By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
I remember a performance in the late ‘80s, in one of the Taper’s New Works festivals, by John Fleck. Tall, slender and charismatic, he drank much beer until, about 45 minutes into the show, titled All the Little Fishes, he pissed into a toilet situated upstage left. A goldfish may or may not have been swimming in the porcelain bowl, but we were led to believe it was. Shortly thereafter, Fleck -- one of the notorious NEA Four along with Karen Finley, Tim Miller and Holly Hughes -- was funded (1989), defunded (1990), then funded again (1993) by the National Endowment for the Arts, setting off an exhausting national debate about federal grants going only to artists who conformed to a community‘s prevailing standard of decency. Such standards were evidently violated by exposed genitalia and gay themes, which constituted the Foursome’s very reason to create. So they sued the Endowment, arguing that its policy was an arbitrary and unconstitutional violation of free speech. In 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed.
Fleck has since buttoned his fly and transformed his performance style to honor the beauty of nature with a transcendental Emersonian uplift -- all delicately woven into the fabric of finely textured language. His latest creation, a late show performed in the lobby of Evidence Room, goes by the elegiac title Nothin‘ Beats Pussy.
L.A. WEEKLY: But John, I thought you were gay.
FLECK: Well . . . I’m 99 percent gay. But I‘m 1 percent raging heterosexual. The show is about that 1 percent. I’ve got the women interested ‘cause they can sense I’ve had pussy. Most of my audiences are straight women -- and twisted straight couples.
So what‘s it about?
Home. Family. I don’t know where I live anymore. It‘s really about finding a family -- as I get older, that becomes more important to me. Maybe it really comes from my father. We finally had a heart-to-heart. He looked up at me and said, ”You’re not a fruit, are you? No poontang can beat family.“
You have brothers and sisters?
There are seven of us, three boys and four girls, and I‘m the only one who never had children. They’re all still in the white enclaves of Cleveland -- every year they move further and further out to get away from the riffraff, so I don‘t really identify with where they are now. I don’t miss it, but as I get older I start to miss the idea of home. I even performed in Cleveland in 1994, and none of them showed up -- okay, one sister showed up. It just wasn‘t on their radar. But a couple of my nieces saw the show in New York. They liked it, though they were a bit sensitive about the family stuff, and now they’re in it, helping out.
So what exactly happens in the show?
Well, all my shows are about the frame of the show. I like to spend a lot of time setting up, so the audience doesn‘t understand that my getting ready for the show is actually part of the show itself. There’s another play going on at the theater when the audience arrives, so people meet in front of the Bagel Factory across the street, and I‘ll be in my bathrobe serving coffee and bagels, and the whole thing is to get them into our family.
When the theater clears, we walk across the street into the lobby, and everybody gets comfortable, and there’s a bar in the lobby, and I serve complimentary highballs, and my nieces from Cleveland serve cookies and help take off people‘s shoes and get them to relax, so we’re transforming the space into home . . .
My form is very nonlinear. I pay people to come up and act out scenarios, or play music, and they also get an authorized picture of me as a freak -- you know, [as Silik] on Star Trek [Enterprise], or as a fag, which I play on TV. I seemed to do that a lot last year. I do gay good. That‘s why I’m changing my name to John Gaygood. I did six episodes on the Fox Family Channel playing a gay bookseller on The Fearing Mind.
At one point I use these hand puppets, and there‘s this whole relationship with this pussy character that I’ve developed . . . And it‘s about this desire to be blond. I do a kind of collage from musical pieces. Being blond was a big thing in my family -- my mom used to wear blond wigs, and I put blond streaks in my hair -- and it ties in with this ”everybody wants pussy“ idea. Everybody wants blond pussy. And it culminates with what happened in my family. Something crossed the boundaries of a good relationship, so to speak.
And does any of this break new ground?
[Fleck glares back with an expression approaching hatred. He strokes his goatee.] Let me call my director. Maybe she knows.
[He makes a call from a cell phone.] Hey, Randee. John here. Listen, is the show the same old tried-and-true bullshit or is it breaking any new ground? . . . Uh-huh . . . Uh-huh. Okay, thanks.
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