the mood.
The Humans of the Week were my favourite. Outsiders, underdogs, hanging tough. The Cross Dresser from Altona. (anyone can do it in St.Kilda). The Mystery Poet, who wrote onto low tide sand banks. People you wanted to hug for loneliness and awkwardness, we worshiped and laughed with for two hours.
The show was loud, triple-x crude, and, above all, about unrestrained, stapled to your sleeve love.
It cost me half my wage each week in time off work and fuel and beers. God it was fun! Felt righteous! Sent me broke!
The Perculator Show developed a small, passionate cult following. The radio station’s signal range was so poor people would drive for two hours through rain on a dead Tuesday night, just to be a part of it, or simply watch, because they couldn’t hear. A 60 year old rabbit farmer joined our ranks of the flawed. The Apollo Bay police, a source of relentless ridicule, either loved or hated it, and, I guess, me. One rang in while the Perculator was lampooning the hell out of them. We made him our Human of the Week. With only twenty people able to pick it up on radio, cassets of the show travelled from car to car throughout the region, got burned to cds.
There was only one way to go from there. The Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
Which, indeed, was where the comedy started.
It sounds good, doesn’t it? THE MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL COMEDY FESTIVAL! Hugsie, Stephen Fry, Jimmy Carr, the biggest, the best. What a feather in the Perculator’s cap!
In reality, pay $400 entry fee, and your given a crummy little festival show bag and you’re in! Sight unseen. Cough up. Thank you! You’re on.
Bugger standards! Very democratic, I thought.
Next, was to get the street press to review your show. Beat and Inpress. The voice of the people, from the pubs and sticky carpets!
“Sorry, cash for editorial,” they told me.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“No reviews unless you pay for an ad.”
“Okay,” I told them, “but I’ll write my own reviews then.”
“What do we care? Sure.”
I did one under the name Rudi Zassoff, which they didn’t pick up on, and another under Jo King, just for the cheese of it. The reviews were both corkers, by the way. Said the show was tops!
Next, was the big press gathering arranged by the festival organisers. All the comedians and all of the country’s major press would be there. Well, all the $400 dollar comedians. The awkward magicians, and aspiring students, and dabbling office workers and me, in my orange, bloated wrestler’s costume and mask. I think I had a tap-dancing go-go dancer with me. Not sure where I got her from.
We were all lined up against the wall. The print photographers and news camera operators lines up opposite, and whoosh! They sort of hummed along in their line formation past us, crab walking. Each camera lingered on you for about two seconds as it passed.
No time for humanity, or hopelessness. I could hear catch frazes being shouted as the congo-line of press approached me, repeated time and again for each camera, staring with the magicians, “Ta-DAH!” “Ta-DAH!” Ta-DAH!” Then a squirilly redhead: “SundaysattheRoyalOakHotel!” “SundaysattheRoyalOakHotel!” By the time they were five acts along it was a wall of noise. Sort of like one of those lops songs, maybe Row-Row Your Boat, on speed. I watched the press passing in their line, and wanted to yell, “Remember the Alamony!” (a double pun) and attack them.
I even played the game for the first five or six, thrusting my fist out, bellowing “I invented the Proctologist’s Elbow!” Then I saw, on the level behind our firing squad wall, a busload of 13 year old Japanese schoolgirls, here on some cultural exchange. I pushed through the comedians and cameras, and scaled the wall, or, the Perculator did. Then, tongue out, hands gripping, making gurgling gimmy, gimmy noises, I chased them all as they ran and squealed and every camera went zoom!
Later, three under each arm, they rubbed my belly and giggled while, from behind the mask, I let my tongue rim and gave baffled, happy eyes. The Perculator made every news spot. More than Barry Humphries. Peter Hitchener called Perko Australia’s latest sex symbol.
We finished with the tap-dancing go-go dancer giving me some S&M treatment on the feet of Bourke and Wills, which closed out 9’s bulletin.
