Seattleite Mike Daisey found himself penned up in the Amazon.com stable, and lived to tell the tale. Or more accurately, once his nondisclosure contract finally ran out, he took the opportunity to run wild with the story, just like the "packs of great big dogs" that roamed the halls of his erstwhile employer. Brilliantly funny in large patches, contrived and a little awkward in others, Daisey's one-man show 21 Dog Years is already something of a nostalgia item, and he knows it. "Remember the free bagels?" he asks, conjuring up the brief period when companies were better known for their employee perks than their products (if indeed they had any). But there was a dark side, and Daisey plumbs it mercilessly in a performance that should ring true with anyone who has ever worked in an office decorated with lots of "green plate glass and exposed ductwork."
Daisey is at his best when he's doing characters: The virtually comatose Manager Tina, who "drank too much of the Kool-Aid," is especially funny. And his images are hilarious. Describing a group of his co-workers being forced to dance at a party, he compares them to weak dinosaurs that have been separated from the herd. Daisey has a surgeon's touch when it comes to details, such as deconstructing the dot-com world's "insatiable love for exposed ductwork" as a decor choice ("We're so busy we don't even have time to cover them up!") or revealing the hard truth about customer support ("We can't actually fix anything. You do know that, right?"). And beneath the promotional tattoos and the free bagels, he is asking hard questions about what it means to sell out, and if in fact that's what he did.
It's hard not to compare Daisey to our own Josh Kornbluth, particularly when Daisey refers to himself as "the funny fat man." There are a lot of likenesses; both men rely on repetition for effect, have similar gestures and delivery, and detail the woes of being stuck in offices by alternating between sitting at desks and moving around. But Daisey is a lot more raw, and he's not above taunting his audience, something Kornbluth doesn't do. Daisey plays the disgruntled ex-employee shtick to the hilt (complete with scatological language), whereas Kornbluth, even when he's complaining about old bosses, manages to do it with a sort of gentle wonder. These differences add up. While Kornbluth's "office show" Haiku Tunnel portrayed its hero as congenitally unequipped for office life, 21 Dog Years is more external, a parting shot from a disgruntled ex-employee too acidly funny to be holding down a customer service desk.
There are some weak spots in the performance that could stand tightening, such as the framing device Daisey uses to introduce and end the performance. While the story of Daisey crashing an Amazon event three months after he quit is a great opening, it's really not necessary at the end and feels contrived. The work would be much stronger if he ended at the point where he tells his wife that he had an idea for a way to make sure that he's never hired in the dot-com industry again, and we understand that he's thinking about creating the show we're seeing. Between segments, Daisey writes imaginary, stalkerish e-mails to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. The first one is hysterical; the ones that follow don't cohere as well. But as a document of a very particular point in time when the Internet industry had its own tulip craze, 21 Dog Years is ahead of the pack.
Culture Spy - April 20, 9:52 AM
Culture Spy - April 13, 12:18 PM