Sunday, November 5, 2017

Holy Fooling

"Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven."

When I was studying at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic High School, to the delight (okay, I mean, let's be real here, to the weary annoyance) of my friends, I was known for the composition of what came to be called "phil-poems." These generally represented brief but luridly described episodes in which a hapless Jesus would stumble across increasingly depraved scenarios. Once they had served their purpose, I would fold them up and conceal them in various books around the school library, and I'm only a little ashamed to admit that there's still some part of my lizard brain that reduces me to helpless schoolboy giggling at the thought of some future student picking up a copy of The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer and being scandalized by soaring verse describing Christ participating in a squirrel orgy.

The humor (insofar as there was any) came from the clash between the nobility of the savior, heightened language, and utter filth. I have apparently failed to outgrow this impulse. (Indeed, much of the comedy I find funny, from the Marx Brothers to Monty Python, revolves around applying an astounding level of artistry to astoundingly stupid things.)

"Finally he spoke: 'I'm really getting quite a kick out of this notion of playing God like a dirty old man in Skidoo. You wanna know why? Do you realize that irreverence and reverence are the same thing?'


'If they're not, then it's a misuse of your power to make people laugh.'"

I suppose it was inevitable that I'd find my way to the comedies of Aristophanes and the rituals of
Dionysos (patron of liquor and the theatre); and, as I stumbled back towards faith, that I would find its echoes in my own religious tradition -- particularly in the Middle Ages (which is probably reason #69,105 for my fascination with that period). And I did lots of reading. I read about the many uncomfortable inversions of the Feast of Fools, and the conflict it created between the Church (body of Christ) and the Church (political machine). I read about Saint Simeon the Holy Fool, and the vulgarities in which he would indulge to mock the world of the flesh. I read Dante Alighieri and looked at the paintings of Bosch, at their many descriptions of torture and deviance and insanity, and quickly developed the suspicion that, like many horror writers before and since, their position of piety allowed them to revel in some seriously impious art. And I read a fuck-ton of the aforementioned Chaucer, with his tales of Biblical tomfoolery and anal penetration and what have you.

What I experienced while reading the medieval humorists wasn't so much an expansion of consciousness as it was a sense of recognition -- a clear sense that the sacred and the grotesque are not only compatible, but that the profane and the profound can coexist, should coexist, in some crucial way *must* coexist.

This has been occasionally bewildering to my audiences. I've had reviews of my comedy shows that criticize the apparent contradiction when I leap from a sincere expression of faith to a ten-minute sex farce. (And it undoubtedly presents a marketing problem, when patrons on the left dread the former, while patrons on the right dread the latter...) But the fact is that shock is the by-product, not my goal, and the contradiction has never really been all that obvious to me. Certainly not in all the art I've ever truly loved, with their poetry and obscenity and song and flesh and breath and divine madness.

"The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy!
Everything is holy! everybody’s holy! everywhere is holy! everyday is in eternity! Everyman’s an angel!"

The dirty jokes, in a way that I've been struggling to articulate for the entirety of my adult life, represent not some deviation from my faith, but its ultimate expression. And -- as someone who spends a lot of his time doing highbrow deconstructions of Malory and Thucydides and their ilk (and don't get me wrong, I love that work, too) -- I find, perversely, a kind of innocence in reaching back to touch that giggling schoolboy. Y'know...intimately.

Which is a really long windup to my announcement that, hey, I wrote another book!

It's December 21st, 2012, and something's gone terribly wrong with the timeline. Now it's up to Saint Nicholas, a soft-boiled detective, and an unknown carpenter's son named Jesus of Nazareth to set things right in this giddily blasphemous collection of literary parodies by internationally touring storyteller phillip andrew bennett low. Fully illustrated by cartoonist Kay Kirscht, and with a foreword by comedian Joseph Scrimshaw!

WARNING: May contain mature language, as well as immature and insensitive humor regarding genitalia, flatulence, regurgitation, sex, drugs, rock and roll, lies, videotape, duct tape, tapeworms, subversion of ethnic stereotypes, fulfilment of ethnic stereotypes, hate culture, rape culture, ape culture, horticulture, and/or a general posture of deep reverence for deep irreverence. Not for the faint of heart or stomach.

Launch party November 28th at the Phoenix Theater. I don't know if my cast of drunken prophets and trickster angels will find a home with you, but I'm pretty confident that a cash bar won't hurt.

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Secret Book of Jesus

I've been buried enough under both touring and paid writing assignments to not have been able to blog this particular production -- but I've gathered enough online detritus that it's worth collating here.


1:03     The Secret Book of Jesus - Kansas City Interview. Brief and fluffy interview I did at the KC opening.

