Ever since he donned his Red Bastard persona, Eric Davis has been making strange things happen. As Kate Copstick finds out, he enjoys every minute of it
It is a glorious thing, in this increasingly industrialised comedy business, to find someone who has been doing his stage act for ten years and is still so delightfully excited by it. And it is a joyful thing to talk to a denizen of the comedy world who almost sparkles with more genuine glee than a drag queen in a sequin factory.
Red Bastard, aka Eric Davis, is a kind of a clown, much in the way that absinthe is a kind of a herbal infusion. His image is based on a 22,000-year-old work of art, he owes a great deal to Freud and he changes lives.
Born in rural Kansas with an upbringing he likens to that of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Davis was cripplingly shy as a child. “I cried too much and knocked my knees together when I ran,” he recalls.
But he and his mother used to play a game called Make Me Laugh (originally a TV show in the United States), in which each player has 60 seconds to make the other laugh as many times as possible, with the proviso they are not allowed to touch. “And I discovered that I loved making my mother laugh,” he says.
Davis thinks entertainers fall along a spectrum from what he calls the Whore to what he terms the Fascist – the Whore being the pure entertainer who will do anything to please the audience, and the Fascist being the performer who has their own agenda and bends the audience to them. Comedy-wise, I’m thinking Michael McIntyre and Stewart Lee.
Red Bastard, he says, plays up and down that line. “My show now is a very funny show, there are constant laughs,” he says. “But there is also something that happens in this show that I don’t think will be happening in any other show in the festival.”
Davis moved from the Midwest to New York and from comedy improvisation to clowning as the millennium came and went – don’t think big feet, red nose: “A clown is someone who wears all his feelings outside his skin,” he says. “Will Ferrell is clown. Rodney Dangerfield is clown.”
About three years later he started turning “Red”.
“I was taking a workshop one day and someone suggested to me that I put on a body that was even more fun to move about in than my own and I thought, ‘Oh, it would be really fun to be voluptuous’,” he says. ”I got the shape from a photo of the Venus of Willendorf.
“I think there is a part of all of us that would like to end up looking like that.”
Before you even consider that the character was born instantly in a swoosh of red Lycra and some lippy, for his 2005 show, Absence of Magic, he says: “My director provoked me in a theatre for three weeks. Everything was recorded and transcribed. I mean everything. It took forever.
“Two hundred pages of text were whittled down to ten pages of golden texts, crisis, joy and mayhem.”
Red Bastard is what is best termed sui generis – he is one of a kind. “When people meet me they are always surprised by the difference between the character and myself,” says Davis with a grin that can only be described as adorable. “The character can be quite … audacious.”
Audacious barely touches the sides of some of the things that have happened during these shows.
“People have quit their jobs, proposed marriage … there was someone there who hadn’t spoken to his sibling for eight years after a family rift, and in front of the entire audience he called his sibling.”
Then there was the frequent casting away of underwear, the new mother who let him climb inside her dress … “and that is just what people do on stage”.
And you would just call this comedy? “There is an element of critique, there’s an element of provocation … but the comedy is what makes it float,” replies Davis. “It has been called shamanic.
“A good Red Bastard show is like good sex. It is incredibly stimulating, you are ultimately connected, there are moments of wild ecstasy that can be momentarily uncomfortable; you are entertained, you are shocked; some people like to get in the action and some people just like to watch.”
MORE INFO: Red Bastard is at Assembly George Square
Originally published in The Scotsman