Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Dragon*Con 2011 – The Late Night Puppet Slam

Let’s talk about fucking puppets.
Wait – that didn’t sound right. I didn’t mean to imply fornication with puppets – not that Janice isn’t totally hot or anything – I just meant, like; fuck, yeah – puppets! Right on! Enthusiasm. Not sex. Absolutely not puppet sex.
Although there was a dash of puppet sexy time as well. Mulder and Scully puppet sexy time.
If you’re wondering just what the heck I’m talking about, it’s Dragon*Con’s first-ever Late Night Puppet Slam. It happened Sunday night and it was kind of a big fucking deal. Like, a packed-house, couple-hundred-people-turned-away-at-the-door kind of deal:
The undisputable hit of last year’s Dragon*Con TV was a series of shorts featuring Bob & Carl: Sci-Fi Janitors. I’m not going to tell you about it. Click on the link and go look. It’s worth your time. Ah, but just in case you’re a naughty monkey and you’re sitting at work reading this and can’t watch video, Bob & Carl are a pair of puppet janitors in hazmat suits who clean up after the various events of the Con and make observations about dorkery in general. They’re just snarky enough to be funny without being condescending or mean and that’s a neat trick when you’re dealing with genre satire.
The pair were created by Beau Brown and (some other dude - I tried to track down credits for everybody involved with the Puppet Slam, but I'm far too lazy to exhaust every avenue. If I can manage it I'll edit this later, but the post HAD to go up today because I can't still be writing about Dragon*Con during my Halloween coverage). Beau is, from what I understand, pretty much the mastermind of the puppet presence at the Con this year and is living his dream. Beau is also a very close friend of Mrs. Troublemaker’s (as well as several of the DCW Hooliganz), which is how I got into all of this. As much as I love the Muppets and Thunderbirds and that one scene in Nightmare on Elm Street 3, I’m not sure I would’ve chosen to spend a couple of precious hours of the last night of Dragon*Con doing this if not for that connection. And I would’ve been poorer for it.
So anyway, all 40,000+ Con-goers absolutely loved Bob & Carl last year to the point where this year, stuff like this happened:
And this:
And this:
And the powers that be at Dragon*Con had the wisdom and foresight to give the masterminds behind the Sci-Fi Janitors their very own series of panels for 2011.
Sadly I cannot offer comment on the standard daytime panels because one would have interfered with my acquisition of a Very Important Doctor Who action figure and the other was at 10 AM on Sunday, a very personal time of intense reflection for me personally. Or as some might call it – “sleeping it off”.
But Sunday night I had the privilege to not only witness an actual live performance of the Janitors and a whole cadre of talented puppeteers; I got some real-live V.I.P. treatment.
First let me dispel any concepts you might have about my objectiveness regarding anything I review here. I cannot be bought. This may seem like a silly statement going into a review of a free puppet show, but my integrity is important. I don’t want you people thinking I’m gushing just because we got front-row seats or because I know the guy behind the show. Special treatment will never sway my opinions. Nor will acquaintance. Just ask The Letmedowns. Mattel could send me free toys for life and tell me the first bad review I give will cut me off and the second the feet fall off of my brand-new Scandal Savage figure I’m going to be out free toys because I’ll call it a piece of shit.
(But, seriously, Mattel – don’t let that stop you from making the offer! I’m sure I’d get at least four or five figures before you rescinded!)
So anyway, thanks to our connections we got in early and got sweet-ass seats. We also got to witness a good bit of the setup and preparation for the performance and I love that kind of stuff. I did not, however, take any pictures of that because it’s not my place to spoil the magic.
Once the hall filled up we got an intro to the people behind the show and a hearty thanks for being there.
Note: I did the best I could with pictures for this thing. Puppets are, by necessity, a fast-moving and frenetic bunch. There is blurring. I need a better camera. Anybody have opinions on a great point-and-shoot for motion stuff like wrestling and puppet shows? I’m not about to carry around a DSLR or anything.
The show started with, of course, Bob & Carl. I don’t know how much of what they did here was scripted and how much was improv but it was all funny. I can’t imagine trying to work a crowd from behind a table. The pair discussed the late-night mature nature of the show and got the f-bomb out of the way pretty quick. They also managed to start a group sing-a-long of the Duck Tales theme song which my first instinct was to say I surprised myself by knowing every word but that would be a lie. I had already recently found out just how deeply ingrained that particular tune was when I introduced Lil’ Troublemaker to the show.
They also tried to get Gummi Bears going but that just wasn’t happening.
One of the janitors also kept losing his mask which was unintentionally hilarious. It got to be a bit.
After the introductions it was time for the show proper.