1:25     The Secret Book of Jesus - Teaser Trailer. Trailer I put together for the show some months ago.

2:57     The Secret Book of Jesus - Fringe Teaser. Live promo I did of my show at the Kansas City Fringe.


51:29     What's So Funny? Podcast interview I did with Levi Weinhagen about writing and performing comedy.

1:01:12     Body Mind Spirit NEWS. Phone interview I did with a holistic radio program in Michigan.

1:07:43     Screw It! a podcast about wine. A rather silly podcast interview that involves evaluating sundry liquors.


07/15/2015     Kansas City Star Promo. A nice plug from Robert Trussell in Missouri.

07/21/2015     Zenfolio Photo Album. Some photos that were taken of me at the KC Fringe.

07/23/2015     KCMetropolis Review. "A slow-moving production, this is a show to see if you have a good grasp of scripture."

07/28/2015     RedCurrent Interview. An interview I did with Laura VanZandt shortly before opening.

08/05/2015     Single White Fringe Geek Review (5 stars): "This Jesus, Mary and Joseph, all shown to have rougher edges, tempers, and senses of humor, become so human, as do those around them, that you have to remind yourself they are all central figures in a religious narrative that some people never think twice about."

08/06/2015     Minnesota Playlist Review:  "...low’s delivery is pitch-perfect for the material: equal parts prophet, bard, and snake oil salesman...his flair for showmanship serves nicely to leaven the dense language and subject matter of his material."

08/07/2015     Grail Diary Review:  "I walked out wanting to read his script.  And peruse his sources. And ask him what he thought about what he was saying."

08/01-10/2015     Minnesota Fringe Festival Audience Reviews (11 reviews, 4-star average): "Funny and fascinating apocrypha about Jesus told with phillip's trademark exhaustive research, humor, and precise wordplay, but without the esoterism that can scare some audiences off."

08/14/2015     One Girl, Two Cities Review: " heck of a storyteller, and he’s picked some strange stories about Jesus’ youth full of unfamiliar words that a lay person could easily trip over. phillip’s a pro, though, and I didn’t notice even a single misstep."

08/17/2015     Alpha Omega Arts Review: "...performed with lots of passion and the promise of drama...would be far better suited as a book than as a performance. It's not that the content is bad theology, although I'll leave that to clergy to decide. It's simply bad theatre..."

08/19/2015     NUVO News Review (3 stars): " have to be impressed...low is a very commanding storyteller."

08/20/2015     Plays with John & Wendy Review: "low’s delivery is crisp and entertaining, and contains no judgment of the texts...why balk at the infant Jesus confronting a dragon?"


I have collated my coverage of the Minnesota Fringe Festival (46 articles in toto) at this link. profound gratitude to everybody who took the time to come and see the show, and especially those who took the time to share their thoughts afterwards. I'm honored to have had the opportunity to entertain you, and hope that you'll continue to extend that opportunity to me in the future!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


"'You're thinking about something, my dear, and that makes you forget to talk. I can't tell you just now what the moral of that is, but I shall remember it in a bit.'
     'Perhaps it hasn't one,' Alice ventured to remark.
     'Tut, tut, child!' said the Duchess. 'Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it."

It probably doesn't come as a surprise that someone who founded a theatre company entitled "Maximum Verbosity" is a die-hard fan of both Lewis Carroll and his elaborate wordplay.

In any case, I read. A lot. I always have, or at least for as long as I can remember. Embarrassingly, my drug of choice for much of my adolescence was pulpy Dragonlance novels. Margaret Weis has had more influence over my prose style than I should probably admit, and I remember picking up a copy of an anthology that she edited -- Fantastic Alice -- Jesus, it must have been well over fifteen years ago.

Most of the stories were forgettable. The thing about Carroll's brand of nonsense poetry is that it lends itself to interpretation. It lends itself rather too easily. It's not pure abstraction, but it has just enough clown-logic stitching its outrageous images and phrases together that it's pretty easy to conclude that these whimsical faery-tales are all about sex. Or death. Or pedophilia. Or necrophilia. I certainly have my own ideas and conclusions about what was churning in Carroll's subconscious, but modernism's tendency to break down literature in the most facile manner has led to some pretty goddamn absurd results.

There was one story in the collection, however, that wormed its way into my subconscious: A Common Night, by Bruce Holland Rogers. The tale of an English professor tormented by images of Wonderland the night of his wife's death, it was a take on the subject that managed to be morbid without being self-indulgent; that seemed to both comprehend and respect Carroll's whimsy for its own sake.

