EDINBURGH – Ask yourself an important question: do you have a “Disney STD?” Or worse, a “Disney STD-VD?” Before you check for Sebastian in your crotch, let me translate that a Disney “STD-VD” is Thom Tuck’s acronym for the “Straight To DVD” movies that Disney has unleashed upon the World. In his show of that name, Thom finds brilliant comedy in the garbage throwaways from Mickey’s vault.
The devout reader of these dispatches (Mom) may have noticed that my Fringe experience has gotten quite heady (and that I say “brilliant” a lot more). As a comedian, I’m an addict seeking the purest, hardest-hitting, ballsiest forms of comedy I can find. Plenty of my experience has been truly mind-blowing and rich thus far, but I have gotten so bogged down in smart, analytical, fearless, irreverent, political, deconstructionist, and/or angry comedy at the Fringe that I didn’t even realize that “Straight To DVD” was exactly what I needed. STDVD has all those aforementioned traits sprinkled throughout, but it is all contained in a refreshing show that allows you to put down the armor and revisit your childhood.
“A friend gave me the Little Mermaid trilogy. That’s what sparked the show.” Yes, there were apparently two sequels to Ariel’s adventure and Thom has seen them all. The banality of the under-cooked sequels or “mid-sequels” (as Thom has labeled any one of these films that takes place within the timeframe of the original) inspired Thom to create his stand-up based one-man show that he is formally debuting at the Fringe.
For those who are not well-versed in the Disney STDVD’s, you should know that there are fifty-four (54). The first was “Return of Jafar,” a sequel to Aladdin that was part of my collection growing up when I was not enough of a film aficionado to evaluate it as any less than “amazing!” Disney has unleashed half-baked sequels to Tarzan, Fox & the Hound, Cinderella, The Jungle Book, The Lion King, Bambi, Lady & the Tramp, Beauty & the Beast, and just about any other film that has ever turned a decent profit for their enterprise. Thankfully, Thom has watched them all so that we don’t have to.
Thom is no stranger to the Fringe. He has previously performed and directed numerous theatrical productions at the festival, but truly gained the Fringe’s favor in 2009 as part of sketch-group The Penny Dreadfuls. Any time I mentioned his name to Fringe veterans, they immediately filled my ear with praise for the “masterful,” “classy,” “impeccably timed” show that was very “Monty Python-ish.” High praise from comedy colleagues.
His background shows through in the STDVD show. Foremost, the show is very thoughtful stand-up comedy on a trivial subject that Tuck weaves with sweet, heartfelt narrative of the many girls who have broken his heart. One-man shows from strong comedians can often be awkward when the performer tries to inject a bit of drama or meaning into a piece that is clearly a vehicle for funny. However, Thom has managed to seamlessly blend the very funny with the personally genuine better than many I’ve seen.
On-stage before Thom enters is simply the mic-stand and a table with a plush Simba doll sitting atop. Against the black stage, plush Simba looks positively worn-out and exploited. It is the perfect set-piece to set the tone of the show. Accentuating that tone is Thom himself on-stage with floppy hair and eyes that seem to swim in booze and sadness. There’s an equal sense of pain and joy in every insufferable Disney film he covers alongside tales of heartbreak.
Why do a show about Disney STDVD’s? To simply ward us off from wasting hard-earned cash on lazy commerce? That’s too easy. Tuck injects his own tales of heartbreak and lost innocence to disarm the audience and share a bizarre history that lives in the shallow end of our collective consciousness. You ever been child-pressured into watching Lion King 1 ½ for the third time? You ever had your heartbroken in an embarrassing way? Deal with both in Thom’s hour.
Thom’s most interesting line point was that Disney has created an environment of “Princess over Parenting.” Disney has merchandised every single one of their characters to infinity, particularly the “Princess” collection, putting the wallets of today’s parents at the whim of their fantasy-filled child’s demands. Disney STDVD’s are simply a lucrative device in this same vein – get it on shelves, price it high and let the kids demand it. Kids don’t have taste or any concept of value, so they see a familiar face from a Disney movie and they just know they want it.
Kids could actually take away a couple valuable lessons from Thom Tuck’s shows. First of all, they can learn that live entertainment is far more enriching than even the most complex time-waster they can engage on their many electronic devices.
And second, that Disney dreams are more sinister and calculating than they appear on the surface. That sequel was not released to satiate your thirst for more stories featuring your favorite characters – that sequel was released because they knew they could squeeze families for a few pennies more.
Comedy that bares its soul is sublime. It doesn’t have to be explicit and raw every time to take effect. Just as deep a shared experience can be found in the odd, trivial histories of our childhood. Stir silly reminiscing with righteous frustration, add a dash of nostalgia and you will find belly-laughs galore.
Comedy fans and comedians alike can all stand to remind ourselves of what Provenza dropped in my ear post-set last night: “stop caring so much. Let it happen.” (that sounds oddly sexual out of context) Comedy can get too serious sometimes.
It’s nice to just enjoy a show like “Thom Tuck: Straight To DVD” that is rooted in childish matters. It also gives you a chance to sing-along to a eukele-rendition of “Part of Your World” from the Little Mermaid. Makes me feel young again…and really old now.
UPDATE ON MY LIVER: My body-composition is now 60% cider and Scotch.
photos: Idil Sukan/Draw HQ