First a cautious glance here, another there, a slight twitch of the mouth. Trembling over tight-lips then tumbling out of smiles: laughter. Laughter filling the air at Federation Square. Bubbling out of bellies, and bursting from mouths. Rippling through a crowd of unlikely conveners, convened almost by accident, but not quite… Brought together by spontaneous, contagious, organic laughter, courtesy of Melbourne’s finest,
Live Street Entertainment.
Step right up, folks. It’s Laughter by Donation.
I forgot how good it feels to laugh so hard your abs hurt. To shake so vigorously your bladder threatens to burst… To make eye contact with a complete stranger and share a deep, genuine, full-bodied laugh.
I’ll admit I was feeling a little bummed out about missing Mardi Gras in Sydney this weekend (one of the consequences of being on a ‘working holiday’ and not working! Not a lot of extra money to throw around at plane tickets and giant parties!) but, once again Melbourne lifted my spirits and proved to be the charmer of a city that I first fell for.
Wandering around Melbourne is like going on a giant treasure hunt, a really easy giant treasure hunt because you don’t have to look very hard to find gold!! Hiding around every corner is another gem: the cutest cafe you’ve ever seen, and then another one that is even cuter, a bar that looks like a 60’s grandmother’s love nest, and great grand-buildings, wrinkled with time, lined with history, beautiful architecture everywhere! But one of my favourite things about living in Melbourne is definitely the treats of the streets. Artists, musicians, comedians, clowns all pouring their hearts out on every block, onto the sidewalk in pastels, out of a shoebox speaker…
So I was walking right? One foot after the other, paying less attention to where I was going and more attention to the things happening in my head, but then I heard it. A laugh, small and timid, adolescent, but then there was another, more bold, a laugh shaking hands with someone else’s laugh, hugging… and then an orgy of laughter. It was magnificent; the kind of laughter you couldn’t ignore. Happiness squirting out of mouths- dancing over faces. And what was the source of all this magicalness?
A plump bald man wearing disco pants.
Microphone in hand, Discopants belted out a commentary for passerby’s enjoyment. A commentary of the happenings of a Saturday night on the corner of Swanston and Flinders. A crowd began to gather. Why was that well-dressed man in such a hurry? What was the young women saying on her phone? How about the one with the large camera, what was she thinking? The couple on their first date… Married with children- what would they do if he danced up to them- stopped dropped and rolled on the ground- or flashed open his suit jacket, like this, BAM-
This man had all the answers!
Straight from the eye to the mind to the mouth, he was quite witty and comical in his improvisation. But alas, later in his routine, he juggled with fire… and he burned this bridge.
I was literally counting the money in my wallet, getting ready to donate the rest of what I had, when the jokes came pouring out. The easy route, slippery and ignorant, sexist and homophobic… Sure it bought a few snickers, and handful of giggles. But the laughter was no longer inviting, no longer inclusive; it was a flurry of bees with their stingers out, broken glass flying through the air.
Not cool. I could feel the heat rising, burning up my neck and into my ears. And I was faced with a dilemma- I wanted to get up a leave right then, but his performance was almost over, and for more than half of the show I had enjoyed myself immensely, laughing uncontrollably. As a fellow artist I wanted to support his efforts, as a queer feminist woman I wanted to boycott his heterosexist douchebagyness-
But I stayed.
I stayed until the very end then I marched up to Discopants with a handful of change and told him straight up with everyone still watching. He had good energy, good enthusiasm, he was truly funny until he was not, until he danced over that line and entered into the douchebag realm. With my heart pounding in my head, I gave him a piece of my mind, and for me, his reaction saved the show. To my surprise, he wasn’t defensive and he didn’t shrug it off. He wanted to know every line, every bit that made me uncomfortable, which parts I thought were homophobic. He apologized assuring me that he would make sure those lines didn’t appear in another show- they weren’t part of his practiced routine they were just dropped in, in the heat of the moment.
Maybe he just wanted my money… but it felt good. It felt good to speak up and be heard.
And even if my words and my change didn’t change him, and he continues to fish for laughter with rotten bait- I still feel better. I always hold onto things inside- I think of all the things I could’ve said, I should have said, I wanted to say- for hours afterwards, sometimes for days, weeks even. I’ll dwell on moments where I felt small and silenced wishing I could have said something, said anything. But I can remember this moment, his performance, the laughter it brought me, and the strength that laughter gave me.
There is such a thing as humour that doesn’t hurt, that strokes instead of pokes; entertainment that hugs, and warms and cheers…
As I walked along the south bank of the Yarra River on Saturday evening I discovered more and more street performers, musicians, and artists that had managed to gather their own crowds. Bringing people together with art and music and comedy.
Strangers making eye contact, smiling, laughing…
Ha Ha Ha! 😀
See you on the streets,
Heidi J. Loos