As I've grown older, and found myself confronting death time and again, it's a story that I keep coming back to. Fifteen years is a long time remember a bit of prose, and as I've been struggling with the subject again, it occurred to me that, hey, I'm a playwright/producer. Hey, I bet I could find Mr. Rogers' contact info online. I could at least ask. All these years in show business, and I still haven't gotten used to the notion of people saying "Yes."

Announcing my withdrawal from ensemble production is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. I've spent a lot of time asking myself what returning to it means. Season announcements and grant proposals? Am I a Producer again, instead of just a Storyteller? What does it mean?

And it's taken me this long to realize that I'm being too much like Carroll's Duchess, and looking for a moral in everything. It doesn't have to mean anything. This is a story that I need to work on right now, and this is how I need to do it.

It's been a mix of the new and the old. It's my first time purchasing a license from a living author -- that's new (and terrifying). On the other hand, I'm booking a venue, hiring staff, and holding auditions. That's very familiar.

Which is all a long way of announcing auditions for my first ensemble show in four years. Want on board? Know anybody who does? Check out this link. Let's figure out the next step together.

Monday, June 9, 2014

IamA Touring Storyteller

Just poking my head in to say that updates for the "Rage Across America" tour will continue on Libertarian Rage, but in the meantime I'm taking a swing at answering a few questions on Reddit. Linky link

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Ragin' On

...a heads-up to anyone following this blog that I'm currently on tour again with a political comedy show, and posting over on Libertarian Rage. Check it, yo.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sir Launcelot at the Chapel Perilous

Right so Sir Launcelot departed, and when he came unto the Chapel Perilous he alighted down, and tied his horse unto a little gate. And as soon as he was within the churchyard he saw on the front of the chapel many fair rich shields turned up-so-down, and many of the shields Sir Launcelot had seen knights bear beforehand. With that he saw by him there stand a thirty great knights, more by a yard than any man that ever he had seen, and all those grinned and gnashed at Sir Launcelot. And when he saw their countenance he dreaded him sore, and so put his shield afore him, and took his sword ready in his hand ready unto battle, and they were all armed in black harness ready with their shields and their swords drawn. And when Sir Launcelot would have gone throughout them, they scattered on every side of him, and gave him the way, and therewith he waxed all bold, and entered into the chapel, and then he saw no light but a dim lamp burning, and then was he ware of a corpse hilled with a cloth of silk. Then Sir Launcelot stooped down, and cut a piece away of that cloth, and then it fared under him as the earth had quaked a little; therewithal he feared. And then he saw a fair sword lie by the dead knight, and that he gat in his hand and hied him out of the chapel.

Anon as ever he was in the chapel yard all the knights spake to him with a grimly voice, and said, "Knight, Sir Launcelot, lay that sword from thee or else thou shalt die."

"Whether that I live or die," said Sir Launcelot, "With no great word get ye it again, therefore fight for it an ye list."

Then right so he passed throughout them, and beyond the chapel yard there met him a fair damosel, and said, "Sir Launcelot, leave that sword behind thee, or thou wilt die for it."

"I leave it not," said Sir Launcelot, "For no treaties."

"No," said she, "An thou didst leave that sword, Queen Guenever should thou never see."

"Then were I a fool an I would leave this sword," said Launcelot.

"Now, gentle knight," said the damosel, "I require thee to kiss me but once."

"Nay," said Sir Launcelot, "That God me forbid."

"Well, sir," said she, "An thou hadst kissed me thy life days had been done, but now, alas," she said, "I have lost all my labour, for I ordained this chapel for thy sake, and for Sir Gawaine. And once I had Sir Gawaine within me, and at that time he fought with that knight that lieth there dead in yonder chapel, Sir Gilbert the Bastard; and at that time he smote the left hand off of Sir Gilbert the Bastard. And, Sir Launcelot, now I tell thee, I have loved thee this seven year, but there may no woman have thy love but Queen Guenever. But sithen I may not rejoice thee to have thy body alive, I had kept no more joy in this world but to have thy body dead. Then would I have balmed it and served it, and so have kept it my life days, and daily I should have clipped thee, and kissed thee, in despite of Queen Guenever."

"Ye say well," said Sir Launcelot, "Jesu preserve me from your subtle crafts." And therewithal he took his horse and so departed from her. And as the book saith, when Sir Launcelot was departed she took such sorrow that she died within a fourteen night, and her name was Hellawes the sorceress, Lady of the Castle Nigramous.

