Words by Samuel McDonough
This was a fifty-minute show featuring at least forty characters, with no props, performed by one man, watched by the writer blurrily, through tears of laughter.
Almost every year I see my favourite show of The Fringe Festival by accident. I had just seen an earlier show that was a little underwhelming when I was invited to see Zach Zucker by friends. It was a school night, and we were past the halfway mark of the festival. The late nights were causing cumulative exhaustion, and, to be honest, I kind of just wanted to go to bed. After some convincing, and with more than a little reluctance, I agreed. I made my way from the Garden to The Producer’s, met my friends, collected my raffle ticket, and made my way up the stairs.
Zach is already there, of course. He’s been expecting you. He’s dressed as a bird and perched on one leg. He watches the audience of approximately twenty-five take their seat, one by one. His mouth is agate, as though ready to squawk at any moment. Once everyone has taken their seats, he points to the back of the room. You turn, look back and there he is closer. He attempts it again, though you’ve learned from last time and are more hesitant. He persists and eventually you turn. This continues until he is sitting on the lap of a man in the front row. He stands up and announces that he will now begin the show to his sound technician. He goes “back-stage” and changes out of the bird costume. The show, of course, had already begun.
This is deconstructed, fourth-wall shattering clown theatre at its very best. Zach studied at the Gaulier School of Clowning, and how enjoyable it is to watch a professional execution of a craft, trained in and worked at for years. You wouldn’t think announcing yourself as "Theatre Man”, and then “Theatre Man Two” in a slightly different tone, until you eventually get to “Theatre Man Number Twenty-Four” would have the audience gasping for air as they try to break from sustained and bellowing laughter. But it did. It is with total fearlessness that Zach pierces the audience’s preconceived notion of what they think is funny, and takes them with him to places of humour they might have never experienced.
The audience is key to his show. The first portion of the show is clearly, in hindsight, designed to establish trust between him and those opposite. He is constantly engaging them, asking them questions, inviting them to hold things he’s mimed into existence, even giving them the power to have bits end. At one point he jiggles his body toward the audience, seemingly without control, complaining of broken bones. He does this for almost five minutes and tells us that it won’t end until somebody signs his ‘cast’. Somebody eventually does and he stops. Of course our power, like everything in this show, only exists in his imagination, and he starts jiggling again.
To execute a show of this nature well you must have a good understanding of the human psyche. At one point he is a kite, whose string is being held by a member of the front row. He gets stuck in a tree, and won’t come out until somebody spanks him. The audience member dutifully gets up to spank Zach, and in that moment, he skillful positions himself into the newly empty chair. He now holds the string, and the audience member now blows in the wind. This really is the coup de gras for the audience. He has successfully broken them down and taken them with him into his wonderful, ridiculous imagination. He has them literally, in a mime sort of way, in the palm of his hand, blowing in the wind.
Not since Dr Brown’s (Phil Burgers) wordless show Befrdfgth five years ago have I had such a deep emotional reaction to comedic theatre.
A must see. Zach Zucker: Human Person is showing until March 19 at The Producer's Hotel.