The Improv Goes Nuts
By Gary Singh
AS YOU read this, a group called 1stAct Silicon Valley is envisioning how to turn downtown San Jose into a world-class, creative urban Mecca. But forget all that for now, because San Jose already has a thriving downtown, as was evidenced by the sheer genius that went down at the Improv Comedy Club last week: A Circus Peanut-eating contest.
Now, almost everyone knows of Circus Peanuts—those pasty orange coma-inducing chunks of vapid emetic-disguised-as-candy that taste like sweaty Styrofoam dipped in stale banana food coloring. Perhaps the foulest candy ever devised, Circus Peanuts apparently have a following, yet I don't know a damn person on the planet who actually enjoys them. Cecil Adams in The Straight Dope frothed about Circus Peanuts a decade ago and one inspired reader chimed in with this star-studded riposte: "I think they are the horror that is the circus, that flat tin taste of fear and clowns and little lost children amid the cotton candy stink and the piles of elephant doo-doo and the clamor of the midway and the tinny sound of the circus band endlessly wheezing its way through yet another soulless circus fanfare."
That said, what better place to stage a Circus Peanut-eating charade than San Jose? My old accomplice in absurdity 10 years running, Lorin Partridge, rolled back into San Jo last week from Denver, and, along with fellow provocateur Sid Pink, staged the first and hopefully last Circus Peanut chow-down in this city's history. At similar eating challenges, the contestants are at least given enough H²O to help wash down the food, but such is not the case with Partridge and Pink's Circus Peanut-eating contest. The only fluid given to each competitor is orange soda.
I infiltrated the scene ahead of time. On the stage sat a table for the four contestants, complete with four Easter baskets filled with the Circus Peanuts and four martini glasses for the orange soda. Upstairs in the Green Room, the MC prepared himself for the show by drinking a mixture of tequila and Pepto-Bismol. The said MC and Partridge and Sid Pink decked themselves out in über-Vegas-style lounge lizard attire, giving the whole shebang a Playboy-era steak-and-martini feel that San Jose fatally lacks these days.
The entire spectacle was intertwined with a few films of Pink and Partridge's exploits back in the Mile High City, and completing this theater of the absurd was the house band, Beachkrieg, San Jose's only surf band. They don German World War I uniforms, smoke cigars and insult the French all night while the frontman shreds on a Farfisa organ. Scrunched down in my chair in the audience, I let it all sink in: the Circus Peanuts, the vomit, the lounge outfits, the martinis, the Farfisa and the Pepto-Bismol. With my shoulders shrugged and my hands in the air, palms facing upward, I uttered a statement disguised as a question: "And people think there's more to life than this?"
In short, it was good ol' American sideshow depravity at its finest. Had Partridge been crucified the following day, I would have equated the feast with the Last Supper. In the end, the winner was Denver's own Handsome Adam, who trounced the other contestants and managed to wolf down 94 Circus Peanuts, beating his own record of 80. And yes, it was easy for this author to predict the particular bodily function that would result from such an endeavor. The organizers even provided a pail for Adam in which vomit onstage in front of everyone else when all was said and done. The orange fluid poured out of his mouth like it was a fire hydrant.
Thank God my hometown decided to save the old Jose Theater and convert it to the Improv, providing a legitimate venue for such a refreshingly psychotic adventure as this. Just seeing Partridge's name on the marquee above Tommy Davidson was ridiculous enough to spike anyone's interest. Downtown San Jose is alive and well. All hail the creative urban mecca!