...haven't had the chance to adapt this one yet, but boy I'd like to. Have a hearty Hallowmas, y'all.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Fringe Memories

A few months ago, I did an e-mail interview with Ed Huyck of City Pages. He asked me a question, I gave him a series of excessive, verbose answers, and he wisely excerpted one. But this is a blog, and I have no pressure whatsoever to be wise! So here's some of my memories from the past ten years of the Minnesota Fringe:

2004 -- my first Fringe, and if I recall correctly (I might not be, and that's a caveat that goes for all of these) it was still using the first-come-first-serve system (rather than the lottery, which I believe was introduced in 2005). I was anxious enough to show up ridiculously early enough at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage for Leah Cooper to be the only other one present. She walked up to me as I was sitting alone in the empty risers, made some gentle inquiry about why I was there, and I burbled something about "Well, you know, I'm chronically late so I overcompensate." She smiled far more politely than the comment deserved and left me to ruminate.

2005 -- I was doing a preview at an outdoor Farmer's Market. Allegra Lingo was previewing some of "Hubcap Frisbee" as an absolutely apocalyptic storm front began creeping up on us. Eventually she paused, peered out at the rest of the staff, and asked "Do you need me to stop?" The answer was yes, and moments later the artists and audience were huddled against the building to avoid the torrential downpour while the merchants frantically attempted to pull down their wares. In an uncharacteristic burst of civic-mindedness, I decided to help, and I vividly remember clutching a tent pole as a powerful gust of wind caught hold of the canvas and actually flew me a few feet through the air like a goddamn kite.

2006 -- two brief verbal exchanges spring to mind. I was running down the steps of the Rarig Center when I heard a voice call my name -- I looked up to see a mother and her teenage son.

ME: Oh, hey, what's up?
HER: We saw your show at the Bryant-Lake Bowl.
ME: Cool, that's great! What did you guys think?
HER: It was really heavy on the F-bomb.
ME: Oh, uh...sorry about that.
ME: Whelp, gotta go!

The other one happened at one of the Fringe after-parties, where I was standing around with a group of colleagues and a woman I hadn't met before. (Keep in mind this was my first year as one of the official Fringe bloggers.) Someone referred to me by name.
HER: Wait a minute, are you phillip low?
ME: Yes.
HER: Oh.
HER: I thought you'd be angrier.

2007 -- I performed at Patrick's Cabaret, which was both poorly-insulated and had no air conditioning at the time (both have since been corrected), rendering the space into a gigantic oven. I breathed a sigh of relief when I walked in and saw that the staff had set up dozens of fans -- and then groaned as I realized that (quite rightly and responsibly) they were all pointed at the audience. I also agreed to shift another one of my shows to the closing day to help out an out-of-towner. I also got the Encore slot. I had three shows in that space that day. I practically had to peel myself out of my T-shirt with a spatula.
2008 -- most of my memories involve long, heated arguments on the roof of the Bedlam -- my show that year included both racial slurs and metafiction, and I was startled to realize that the audience could be neatly divided into people who were offended by one or the other -- that there was no overlap between the two, and that they were equally impassioned.

2009 -- oddly, my most vivid memory of this Festival is of a hypnotized Tim Hellendrung repeatedly screaming "Ah! Rattlesnakes!" in Four Humors' Fringe show that year. What this says about me, I leave as a Freudian exercise for the reader.

2010 -- The Shelby Company impulsively asked me (and several others) to do a quick walk-on bit for one of their variety shows. I showed up and they popped us into several sets of antennae, telling us that we were aliens who would dance onto the stage and kidnap one of their cast members. I bounced onto the stage and promptly knocked the antennae off my head. I would have been more concerned about this if I wasn't blitzed at the time.
2011 -- I had a show crunch, between Theatre Arlo's "Macbeth: The Video Game Remix" at the Rarig Thrust and my own military drama -- across town at the Bryant-Lake Bowl. I skipped out on the curtain call, frantically dressed on my way out the door, and bolted down the Rarig steps in a WWI-era trench coat, weapons and props clanking loudly about my person, into Courtney McLean's waiting vehicle. (Made it in plenty of time, by the way -- hardly suspenseful at all.)

2012 -- was totally happy to lose my Encore slot to the extraordinary Mary Mack who, rather than doing her show again, elected to devote a good chunk of her set to systematically roasting every page of the Fringe Producer's Handbook. (She also took on her audience reviews, which is very, very hard to do without alienating an audience, but I will say that the little-girl voice she uses to do so is far more charming than mine.)

What about you? Any pleasurable/ridiculous/humiliating Fringe memories from years past? If so, don't hesitate to send 'em to me at this link, and I may share 'em in this space (if I deem them sufficiently entertaining, because I am whimsical God). Or better yet -- share them in person at our upcoming fundraiser next week! Because the Fringe is turning 21, and alcohol doesn't judge. Just, y'know, everyone in its immediate vicinity does.

...but we're Minnesotans, and if there's one thing we know how to do, it's how to judge quietly.