Puppetry of the Penis continues to charm Australian audiences after 20 years, multinational performer rotations, and a Mick Molloy documentary. The show’s shamelessly silly larrikinism has struck an intercontinental chord, and American puppeteers Barry Brisco and Richard Binning – nine-year veterans of “Genital Origami” – are taking their sell-out Vegas variation back to Puppetry‘s home shores. ZOE KILBOURN had a chat to Richard ahead of Puppetry‘s WA tour, which kicks off in Albany on Wednesday, May 9, plays at the Regal Theatre in Subiaco on May 11 and 12 for Perth Comedy Festival), and wraps up in Mandurah on Saturday, May 13.
You’ve got an Australian tour and the Perth Comedy Festival coming up…
Oh, I love it here. We were here last year and it was just the best. It’s cold back in New York, so…
I imagine there’s a whole physical endurance aspect to the show. What’s the physical training regime like?
You know, to be honest, it’s not as difficult to do the tricks as one might think. We do a little warm-up on stage, and if we have a big week – we maybe do six shows in a week – I’m very happy to have a day off to not be tugging on my tackle. But I’m very good with my hands.
How did you get involved with the show?
The show’s been around for 21 years, and I was familiar with the show when I was in college. A friend of mine had seen the show when it was touring the States, and he bought a little how-to book on how to do the tricks. At one of my parties he just dropped his pants and started doing some tricks for people, and I just thought it was the funniest thing I’d ever seen, and so I had him teach me how to do some of the tricks. The next year, I moved to New York, and they were having auditions. I thought, “I know how to do ! I’ll go so I have the story to tell – that I auditioned for Puppetry of the Penis.” That was in 2009. I was asked to do private parties – I did one private party and it went terribly. I told them, “I’m done. I’m not going to do any more.” And they said, “Well, how does off-Broadway sound for six weeks?”. A six-week off-Broadway contract turned into a nine-year career for me.
Have you come around to private parties since then? What went wrong that first time?
I was hired to pop out of a bathroom on a party bus. The Maid of Honour had hired me, the bride-to-be didn’t know I was there, it was around five o’clock, no one was drinking… I was young, and I didn’t have the showmanship skills I hope I have now. It was Coney Island, too, so it was like an hour-long ride into Manhattan. When you’re doing a private party, you’ve only got enough material to do about fifteen or twenty minutes’ worth of tricks, so I had 45 minutes of waiting. I just got dressed and kind of hung out with them. And it was difficult to do the tricks because you’re on a moving vehicle – I need two hands to do most of the tricks. I’ve not done any private parties since there.
Was your background in performance? Have you always been interested in theatre?
Yeah. I grew up in a dance studio, and dance was always a part of my life. My degree was in musical theatre, so I had a different sort of career to most of my working-extra friends who work in musical theatre. I’ve taken a couple of breaks from the show to do some musicals, but pretty much full-time I do Puppetry.
You and Barry [Brisco] have been doing the show together in Vegas for quite a while…
Yeah, we’ve been doing the show since 2015 in Vegas. The show is still running there with a couple of other guys. We’ve been travelling around for a while. I think we’re gonna go to Europe next Fall.
It seems like there’s a real culture of masculine bonding through this show. You learn from a master, you teach your mentees…
Yeah. I wouldn’t say there’s a hierarchy per se, but there’s definitely a culture… This is a thing that guys do in locker rooms and pubs. I used to keep a journal of every pub and bar I’d done tricks at. The guys find out you do tricks, they want to show you their tricks… It’s like, “OK, I guess we’re doing this.” You’re in the foyer after a show and guys will be like, “Hey, have you seen this one?”, and they’ll drop their pants.
Have you found you’ve developed new tricks during the show?
We’re always working on new material. We’ve done a lot of celebrity stuff since we’ve been in Vegas, celebrity impressions. We’ve really got too much material to fit into an hour show. We’re always taking tricks out, putting tricks in. We’ve got prop tricks. We’re always workshopping new tricks and new ways of puppeteering a trick, and what can you do with the screen – everything’s put on a screen behind us. I’ve probably done the show about a thousand times, and there’s always new things you can do with it.
Is there an impression you particularly enjoy doing?
I’m doing a new trick called the Yoda. It’s a big reveal. We filmed the audience in Adelaide – they were screaming. It was the best audience reaction. I always get such a high from that sort of audience reaction. We also do a Kim Kardashian, which gets a similar sort of reaction.
Was there a point in doing this show where you were like, “I am a master of penis puppetry now?”
I will say this – I was nervous, really really nervous, for the very first time I did the show. I’d done tricks for friends before, but only ever my friends, and then I’d done that private party that went terribly. I thought, “I’ll never be on stage for an hour doing tricks for five hundred strangers – are they gonna laugh? Are they gonna think this is funny?”. I think about fifteen minutes into the first show, I realised it was going really well, they were loving it. And then I got this confidence I’d never really experienced before. When you make it on stage and have that kind of confidence, it’s really liberating.
Is there a particular demographic who come to Puppetry of the Penis shows?
We get more women than men just because of the nature, the title of the show. A lot of times women will drag their boyfriends and husbands along who are hesitant at first, and often they’re the ones who will laugh the hardest. It’s not sexual, so audiences are really mixed – we get really old men attend, gay or straight, couples, it’s a real mix.
The Australian comedian Simon Morley originally created the show. Have you had much involvement from him?
Simon taught me the show back in 2009. I’ve been all over the world with Simon. I’ve never performed it with him, but he’s the one who taught me the show.
What sort of spin are you putting on the show now you’re bringing it back to Australia? Has it changed much since it last played here?
A lot of the celebrity stuff is new for Australia. We get to have fun with some of the Australian references and things that don’t play as well in the States. We get to do the Emu, the Joey in the Pouch, a whole lot of Australian tricks.