"I saw a professional storyteller last week. That's what this guy was," my friend explains as we walk out of Theatre 99. She was right — TJ Dawe is a great speaker. He just wasn't much else.
Dawe's show, The Slipknot, tells the story of Dawe at three points in his life: a 20 year-old truck driver, a 23 year-old mail clerk, and a 26 year-old drugstore shelf-stocker. Standing in front of different colored lights on different parts of the stage, Dawe's voice rings out loud and clear as he acts out the different stages of his life. He is earnest and honest in his stories. He keeps a straight face, sometimes snickering, and often shrugging. He can be dramatic, especially when recounting his unsuccessful acid trips. But at no point is he, as his Piccolo bio professes, "hysterical."
Live performances certainly do not have to be funny to be good. But multiple people shouldn't walk out on someone's show if that show is supposed to be good. And last night, the squeaky chairs of Theater 99 squeaked several exits throughout Dawe's performance.
As a young truck driver, Dawe struggles with a long distance relationship. We feel for him and we understand his pain. We chuckle at his misfortunes — he fails miserably at his truck training and is still handed the keys to the unwieldy machine. As a post office clerk Dawe fields calls from unhappy customers and informs them again and again of the four items that cannot be insured in the Canadian post: jewelry, cash, antiques, and meat. You can't insure meat? Funny, right? Apparently Dawe thinks so, because he pulls from this material again and again, once even mentioning that human ashes are considered meat, and therefore some very unfortunate customer has lost out on her loved one's remains forever. We laugh, we're comfortable, the jokes are nice, and we think we can sit through an hour of Dawe's stories because he's easy-listening.
And then he is himself as a drugstore shelf-stocker. And things start to go awry — yeah, yeah, in Dawe's life (at this point we understand that that's the premise of the whole show) — but more notably in Dawe's jokes. I didn't count but I think he had at least five period jokes. Yes, like a woman's menstrual cycle. Because ... that's funny? I cringed at the "Drugstore designers are geniuses — the family planning is located next to the feminine hygiene. And the feminine hygiene is located next to the chocolate." Just when we thought we were OK with giving up on Dawe as a funny guy, and that we could simply enjoy him as a storyteller, he hits us with these boring, cliched, and borderline sexist jokes. I almost joined the exiting few with Dawe's most tasteless zinger: "A man came in with a black eye and asked for our PMS pills."
I think I would like Hawes if I met him in person. He's comfortable with himself and he understands how to tell a story that makes someone say, "Ah, yes, me too." Or maybe even, "Oh, mm, I understand how that could happen." He really undermines his eager honesty with the lame drugstore jokes ("All of the products are for women. I never realized how expensive it is to be a woman"), but if you can look past that, you can get on board with his stories. You can see his life is just like yours, and shitty day jobs are always funny — if you let yourself laugh at them.