Simon Morley, the Aussie creator of the internationally notorious comedy Puppetry of the Penis, summed up his unlikely theatrical juggernaught with a smile and a shrug in one interview.
"It's art. It's a piece of skin. It's there to be laughed at. Get over it," he said. Considering that Morley's controversial two-member show claims to "start where The Full Monty ends" (and has grossed over $30 million globally), the "ancient Australian art of genital origami" has certainly enjoyed potency during shriveling economic times. With the public's curiosity about hanging art -- hand-manipulated "installations" of the Eiffel Tower, the Loch Ness Monster, Joey in a Pouch and even a "framed" George W. Bush -- there's even more of a demand for intrepid male performers with natural flexibility and a complete lack of shame. It's not a stretch to say that for veteran Aussie "balloon twister" Lincoln Davies, 32, and his Yank counterpart, Jef Benjamin, 34, freedom of speech comes with the turf. The pair sat down over champagne and cake after opening night last week at the Denver Civic Theatre to discuss the naked truth.
Westword: How many of these "installations" have you actually invented, and how many are just part of the adolescent male's public domain?
Davies: It's all part of the same culture in Australia. Only about 50 percent of 'em you see done in a change room or in the pub. There's probably another hundred dick tricks than the ones we do in the show. It's the sort of thing where you'll be standing at the bar, and your mate will pop out his dick and be like, 'Oh, shit, I banged my thumb on the bar,' and it's like a swollen thumb or whatever. And another guy'll be like, 'Oh, no -- I got a fuckin' better trick than that one.' So, yeah, there's a bit of upstaging.
Benjamin: I used to do a thing on stage where I'd wrap it around the guitar neck and use it as my slide: Weeeeer-neeeer! Weer-neer-neer!"
Westword: Do you ever feel upstaged by your own anatomy? 'Cause neither of you are exactly the leading man in the performance.
Davies: Well, look -- we're living the dream, and we're in the family now. So we're gonna take very special care these days.
Westword: Do you consider yourselves actors?
Davies: No. I just have fun. But no aspirations. It's the next step up from waiting tables.
Westword: Are you both comfortable walking around naked all the time?
Benjamin: I was raised in a family that was cool to be naked. We didn't have hangups about our bodies. Me and my mother and sister were raised in Hawaii, and we'd go down skinny-dippin' at nighttime. There was nothing shocking to see anybody in our family walking around our house naked. And I played in a punk-rock band called Brown Finger, and we eventually ended up getting naked.
Davies: It took my mom about nine months before she could even say "Puppetry of the Penis." After three months, she was up to "Puppetry." At six months, "Puppetry of the..." And finally now, she can spit out "Penis." The straitjacket's been removed.
Westword: Is the reception here in America a lot different than back home?
Davies: In Australia, a lot more guys come to the show. Everyone there does this sort of stuff. Here, I think there's a bit more homophobia.
Westword: Do all of the shows -- city to city -- build up to the same climax? It all seems like some exhibitionist's version of Up With People.
Davies: Yeah, it's all scripted -- 99 percent of the show. There's a little room for improv [when a member is brought up from the audience]. Not much.
Westword: How was the competition during your auditions?
Benjamin: They're just looking for a pretty smile [laughs]. It's about malleability and being able to do the tricks. And after that, they just want a person who's not gonna have stage fright. And that's what my greatest advantage was. I brought 'em a cover to a single [record] I did -- where we got our pants around our ankles -- so they knew from that moment that I had no stage fright. Being as I'm the first American Penis Puppeteer, I do feel like I've pulled my thumb out of the dike, and now there's gonna be American Penis Puppeteers everywhere.
Westword: What's the audition like?
Benjamin: When you go in, they give you a sheet of paper with tricks on it. It had Loch Ness Monster. It had the Eiffel Tower, the Hamburger. And then they ask, 'Do you have any tricks of your own?' So I busted out the Potato Bug. You know how potato bugs roll up into a little roly-poly thing? All I do is push my [genitals] back in there and pull it out. It looks just like the hairy-backed turtle, you know? I did another trick called the Fly that I thought was really funny, but the creator looked at me and said, "Oh, it's just the same trick."
Davies: The first audition I did was at Friendy's [POP co-founder David Friend]. But it was just one of those things that once I decided in my head I was gonna do it, I couldn't think about not doing it.
Westword: Does size matter at an audition?
Benjamin: It's not the size. It's the smile from the trick. I'm just an average guy.
Westword: Steve-O in Jackass uses a staple gun for his signature Butterfly move, you know? He staples his scrotum to his thighs.
Benjamin: That's stupid. Actually, I shouldn't say that. That's just more pain than I'd be willing to endure for a laugh. What we do is painless. You gotta try these things. The book tells you how to do every trick. What was your favorite trick tonight?
Westword: Windsurfer...George W. Bush... the Pelican, for some reason. The lighting of the Olympic torch [during which the two pass a flame using hidden lighters] was good, too. Is there one trick that never fails to win an audience? That always brings down the house?
Benjamin: George Bush. That always works. At least all seven times that I've been doing this. Actually, I saw this for five weeks straight, because when I wasn't on stage in Seattle, I was the lighting guy. But every time, it brought down the house.
Westword: What's the biggest misconception people have about your craft?
Benjamin: That we're gonna be having a little puppet show with our penises. Like [in a falsetto], "Hello Mr. Snail!" Or dress it up in French period costumes. Have little tea parties. "La la la la la la." Put a little hat on it. A wig, you know. And a mole.
Westword: It is a little misleading to call it a puppet show. You have your hand up there once in a while, but it's more about twisting and bending and kneading it into shapes, isn't it?
Davies: It's a malleable craft.
Westword: Have there been any copycat troupes yet?
Benjamin: Yeah -- the Cocktortionists. That was a joke. Maybe I'll start one.
Westword: Is it fair to charge folks up to $40 to watch you play with yourselves for an hour?
Davies: I guess if the house is full, I guess it's a fair price. I don't know how you measure stuff like that.
Westword: Ever feel like you're getting away with murder?
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Davies: [long pause] Yes.
Westword: The weirdest thing about coming out of the show tonight was seeing penises everywhere I looked -- in the bricks and carpet.
Davies: That'll never stop, mate. Sorry.