GIGGLE CITY: Privy People have captive audience at street fest
Rick Kunst is spending his summer outdoors. At the Edmonton International Street Performers Festival through July 17, the Florida-born comedian and his Canadian partner Dana Fadkin have an “act,” if you can call it that, called “Privy People” that involves dressing up Port-a-Potties to make the festival-goer’s going-to-the-bathroom experience a little more fun – complete with bathroom attendants dressed as Scottish brothers, medieval beggars or Italian gangsters, you never know. It’s hard to see how this sort of walk-by comedy will make anyone feel more comfortable doing their business inside a smelly plastic box, but these are street performers. Do not go to a street performer’s festival unless you want to meet street performers – who may secretly be stand-up comedians working out zany material for a captive audience.
Q: If you could be any celebrity, who would it be and why?
A: Kevin Federline. Nobody has a lot of expectations. When you’re down there, the world is your oyster. You can only go up.
Q: What’s your best heckler story?
A: We were doing a warm-up before a show in New Jersey, getting everybody to raise their hands: ‘Come on, now, everybody do it so you won’t look stupid …’ So this one guy wouldn’t do it. I said, ‘just pretend you’re in New York’ – because we were in New Jersey you say New York, if you’re in New York you say New Jersey – and he just stood there with his arms folded. I said, ‘what’s the matter, sir, didn’t you come to have a good time?’ He said, ‘I didn’t come here to be fucked with by the likes of you.’ Everybody just backed away from him. The audience, with families and kids, was a semi circle and it turned into a doughnut. There was nothing I could do. Once in a while I’d refer back: ‘No offense to you, sir, just talking to these people here.’ And he’d nod his head. By the end of the show he was actually clapping. The slow, inclusive method worked. I thought at that point, man, New Jersey, this guy was like Paulie Walnuts. That would be the worst person in the world to make fun of. It would be like a whole episode of how Paulie rubbed out a street performer.
Q: How do you adapt stand-up comedy for the street?
A: Sometimes you get caught in a joke and you realize where the line of the joke is going. What would become a dick joke indoors instantly becomes the anti-dick joke. You veer away from that material.
Q: What do you do when someone tells you some horrible, racist joke and then says, ‘you can use this in your act’?
A: It happens a lot. As I get older, I tend to be a little more acerbic about it. I go, ‘Really? You really want me to tell that joke?’ Then I tell them to do it again. Then when the racist part comes up, I tell them to just do that part. By then he’s starting to realize I’m doing this for a reason. Then I say, ‘You know what? The whole joke is pretty good except for that part. If I were you, I’d be careful because I’m half black’ – or whatever the race he’s banging on. And he goes, ‘oh, it’s just a joke.’ I say, ‘I know, and I take it that way. It’s not a problem with me. But some people, like my grandfather, he would’ve just kicked your ass.’ The nice thing about doing that instead telling him to fuck off is that you’re teaching someone something at the same time.
Q: Do you think you have to be a pessimist to be an effective comedian?
A: I was at the Aspen Comedy Festival and it was all stand up and they were giving an award to George Carlin. He was supposed to do 10 minutes and he did 45. I think Sinbad was the host and he says backstage, ‘I’m not going out there. My material doesn’t work after he’s done 45 minutes of that bitter old man stuff.’ That was the first time I thought about it that way. There are so many things you fight the pessimism with by making these jokes. Like the guy standing in the audience with his arms folded. Part of me is like: What the fuck is wrong with you?! Why don’t you just walk away? The better you get and the more material you have, you get to the point where you can keep them laughing if your timing is right. That’s the real trick, but for the most part I think comedians are pessimistic about life.
Q: Why did you decide to do this particular act at the street fest?
A: The worst experience everybody has at a festival is the portable toilets. I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to have themes, and sound effects and music, put cosies on the toilet seat, keep them clean and have all this product outside: Foot powder, you need a diaper for your baby, feminine hygiene products, condoms, anything you need. These bathrooms are actually functional, and they’re free, though we do take tips. We change them around. One of them is actually a movie theatre, we did an impressionist art gallery … It’s a very positive experience.