Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Big Laughs at the Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire

I've recently learned that there is somewhat of a stigma attached to Renaissance Faires. Maybe it's the old-timey speech spewed by ribald old men and lusty wenches with grotesquely pushed-up busts. Maybe it's the balmy heat and the constricting costumes and the unappetizing smell of horse. Or maybe it's because most people have a general dislike for periods of history before the invention of the television and air conditioning and the internet. Whatever it is, the mere mention of one of these events will elicit nasty glances, sneers, and name-calling.

I've never been able to understand this. I've been to four such events (three here in Los Angeles, and one in Cincinnati), and I've had a pretty good time at each one. I got some cool wares (a sword, a journal, and a Robin Hood-esque feathered cap), I saw some cool jousts, and I ate some delicious gigantic turkey legs. I also threw some cool axes, and saw these two guys do a pretty good comedy/precision knife-work routine. Sure I was heckled a little by the "merchants" pretending to sell their rotting fish heads and the rotund Shakespeare impersonators spouting quotations. But if this is how these people want to spend their time, who am I to object?

But people certainly do object, even at the idea of spending part of a day (let alone an entire career) at the faire. I'm not gonna lie, I've been the subject of some of these objections, and I didn't much mind - I'm aware of the stigma, and I attend anyway. But during my most recent visit, I was subjected to the worst kind of Faire-denigrators: those involved with an improv-sketch-comedy documentary. And what makes it worse: they were my friends - The Younger Statesmen!

When I visit the Renaissance Faire, I want to have a good time and get into the spirit of things. As part of this process, I like to dress up a little - because, quite frankly, it's kind of embarrassing to be the only one to show up to the faire wearing a t-shirt and sneakers. Not that I particularly care about impressing the glorified carnies who inhabit the fest, I just don't like to do things half-assed is all. So I girded myself as a Ranger of the wood, completing the look with a cloak on my back and a sword at my side.

I also provided my friends with costumes and weapons. (Having grown up doing theater, and with two parents involved with "the biz," I tend to have a lot of spare period-gear lying around. Plus I'm an ardent sword collector. What? Don't try to convince me that these things are anything but normal.) Although they didn't quite share my level of enthusiasm for the Faire, I knew these guys to be a pretty legitimate and talented comedy group, and I respected that they wanted to look the part.

I also respected their mission of providing fair and balanced (or so I thought) coverage of the proceedings. Come to think of it, I should have seen the shabby treatment coming: we're talking about lowbrow comedians who do anything to get a laugh. They have no qualms about saying crude things and making people feel uncomfortable as long as it might get a rise out of their viewers. It turns out that a great deal of their comedy involves making jokes at others' expense, rather than just sharing in a magical experience together. Looking at some of their previous work should have made this abundantly clear.

Looking back on the process of shooting the documentary-style sketch, it wasn't actually that bad. Renaissance Faires are notorious hotbeds for strange behavior, and our interviewers certainly got as good as they gave. (If you heard some of the lewd comments directed at our female videographer, you would immediately lose all sympathy for all reenactors in general.) And it was all good-natured fun: asking faire-goers about their love life and challenging innocent bystanders to duels doesn't hurt anyone. And if there's the possibility of bringing some mirth into some people's lives, then what's the harm?

Unfortunately, I didn't see it that way while we were at the fest. We'd all had a little too much mead, and I got a bunch of highfalutin ideas in my head about "honor" and "respect," and I apparently thought my friends were crossing too many lines. Plus, this one time, I was trying to demonstrate my mad skillz at a badass RenFaire event (axe-throwing), and my friends just kept heckling me and ruining my concentration. So I lost my cool a little bit.

I'm not proud of what happened between us. We had some words... and some fisticuffs. But who knows, maybe it will make for an entertaining internet video phenomenon.


...Visit the Renaissance Pleasure Faire from Younger Statesmen on Vimeo.