Mysteries of the Unexplained: Bacon
Mysteries of the Unexplained: Bacon by Mike Daisey, Joe’s Pub, June 8, 2009
Review by Rachel Kramer Bussel
When monologist Mike Daisey took the stage at Joe’s Pub last night for Mysteries of the Unexplained: Bacon, there was a collective, though silent, sigh. There was no bacon in sight. Since every other show I’ve seen him in has just been him at a table, with some paper and a glass of water, I’d assumed we’d see the same thing, but with him frying up some bacon. He let us marinate in our collective hunger for bacon before letting us know that instead of doing double duty, he’d gotten Obie Award-winning playwright Heidi Schreck to fry the ten pounds of bacon, adorned in a cute apron. The show’s promo promised that “we’ll explore bacon in all its filthy, gorgeous deliciousness,” and I think it’s fair to say Daisey succeeded. More than in other shows I’ve seen him do, this time he spoke directly to the audience, for a “communal celebration” as we jointly worshipped at the “church of pork,” implicating us in our love of bacon. He spoke of hipsters in Williamsburg, and how as much as we want to crucify them (while they’re wearing “I’m Being Crucified” ironic t-shirts), we also love them, perhaps because we all share a love of bacon.
He explained that while he had originally thought he could be the one frying the bacon and deliver his monologue, that just wasn’t possible. He picked Schreck, who he’d worked with in Seattle, seemingly because she didn’t have much culinary experience. As for the bacon, it wasn’t gourmet. “Ladies and gentlemen, in the style of myself, we just have a lot of bacon,” said Daisey. Upon announcing the theme of the show, Daisey was bombarded with emails about bacon. “You have to talk about this in the show,” people said, when really, in Daisey’s words, they were just showing him things they wanted to eat, or at least, discuss. Like the Bacon AK 47.
Along the way to telling the story of how he came to be on a South Pacific island [Tanna – read more about it here] and faced with a wild pig he’s supposed to kill, Daisey mused on his sexuality. “It was clear I could have a real life in the bear community–this was a fetish I could pull off.” Alas, “I was just straight and loved bacon.” Bacon became something that Daisey, and his audience, collectively salivated and obsessed over, listening to the monologue while sneaking glances at Schreck, who mostly kept to her cooking duties, occasionally responding to a slight verbal jab from Daisey. Daisey noted that he wished he were part of one of the religions that bans eating bacon, if only to defy those proscriptions.
He extolled the wonder of the bacon at Williamsburg steakhouse Peter Luger, calling it the best bacon. He also touched on a subject near and dear to my heart and my stomach: cupcakes, linking them to bacon as a food that’s been hipsterized and fetishized, suggesting there might be a shop opening up to sell only artisinal bacon called Sizzle, and that there’d be meetup groups to jointly cook it (yes, my cupcake blog has a meetup group, thank you very much).
But the power of Daisey’s shows, this one especially, isn’t about pointing to or laughing at his audiences, but about joining them to him. By choosing such a communal topic as bacon (suggested by an audience member at the first Mysteries of the Unexplained, which was about Facebook), he was able to make us think about why, exactly, we love bacon so much, while also letting us know that, as fatty and forbidden as it may be by religions and health nuts, it’s not just okay to like it, it’s almost imperative. As for me, I am not a bacon fanatic, but I do enjoy it, and have found that, like cupcakes, it is a word that incites an immediate reaction. Daisey played this to good effect, and while the topic wasn’t as personal or intense as some of his previous work, it was also more fun. How could it not be when the sparseness of his set was brightened by a woman meticulously cooking bacon for an hour?
At one point in the show, my friend Heidi whispered to me, “It’s sizzling.” And indeed it was. The smell of bacon began permeating Joe’s Pub and distracted just a bit from Daisey’s words. I had eaten a dish of meatballs, along with some of the ham Heidi gifted me from her salad; she is one of those vegetarians who love bacon so much they just can’t stay away (I once gave her a bacon wallet as a gift). Thus stuffed (I also had sautéed spinach, and it was all delicious), I wasn’t too too disappointed when at the end of the night, after settling our bill, we found that the bacon that had been fried up by Schreck and handed out by Daisey’s wife/director Jean-Michele Gregory, was gone. We were treated to a (wrapped) package of bacon-flavored jelly beans, and Bacon vs. Tofu action figures. “We’re going to smell like bacon,” Heidi warned me as we exited. I’m not sure if we did, in fact, smell like bacon for the rest of the night, but I do know that if I did, I, like Daisey, don’t mind a bit.
The next Mysteries of the Unexplained will be July 6th at Joe’s Pub. See Mike Daisey’s website for forthcoming show topic, to be picked from audience suggestions.