The stage show would be different to the radio show, I figured. Even more chaotic! I roped in strangers, pulled favours, put myself two years in dept, worked long days in the bush to pay for it all, constantly doing the six hour round trip to the city, got the most hopeless, the biggest fools, those most needing to be saved, to frame two hours of new comedy every night, pushing as many of them on stage at once as possible. I wanted humour, humanity, anarchy. I wanted to GIVE! Give anyone who came EVERYTHING!
Now for the opening night! Press night! I was an unknown act in the back of a nightclub that never had comedy. Without reviews, Agile, Mobile and Hostile: The Perculator’s Cultural Freak Show, was rooted.
So here’s what happened:
As said: Comedy.
I had concus The themes were hopelessness and humanity. We celebrated our and everybody’s weaknesses. Whenever I pressed the wrong button, which was often, rather than be awkward bout it, we’d cheer and skull. Dead air, radio taboo, as we got more drunk, fed itself, becoming a brilliant, scary, funny thing. The squeaky DJ’s chair became the Perculator’s rusted up knee. On the topics of sex, sensuality and sexuality The Perculator interviewed a parking meter attendant and a country football umpire. Each week we did plays. Twenty people we pulled off the street, put a script in the hand of, and got to read in unison, were the voice of the Israel Army, and The Perculator a war-torn, bedraggled Palestinian mother, in What Part of Get Out of My Home Don’t You Understand? Each week I/the Perculator tried to get a famous hypocrite to sue me. I’d slander them on air, send them a tape of the show. If we liked a song, I would loop it, again and again, until the band knew it and played along - everybody in the booth crashing and bashing and singing and jumping up and down.
sion from work in the bush that day. The main band were half way through their intro song when an Italian man came on stage and told them if they didn’t move their panno from his restaurant it would be towed. They dropped their instruments mid song, running to beat the tow truck, leaving me stumbling onto the stage, costume half on.
The tap behind dancing go-go dancers (I now had two of them), decided the acoustics were better on the floor, so danced in the shadows to the left of the stage where no-one could see them, rather than around the band. The junkie harp player who was meant to break up the comedy routines got his $50 after the first tune and disappeared to get a hit. Both the guest comedians didn’t show. My technician and sidekick, Laurie’s Colossomy Bag, was vital for the show. Vital! He gave the Perculator someone to bounce off, to make his lines sound like quick-witted banter. Gave it that natural, unforced sway. Laurie had a head cold and decided to set the sound levels (band way too loud, comedy barely audible), then go to the back of the venue and sleep until the show was over. My human of the week, the cross dresser from Altona, decided he didn’t want to offend anyone, so came dressed as a man. The Dominatrix cracked the shits and wouldn’t answer any questions, the band decided to sit at the back and drink beers, so when they were meant to punch-in after a segment, they finished their stubbies and strolled to the stage in awkward silence.
Um, what else?
Oh, the venue owner double booked us with an open mike night. The only crowd we had was a bunch of impatient musicians, including a mandolin player, air guitarist, a heavy metal duo, truck load of folk singers, and a dude who attaches electroids to his skull and plays it like the drums, and his parents, all tweaking and tuning-up in the background, getting shitty because the bloke in the orange wrestler’s costume was going way over his ‘allotted’ ten minutes.
I had to fight them off between skits. It got heated. Later, I found out not one reviewer came to the show, anyway.
I begged, borrowed and stole, literally, and went on with the four week run. Twelve shows. Bands fell away, and were replaced by other bands, I lost the go-go dancers, hecklers shat me. I was eating one meal a day, broke, living in my car, bouncing, sleepless, between bush coops and city.
But the show had three highlights.
1… I got a wailing grunge band to open one night, sight unseen. They were so loud and raw, people poured out like milk from a bottle. By the time I got on stage, the only person there was my best mate, sitting on his own, in the middle of the room, blinking, grinning, trying to look like a crowd for me.
The Perculator threw his arms out wide, twelve odds and bods in his night’s show waiting to join him on stage. An audience of one.
“You put on a show about being a hopeless loser, and what happens…?” he gurgled, then wisely nodded his head. “Success! Success….”