The first segment was called “Monkeys In Orbit” and if you don’t see the inspiration here we just can’t be friends anymore. It was performed by (dude) and let me just say – it was masterful. The tone and the work felt like they were straight out of one of the old Pigs In Space segments and the puppets were beautiful. This was a perfect introduction to the show because it gave people something they were familiar with to ease them into what ended up being a very eclectic and expansive evening.
Next we got a very sweet moment where Bob & Carl acknowledged the Bob & Carl cosplayers in the audience. I can tell you that Beau spent the weekend simply awestruck by what was going on. The guy genuinely appreciated those yellow dudes in the gas masks.
We got a look at one of the puppets in the next bit early on. It was a walrus and Monkey pointed out that it looked just like Mythbusters’ Jamie Hyneman. 
It turned out he was exactly right because that walrus was joined by a rabbit Adam Savage and the two went on to do a Mythbusters bit involving trying to turn a pumpkin into a coach. I don’t know if it was me or what but this one fell a little flat. The puppets looked fantastic and the voice work was solid, I just couldn’t get into it. I think the concept was even solid, the jokes just weren’t hitting for me.
Next Bob & Carl came back and I should make something clear right now. Just as with any other nocturnal activities at Dragon*Con I was pretty drunk and drinking more. I can tell you that the Bob & Carl bits were funny because I definitely remember loving them, but I can’t tell you what they consisted of beyond the earlier sing-a-long. Well, that and introducing the segments. The next of which involved Superman.
My first reaction to this was along the lines of , “Seriously? Those aren’t even puppets. My son could make those.” But I was laughing my ass off just seconds later. The bit was Superman bringing Lois Lane to the Fortress of Solitude and showing her his alien zoo and explaining how he takes care of them, feeds them, makes love to them, grooms them. Dude – it was fucking hilarious. The writing and voice work was great – the puppet medium was secondary. I loved this one.
Bob & Carl reemerged for a bit and introduced our next segment – some fantastic-looking puppets that did a Star Trek bit. It was funny stuff that culminated in a Sulu puppet appearing for a now-famous, “Oh, my.” I missed a bit of this one due to an issue that would later become a serious problem.
I am generally quite adept at not going to the bathroom. My job requires me to not go to the bathroom for long stretches of time occasionally. I have to maintain a certain amount of observation and control over what I do and I am the only one that is there to do it. So sometimes I have to not go to the bathroom when it is very inconvenient to not go to the bathroom. My point here is that I had been drinking for quite some time by the time the Star Trek puppets went on and I needed to pee. When I got to the back door of the room I was informed that if I left I would not be allowed back in because they were letting the waiting people in as others left.
Well, shit.
And this is where my not going to the bathroom powers were going to come in handy. I did not want to miss the rest of the puppet show so I returned to my seat and willed myself to hang in there.
Bob & Carl returned to introduce the next bit (this is where things got sexy). It was some good X-Files stuff with a couple of puppets with the magical feature of removable clothes. 
The performance was funny enough on its own, but the part that absolutely killed me – and everybody else in the room – was when the puppeteers popped up half-dressed themselves. It was very brave and absolutely hilarious. 
I also didn’t realize until I sat down and reviewed my pictures that the guy playing Mulder is the one we were hanging out with later Sunday night.
I’m pretty sure Bob & Carl made another appearance here, but I don’t have pictures to prove it.
Our next bit took me a minute to get into. You had toast and an apple slice and a very subdued presentation. 
By the end I was totally on board with this one. It was like watching a live-action web comic. A very good web comic. The two ladies performing had excellent timing and a great sense of the absurdity of what they were doing. 
And they killed it with that Wonder Bread cape.
Next up was another hilarious Superman segment.
And unfortunately, this is where my bladder gave out.
Okay, well that’s not technically right because that would have been gross. But I couldn’t take it anymore. I even calculated how discretely I might be able to pee in a beer bottle (not the first time I’ve made that particular consideration). But time was up. I regretfully made my way to the back and exited.
Gnoll came out shortly after I did and we made our way back over to the Marriot. Everybody else joined us shortly after that. Even Beau showed up a little later. I told him how much I had enjoyed the show and explained that lots of beer and two and a half hours of puppetry do not successfully mix for me.
But the bottom line is the Late Night Puppet Slam was fantastic. It was funny and innovative and something completely different from anything I had seen before. I highly recommend not only that you see it next year, but also that you try and make it out to one of the Puckin’ Fuppet shows if you can. It’s presented by the same folks and while my work schedule hasn’t allowed me to attend yet, I feel sure you’re going to get a lot of the same quality work.
The only thing I’d like to see different next year is maybe move it up to 10:00 or even to Saturday night.

Until next time, stay creepy

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