Puppetry of the Penis is exactly what you think it is — or maybe it’s not. The creators have lovingly dubbed it the “ancient Australian art of genital origami,” and, though the show’s creators are indeed Australian and genital origami is an overly sophisticated description of their stage performance, the ancient origins of their craft are questionable.
Puppetry of the Penis began in 1996 as the title of a calendar created by Simon Morley featuring 12 photos of penises in various contortionist positions. After the calendar was distributed, Morley began to receive requests for live performances of what he also calls “Dick Tricks.” Morley chose David Friend as his performing partner, and by 1998 they were ready to debut the show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
Following the festival, they toured Australia where the show was a sure-fire hit. From playing in London’s West End to being in New York for two years and touring countries such as Germany, Ireland, Italy, Canada and South Africa, much of the world has witnessed a massive array of penis shapings. Now in its 12th year, Morley and Friend are no longer the puppeteers, as a new and younger cast has replaced them.
The show begins with a half-hour stand-up comedy act to warm up the audience for what is about to come. The current incarnation of the show at Coast Playhouse in West Hollywood features a rotation of female comedian openers. Because biology prevents women from participating in the show, they are given the opportunity to do stand-up beforehand. Once the audience has laughed at jokes about sexual escapades, the real show begins.
The current puppeteers are recent college graduates Rich Binning and Christopher Cannon. Cannon first began doing penis tricks in college after purchasing Morley and Friend’s instructional how-to book, Puppetry of the Penis: The Ancient Australian Art of Genital Origami.
“I thought it would be a fun thing to do for a while,” Cannon said. “It became a drunk party trick in college.”
Cannon’s origami abilities caught the eye of Binning, who then learned the tricks as well. After Cannon and Binning graduated together from Point Park University, they heard about an open casting call for the show in New York City. Following a nine week off-Broadway run in August of 2009, the pair traveled with the show to Canada and is now here in West Hollywood.
“I had always been familiar with the show,” Binning said, “and I’ve always been an open person.”
The show is meant to be funny not sexual, and, despite the grotesque subject matter, Cannon and Binning try to keep it clean. The two enter the stage wearing capes and, after disrobing, present over 40 installations — named by what they are meant to look like — to the audience.
Between tricks, Cannon and Binning banter back and forth, most of which is scripted, though their ease makes it appear as though they are just two friends doing improv comedy.
“Some people get up and walk out,” Cannon said, “but we try to keep it as funny as possible.”
Installations with names like “Hamburger” and “Eiffel Tower” might seem crude in concept, but they are really just another example of our culture’s love of experimentation with the mimicking abilities of the human body. Using genitalia to create recognizable objects is a more taboo version of creating shadow puppets or perfecting a celebrity impression. And if there is an audience for it, why not share it?
At the end of the show, Cannon and Binning invite any males to come up on stage to learn how to do one of the installations. And the participants range from intrigued college-agers to curious 80-year-olds.
“When someone else comes on stage, it can change the dynamic,” Binning said.
One cannot help but wonder how doing such a show affects the performers’ dating lives. For Binning, it does not, since he is happily married to the camera operator of the show.
“We’re both comfortable with it,” Binning said.
Cannon, on the other hand, stays away from dating on the road, though he is quite popular with the older women in the audience who often grab him after the show and try to seduce him.
“You wouldn’t believe the amount of cougarage we see after the show,” Cannon said.
Puppetry is only the beginning for Cannon and Binning. Though only Cannon says he won’t do porn, both are pursuing careers in the comedy world. For now, they are just two friends making people laugh every night — they just happen to be naked while doing it.
“It’s an honor for me and my genitals to be doing something like this,” Cannon said.