Why, apart from being Australian, would two men in their late 30s take off their clothes and play with their genitals in front of a group of complete strangers for an hour?
“Because we can,” shrugs David Friend, as if we’re discussing the weather. Then again, as one half of Puppetry of the Penis, he’s been doing this professionally for a “dickade” – and most of his life before that. It began in the bath as a child, and grew at university, but his genital origami career really climaxed after teaming up with Simon Morley – their debut at 1998’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival was a big hit. Ten years later, they’re still going.
“People are intrigued by the idea and that’s the thing that’s sold it for us over the years,” he figures.
“People want to know: ‘How can they do this?’, ‘How on earth are these guys doing it?’. “It” would be manipulating their manhood into 45 different “installations” – from a hamburger to the Eiffel Tower.
“Think about how a comedian sets up a gag and then has a punchline. With us we have a setup as well and the dick trick is the punchline,” he explains.
“The best tricks are in the show – after 10 years we’ve been able to cut the dead wood out.”
And it’s not exactly easy to keep expanding the repertoire.
“There’s only so much you can do with two testicles and a penis – there’s only so many permutations. If you throw in props there’s a whole lot more but we don’t really want to go down that track, we want to keep it as pure as possible, keeping the art pure,” Friend grins.
But is it art?
“We sell it as art,” he deadpans. “Put it that way.”
“The street name for them is dick tricks, but we call them ‘installations’. We’ve had to talk it up as much as possible.”
So are they taking the piss?
“Oh, absolutely,” grins the Aussie. “It’s the cock ‘n roll swindle.” The Sex Pistols reference is more than a quick and easy joke. Just like the punk band produced good music behind all their spitting and talk of anarchy, “there’s actually a little bit of substance behind what we do. People are genuinely cacking themselves.
“It’s performance art,” he finally decides. “There are other people who do stuff they call art, which isn’t too dissimilar.”
He’s got a point – even if, unlike much performance art, their intention isn’t to offend.
“People have been programmed over the years to react to male genitals in a certain way and the reaction we’re after is not to shock or horrify or arouse. We want people to have a good laugh at it all – anything else than what we’ve been taught.
“I don’t have issues with being nude,” he continues. “I don’t think there should be any issues with things that don’t hurt people. For example in the ‘States, they won’t show a nipple on the television but they’ll show someone’s head getting blown off by a gun. They’ll show death and destruction of animals but you can’t say the word ‘penis’. It’s out of proportion.”
There is someone who does have a few issues with him being nude, though.
“Both Simon’s and my mum are tortured,” Friendy confesses. “My mum’s actually been to see the show a couple of times now. She thinks it’s funny enough – she just wishes it was someone else’s son doing it.
“Simon’s mum has never been to see the show, she refuses to come and see it, but she will swap tickets to the show for haircuts and golf lessons.”
Mothers aside, the job hasn’t castrated his personal life – his fiance and mother of his two year-old son is the act’s stage manager.
“She has no issues about it at all. She actually worked on a cultural TV show in Australia and was very well known for encouraging people to come and see her boyfriend’s penis.
“But it takes a tough woman to let her boyfriend show the world their penis.
“It’s the peoples’ penis.”
7 THINGS YOU WANTED TO KNOW BUT WERE TOO AFRAID TO ASK
Can you get injured?
We haven’t really had that much of a problem. One of the things we’ve always said though is if we ever got injured, we’d just stop doing it. We got checked out early in our careers and the doctor said we should be all fine as long as we don’t cut off any circulation. Every now and again you can pull too hard or it gets a bit weary. You don’t want to do more than two shows a night. That’s like playing two games of footy in one day – you get a bit weary. You need rest.
Does it take a lot out of you?
Not a one-hour show. I think the thing that takes the most out of us is drinking afterwards – trying to get up the next day with a hangover.
What about cold weather?
Most theatres have heating these days, but shows are definitely shorter in winter. We have warming-up exercises too, again just like playing footy. You’ve got to do your stretches, you don’t want to pull a muscle.
What about performance anxiety?
We’ve been doing it for long enough that there’s no tricks that don’t work. Every now and then the whippersnapper won’t start, but you just make a gag out of it.
And do you need to keep the rest of your body in shape?
I’m pretty lucky – I can eat most things and not put on too much. Although that being said, now that I’m nearing 40 I’m starting to pack it on a bit – the last couple of years slipping around, sitting working at the computer and not so much surfing or playing footy.
So how long can you keep doing this?
I always said I was going to retire when I hit 40 but I just don’t know that I’m going to be able to, unless we can find more guys to do it. We’ve had 10 or 15 different troops playing around the world at various times. But it’s just this next generation don’t like to get their gear off. I didn’t realise that was going to happen. I thought there’d be people knocking down our door to do this. And there will come a time when people stop paying to see a 50 year-old man playing with his genitals.
Is your tackle insured?
We looked into insurance many years ago but then I decided it’s just asking for someone to lop it off really. It’s a policy I’d never ever want to claim on.
- This article originally appeared on iafrica.com.