Thursday, August 23, 2007

LORD BUCKLEY: Richard Henzel Performs "The Chairs"

A precursor to many of the contemporary audience participation gags, from Charles Pike's play "Return of the Hip Messiah," here's Richard Henzel as Lord Buckley performing Buckley's "The Chairs." Music by Jonathan Menchin, directed by Aaron Freeman, produced by Scott Vehill and Jonathan Lavan for Prop Theatre. Second City Skybox, Chicago, 1999. Video by Jim Sikora.

It sort of sets the stage for Shiner, Larible, Willer Nicolodi and lots of other folks who followed.

Please try to excuse the racism of the piece. At the time that Buckley was originally performing this material Amos & Andy was a long-running and extremely popular radio show. Audiences had grown up with and knew the characters the way many of today's twentysomethings have grown up with and know the Simpsons characters. It also allowed Buckley the freedom to explore the language of the African-American jazz community, something that he would later present with much greater artistic success. That doesn't excuse it, but it may help you to understand his choice.

Buckley dropped this very popular piece from his stage act rather early in comedy career and actually walked out of vaudeville at the Palace in it's dying days because he was so bored by performing it.


Raffaele De Ritis said...

Very interesting clip!
I'm not really sure about the influence of this on the contemporary audience-participation clowns. In fact, this phenomenon started earlier in Europe, in the early 80s, and I think I can reconstruct how all that arrived in the circus ring, being a direct witness of many facts. First of all, audience participation (in a very primitive way) was a feature of european street theater of the 70s. Shiner and Cesar were some of the most advanced in that. They both worked at Place Beaubourg in Paris. Their closest inspiration was likely the theatre show of Alberto and Carlo Colombaioni (Carlo being the uncle of Fumagalli, by the way) directed by Dario Fo. Basically, the Colombaionis adapted their two parodies of Hamlet and Cavalleria Rusticana with audience members and hats.
In 1983, Davis Shiner was booked by the small circus Puits aux Images (today Cirque Baroque) then in the outskirts of Paris. This, I believe, was the first time ever that an audience participation clown performed in a circus ring. I'm not sure, but Shiner probably had already the movie gag. For sure he used the "girl in the car". The following year (January 1984), Shiner performed, always in Paris, at Cirque de Demain Festival, under the Gruss big top, and won. Bernhard Paul, in the jury, booked him for the following Roncalli tour.
And the trend began.
The first to follow was Cesar at Knie ('85), then Peter Shub (Roncalli '86)etc.
Larible at the time was at Circus Krone, not yet with audience gags, observing carefully all those movements from the streets to the rings. His first audience participation routine was the "Knifes" gag, he was the first ever to do in a circus at Monte Carlo Festival in 1997.
Concerning Nicolodi, this is a cabaret-style audience participation that is traditiona used by magicians, hypnotists, etc.
But thank you for the intersting clip.

Raffaele De Ritis said...

I wrote that Larible started the "knives" in 1997, but I wantet to write 1987...

rhenzel said...

Hi.Thanks Pat, for your intelligent and thoughtful explanation of "The Chairs"--yes, it does go beyond the bounds of today's politically correct humor, but I think modern African Americans, and those contemporary to Buckley, understood that his love of his characters (many of which he used the dialect of what he called "The American Beauty Negro") was rooted in his love for the many African American musicians that he became close to while performing as a comedian opening for some of America's greatest blues and jazz musicians.

rhenzel said...

Sorry, Pat, I should have been addressing my compliments to Raffaele de rits. But thank you Pat for putting a link to my post at YouTube.