The bar staff laughed themselves stupid. We went ahead. A few people trickled back in. It was the best show yet.
2… One night, the Human of the Week didn’t show. Improvising, a comedian either side of me, my groin shrivelled up from stage-fright, I stared undressing, explaining the philosophy of the Human of the Week, about celebrating weaknesses, and the importance of putting your money where your mouth is, then dropped my pants, lowered the mike, and interviewed my shrivelled dick.
Both comedians bolted. I was left alone, on stage, mask on, costume around my ankles, microphone on my helmet, feeling like a total goose.
As was the Perculator’s way, I asked it some funny questions about chiselling the clothes off a Barbara Streisland statue, as well as some personal, and humanising ones.
3… Most people didn’t get it. Not any of it. “I don’t want to think, just laugh,” one of the bar staff complained. But no matter how small the ‘crowd’ – twelve people, five, ten, three – after every damn show, there would be at least one person who would come up and literally hug the Perculator and thank him and give ratbag’s smirks and say words like ‘halaluja’.
People who got it.
That saw through some of the stuff I can’t even mention here and to the fact Perko was asking people to be brave.
A handful of hugs for two years work, and debt that would see me into the next three. That was enough.
Each show, the Perculator got a little better. It’s hard to remember two hours of new comedy every night, but he loosened up, got confident, improvised, with a crowd that small, repeated a few of the better routines as if they were new. By the end, everybody who was there are the start had bailed. The show was like the old car that only had one original bit, the sump bolt, everything else, everybody else, was patchwork new. I used the very last of my coin to employ a technician to press play on the camera I’d set up.
There were enough highlights. I could splice something good together. Take Perko and his cultural freak show on the road. Or into other mediums he could bluster into and be hopeless at.
Finally, on the last night, we nailed it! There was a crowd, some of them coming for a second time in a week. They laughed their guts out from start to finish, all two hours. Solid laughs, full of great weight. They were so happy, when the band played the show out, they all danced. We got drunk, shared the longneck from the “Jeniffer Kyte, Johnny Diesel Beer Bottle Incident” with them. All that labour, sweat, and degradation, all the humiliation, all worth it, nailed on our very, very last shot! Snake eyes with our last roll of the dice!
The technician came up to me, I was still dressed as Perko, dancing away. He took his $50 and said: “Listen mate. Your show, balls up! I’m with you! All the way! All the way! I forgot to press play on the recorder, but. We didn’t get the show. But I’m with you, man! The Perculator’s so balls up!”
That broke me.
It broke Perko.
Which wasn’t the end of the earth. I hadn’t written a thing beyond comedy in two years. But shit…!
Perko sorta faded after that, yet kept bobbing up like a ghost in the machine. He had a semi popular song recorded about him by a rocking indi band, the Monaros, and appeared on the cover of one of their CDs. He introduced a few rock acts. Abused the full-house, roughest pub in Warrnambool, before fighting the drummer and throwing up on the bouncer as he was being asked to leave.
He even got turned into a children’s book character. (Ssh!). My Dad’s a Wrestler, illustrated by the mind-numbingly talented Dean Gorission – the artists behind the Emmy-winning I Got A Rocket! (based on another one of our kids books).
Perko even had a cartoon pitch mocked up, vagely built around the kids book, but no-one optioned it.
I have a tv pilot worked out, line-for-line, every bit as stupid as the radio show and the live stuff. All filmed on the stupidly cheap, quality be damned, like a good bad punk song! Throw in the single about him as the show’s tune, and some graphics, he could invade the internet with snippets, lines and routines from a show nobody can find because it doesn’t exist.
Well, that’s the idea.
The Perculator hasn’t been seen for a few years now, even though I still write for him. His mask is lost. Meanwhile, life speeds up and up.
In beautiful irony, Perko, (and his ragtag gang), died as he lived. As he preached, as he celebrated. At the hands of a technician paid somebody’s last $50 to simply press play.
In love and hopelessness.
I will be forever indebted to The Perculator. I miss him, very much. Painfully, sometimes. I hope he returns someday. He had hugely important things to say.