From Eiffel to Cyrus: Puppetry of the Penis
"If you don’t want to come, don’t buy a fucking ticket."
“When people ask what I do, I tell them I’m a dog trainer,” Simon Morley tells me having not long completed Puppetry of the Penis shows in Brighton and then Cheltenham as part of a new tour. “If people ask about the show I say it’s old-school vaudeville comedy. It’s a completely non-sexual show where we manipulate our nether regions for the amusement of others.”
It’s a practice that over the past 20 years has delivered genital representations of the Eiffel Tower, the Loch Ness Monster, a pelican and a hamburger. The 2016 tour introduces impersonations of Miley Cyrus and Donald Trump in a bid to keep things current.
Comparing the on-stage moulding of his manhood to a gig from one of the world’s biggest rock bands, Simon explains: “If you go to a U2 concert you’re going to want to hear ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ and ‘One’. So we include the Loch Ness Monster, the Hamburger and a few others – it’s a mixture.”
Pre-penis puppetry Simon ran comedy rooms in Australia, where he is originally from. It became apparent in time that he could get a bigger laugh than the comics he was hosting, with their “finely honed routines”, by taking down his pants and making shapes with what was underneath.
The first Puppetry of the Penis show, also starring David "Friendy" Friend, was at the 1998 Melbourne International Comedy Festival. It has since toured all over the western world. “We never looked back,” Simon says, “and we’ve been waiting for someone to tell us to stop it ever since.”
There have been complaints though. They are not from audience members but from religious groups upset that their local theatre has invited Puppetry of the Penis to their town. Simon has an idea: “If you don’t want to come, don’t buy a fucking ticket.”
He doesn’t want these complaints to stop - on the contrary, he wishes there were more. “It always helps if someone complains about the show. It doesn’t happen enough, I love it, usually we sell a lot more tickets if people complain.”
Has the pain of this activity urged him to stop? Seemingly not…as the pain I imagined does not exist. “There’s one thing a man knows how to do from a very early age and that’s how to handle himself without hurting himself,” he states. “I think you’ll agree, Sam, we get plenty of practice.”
There was something else I’d been wondering about, and I didn’t doubt Simon had been asked on many an occasion, but I couldn’t help enquiring about unplanned movement down there…
“We say here at Puppetry of the Penis that we never work hard,” he says, playing around with a double meaning before addressing the subject of erections head-on, letting me know that the puppetry obviously can’t be done unless flaccid.
“It was always an interesting thing,” he says. “When we were looking for new people, anyone who found 500 people laughing at their genitals an arousing thing obviously wasn’t the person for us.”
The discussion evoked a memory. “There was a situation,” the performer recalls. “I was in San Francisco backstage reading a Mötley Crüe biography. It was the chapter where Tommy Lee first met Pamela Anderson. All of a sudden I heard ‘please welcome to the stage Puppetry of the Penis!’
“I‘ve stood up and thought ‘oh my god – this is not going to work.’ I was a little too happy to be there you might say. I quickly grabbed an ice cold can of coke from our rider, put it between my legs and then went out on stage. Luckily we had capes on for the first four minutes. When the time came to throw the capes back the can dropped and rolled off the stage to the front row. There was an elderly lady sitting there and she just looked me in the eyes, picked up the can, opened it and took a drink.”
The trick worked, and someone got a free drink out of it, which I’d welcome given theatre bar prices – regardless of where the beverage had lurked beforehand.
Puppetry of the Penis comes to New Theatre Oxford on 15th July.
Related Articles: Flavia and Vincent's Last Tango