Wanton Acts of Spoken Word: The Consumer Defense Corporate Poetry of Rich Mackin

(Razorcake columnist Rich Mackin has a new book out and he’s out on tour. To learn more about both, read this first, then go to www.gorskypress.com)

NO OFFENSE, BUT YOU BETTER GO FIRST

A little while ago, a friend of mine was flipping through Rich Mackin’s new book and laughing his ass off. I told him, “I’m gonna perform with Rich in Boston in a few weeks. We’re doing a spoken word show.”

“Really?” my friend said. “No offense or anything, Sean, but you better go first.”

I thought about it and knew exactly what he meant. No offense was taken, mostly because I’d seen Rich perform before. The first time I saw his “Consumer Defense Corporate Poetry,” it was in Bowling Green, Ohio. Rich and I and zine people from all over the US were there to attend the Underground Publishers Conference. On the second night of the conference, a handful of bands were playing at a downtown club. Rich performed between bands.

The club was packed, and I knew from past experiences that nothing flies at punk shows except punk bands. I’ve seen people try tons of things between sets: short films, folk songs, spoken word, show announcements, everything. Inevitably, the crowd response was somewhere between complete disinterest and downright aggression. The only between-set act I’d ever seen go over well at a punk show was the impromptu, on-stage heaving petting of two lesbians at a Blanks 77/Against All Authority show. But here was Rich, walking up in front of two hundred drunks on a Saturday night with every intention of reading letters that he’d written to corporations. To be completely honest, I felt a little embarrassed for him.

A crowd of about twenty kids gathered around the stage to hear Rich. He opened with a haiku that he’d sent to the Q-Tips consumer relations department (“Unwanted wax gone/harvested by cotton stick/Q-Tips get mad props”). The twenty kids up front and I started laughing. The people directly behind us quieted down to hear what was so funny. Next was a limerick to Frito-Lay that rhymed the words “chips” “hips” and “anal drips.” More people laughed. More quieted down to hear what was so funny. And from there, Rich morphed into his cross of stand-up comedy and spoken word. It was like nothing I’d seen before. Rich actually won over a punk crowd without having to resort to wanton acts of homosexuality.

After that, I started to understand why Rich was so popular. I also followed his progress. He took his Consumer Defense Corporate Poetry on the road a few times, touring throughout the northeast and midwest. I heard stories of kids crowding into Milwaukee basements and Pennsylvania zine libraries to hear about Rich’s battle with Lever 2000. In October, 2000, Rich opened for Howard Zinn, Michael Moore, and Ralph Nader at a Green Party presidential rally. It was even rumored that Rich’s numerous spoken word performances led to Massachusetts College of Art adding spoken word classes to their curriculum.

In October of 2001, his first book was released (Dear Mr. Mackin…). And at that release party, I opened for him.

Not to slag my own spoken word performance – I did well. I memorized my story (for the most part) and did my best. The crowd laughed when I hoped they would, and they even laughed a few times when I wasn’t expecting it. Then Rich took the stage and I was happy I didn’t have to follow him. This was the first time he performed in public as a published author and not just a crusty zinester (though, in reality, I guess he’ll always be somewhat of a crusty zinester). He was clearly excited. On top of the world, really, and it came through in his performance. He told stories that I’d heard a half dozen times and read letters that I’d read a dozen times, and he still cracked me up. Those who were less familiar with Rich’s stuff laughed even harder. I saw one woman laugh herself into tears, and a guy laugh so hard that he inadvertantly blew his nose in his hand. It was amazing.

AND YOU TOO CAN BE A PART OF IT

Now, Rich is back on the road. He’s doing two tours. He’s midway through his East Coast and South tour. Then, in December, he’s heading to Arizona and California. To learn more about Rich’s tour and his new book, check out www.gorskypress.com.

Then, get out there and check out one of Rich’s shows. And remember to bring tissues.