“I think I saw the outline of my neighbor’s penis in his pleather pants.”
That was an actual line I heard after the Snowdown Follies on Tuesday night at the Strater Theatre. Normally, it’s the kind of comment I’d deem rude or sophomoric. But after the Follies, through all the crassness, low-brow hijinks, innuendo, debauchery and hyper-sexualization of, well, everything, it struck me as precisely the sentiment that makes the Follies – and as an extension, Snowdown – special, great even.
As we know by now, Snowdown has become the time of year – maybe the only time of year – when we give ourselves and our neighbors permission to let the freakiness come out, where social niceties don’t apply, when we shed pleasantries, where decorum is given temporary reprieve, where a what-happens-at-Snowdown-stays-at-Snowdown attitude pervades.
Snowdown gives us a chance to become the performers, the fashion models, the costume designers, the exhibitionists, to do things we might not normally do, to get a tad crazier than we might on your average Thursday.
The Follies, the year’s hot ticket, are all of that in the purest, most concentrated form. These are normal people, your bank tellers and mechanics and dental hygienists and landlords. And there they are for all to see, lying onstage, writhing like Madonna in a wedding dress; making dirty jokes dressed as the governor; or wearing a goofy cowboy costume, singing a mean-spirited, crass song that manages to be both misogynist and homophobic.
I’ll admit: I’m a comedy snob. Like a huge, off-putting, not-fun-to-be-around comedy snob. In theory, the Follies are definitely not my brand. But for the sake of the performers, thank god we have sewer plant issues in this town or else performers would have had to try even harder to incorporate all those poopy and pee-pee jokes into their acts. And I’d say there were a few more artificial phalluses than I expected. Just when I thought there would be no more fake penisia, they just kept keep growing out of people’s pants. We never saw it, but I suspect even the host playing Caitlyn Jenner was wearing one, just to get into character. (Though I was confused the whole time: It seems like the whole point of having one host play Bruce Jenner and the other Caitlyn would be for a woman to play Bruce – which she clearly was – but for a man to play Caitlyn. Seems obvious, right?)
But the atmosphere, the energy in the air, the raucousness was electric, and I found myself playing along, whooping, whistling, booing, hissing, heckling (Donald Trump, mainly).
My favorite act of the night was the set of dancers disguised beneath what looked like body-sized pillow cases, working their arms and legs in coordination to an ’80s Top 40 medley. I could only wonder where the idea came from. With the ’80s on my mind, it was as if I’d seen it as small child in a toothpaste commercial, people dancing inside oversized pillowcases and it all made weird, dream-like, trippy sense.
The performers certainly fed off the energy in the theater and returned it graciously to the audience, which then gave it all back to the performers to create a reciprocal feedback loop of bawdy, refreshing raucousness.
And isn’t that the excessive essence of Snowdown itself, where we feed off the communal energy. We put weeks and months of effort into our costumes, our performances, because we know we won’t be the only ones.
Follies performers aren’t pros, just regular people who’ve admirably put themselves out there to do something fun, courageous, outrageous. You might see these people this time next week, maybe it’s at yoga or maybe they’re stocking shelves or selling you a car. You’ll think, “Where do I know that person from?” And then an image of them in a bad wig pops into your head and you’ll say, “Ah, Snowdown.”