P H O T O :


BUTT OF THE JOKE Deanna Fleysher, the woman behind noirish comedy private eye Butt Kapinski, tells Gareth K Vile how pain can become pleasure

F irst arriving at the Fringe in 2015, Deanna Fleysher’s hardboiled Butt Kapinski character impressed audiences with a combination of absurdist humour, existential noir and unique lighting. Pacing the room, Kapinski carries a street lamp on his back, not so much breaking the fourth wall as re-inventing the performer as a portable stage. With a background in improvisation, clowning and bouffon (the art of mockery), Fleysher is fearless in her performance with a sensitivity to the audience that allows her to attack darker themes without losing a sense of playfulness.



thoughtful, aware of Fleysher is the contradictions that exist within her onstage creation. Citing ‘gender dysphoria’ as an inl uence alongside ‘Raymond Chandler, Burning Man, DIY and immersive theatre’ she ponders the irony of Butt’s appeal. ‘It seems like as soon as I let go of trying to be a woman on stage, I got a lot more

laughs,’ says Fleysher. ‘There are reasons, both my own and cultural, why it is easier to laugh at a man: I would say a lot of women who do comedy experience discomfort. In my own gender discomfort, there’s a great deal of humour and something that originates in me as pain ends up being a pleasurable experience for the audience.’

Given her association with the Naked Theatre Lab, a touring workshop that explores interactive theatre, Fleysher is unsurprisingly importance fascinated by of engaging directly with the audience. ‘One of the things I get i red up about is how aggressive engagement with the audience ruins it for the rest of us who spend our lives thinking about how we invite the audience into our world.’ the and importance collaboration, the audience to feel ‘surprise, delight, an increased connection to the other people in the room, and possibly one or two body l uids.’ consent wanting

she emphasises


the of

The nature of the clown is an important factor in achieving this effect. ‘The thing that is most important to me is the vulnerability, allowing myself to be the butt pardon the pun of the audience’s joke, laughing at me way more than I am laughing at them. I’m interested in how my personal shame causes amusement for the maximum number of people. The deeper I go into my own shame, the more laughs I get.’ However, she isn’t keen on over- emphasising either the clown or bouffon elements of the show. ‘Americans tend to be freaked out by that word so I tend to use it less and less in my own work,’ she explains.


physical Her blend of clowning and bouffon admits other inl uences from and improvisation: when asked about the genre of Butt, she laughs. ‘I am on the spectrum: I don’t think bouffon and clown have to be so separate. I really don’t care. When I am talking about the show, I don’t

use either of those words, you don’t have to know them to enjoy nice weird comedy! I think that there are other things that I don’t i t in with.’

a gender-swapped Aside from the gender confusion the of Kapinski himself, and the audience incorporation of into cast, Fleysher’s rejection of the i xed stage for a roving street-lamp asks questions about how performance is experienced and how watching is an act of complicity.

Yet within these high and challenging ideas, Butt Kapinski is ultimately a witty parody of i lm noir and a sardonic take on the problems of identity that isn’t afraid of broad humour. It’s an experience where fear of audience participation gives way to a celebration of collaborative comedy.

Butt Kapinski, Pleasance Dome, 5–27 Aug (not 9,14, 21), 8.10pm, £8–£10 (£7–£9). Previews 2–4 Aug, £6.

3–10 Aug 2017 THE LIST FESTIVAL 17