I last interviewed Woody Shticks just before his brilliant Schlong Song,. I was struck with his articulate thoughts about the subtextual matters in Schlong Song and his other works. Everything he does is done with profound thought and a deep seriousness.
Which, to me, has always been the sign of a great comedian. Comedy isn’t supposed to be merely a glib, faux ironic indulgence to comfort the middle class. It is, at heart, an extremely serious corrective tool. Its surest purpose is to sting, to show human folly through the lens of exaggeration and thereby give a negative reinforcement for bourgeois behavior. When wielded correctly and intelligently it can be and has been used to bring the powers that be to their knees. Ask Boss Tweed.
Woody Shticks’ latest work, Maniac, is a satire based on 1980s-style Aerobicise craze that used to bombard us daily on television and cable and, later, on VHS. The title, of course, is a nod to Flashdance. Nominally the show is about a would-be fitness furu named Butch Woods who dreams the classic American dream of becoming rich and famous. The show being set in 1989, Woods takes advantage of a unique confluence of two cultural phenomena: the absurd popularity of aerobic fitness in America, and the sudden explosion of VHS technology. On this he plans to build an empire, infiltrating the homes of millions as they #witnessthefitness. It all seems harmless enough — just another show with Woody goofing off.
But he rarely just “goofs off.” Invariably in his solo work I’ve seen, there is a dagger in the laughter.
Behind Woods’ fitness obsession is also the story of a borderline lunatic who is always in danger of losing his mind as surely as exercise will make others lose weight. The show draws a keen parallel between mental stability and physical fitness, but it is just as much about the entire phenomenon of body dysmorphophobia that drives America to meaningless diets, fitness fads, and anything else that will soothe the fundamental wound of being a spiritual being stuck in a flesh shell.
Woody Shticks of course won’t come out and tell you things like this. Besides, in his view, such things are better shown than discussed and what better lens through which to see than the theater? The theater has always been the proper residence for real satire. As an intelligent comedian and razor-sharp performer, Woody Shticks is well aware of the tradition. Taking the somewhat haggard cultural trope of gay camp as a basis, his work aims to return camp to the long and grand tradition of satire itself, presumably broadening the scope of both in the meantime.
He’s done it excellently in his past two solo shows. I look forward to this one as well.
MANIAC: 18th & Union Performance Space, Fridays and Saturdays at 9:30p, Feb 16-24. Tickets available from Ovation.