At times it looks like a Chris Farley take on Michael Moore, but edgier.
Funnier. Certainly more controversial.
Mike Daisey in his animated stage monologues is eager to needle the establishment, corporate giants, world powers — all with chainsaw wit. Daisey bites the hand that feeds him in “How Theater Failed America” and since 1997 has weaved extemporaneous acting with gonzo journalism, social activism and personal experience to create a solo fireball of energy.
Daisey in “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” has his biggest hit, taking a bite out of Apple and its late founder in a two-hour romp to the sweatshops of China and back.
The critical tale is never the same; Daisey, a Brooklyn resident and 1996 graduate of Colby College in his native Maine, works from an outline and adds local flavor. But his Apple blast remains consistent, part of Daisey’s struggle to communicate while “living ethically.”
“These devices have become part of our consciousness at some point,” Daisey said in a CSPAN interview. “They change us in the way we relate to the world. I can’t just opt out of my culture.”
The activist-storyteller seems to have found his groove. “Agony” inspired petitions, investigations and political probes. Daisey admitted in March that he falsified some parts of his reporting, including conversations with workers outside China’s mega-Foxconn assembly plant; “This American Life” issued a retraction of its popular radio episode on “Agony.”
But as tech expert Joshua Topolsky said in writing for the Washington Post, “Daisey’s lies inspired honest questions about the gadgets in our pockets.”
Performing at Colby College in April, Daisey addressed the controversy.
“You should not trust me,” he told the audience. “I think that’s clear, isn’t it? It’s been made very, very clear you should not trust any story I would tell. After all, I am a storyteller. You should never trust a storyteller to tell you anything but the truth.”
Daisey already has taken on the Department of Homeland Security with “If You See Something Say Something” and corporate greed with “Monopoly!”
Fans include Moore, the Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker.
“Mike Daisey, in addition to providing us with a riveting, hilarious, but ultimately gut-wrenching piece of theater, may actually end up being singularly responsible for bringing Goliath to its knees,” Moore said of “Agony.”
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, in perhaps the most influential review, raved.
“I will never be the same,” Wozniak said after seeing “Agony” and remained a fan after The Flap (he told CNET that the media misunderstands what Daisey and actors do).
Tackling giants from the stage is a Daisey concept that took shape with “21 Dog Years; Doing Time @ Amazon.com.” Originally a book about Daisey’s misfit role as a customer service rep, the breakthrough monologue of 2001 details his “strange compulsion to send free books to Norwegians” and other hilarious insight.
“It’s a very fundamental human question, but it isn’t something that’s asked very often in theater – at all,” Daisey told Portland’s Oregonian newspaper. “But it’s the question of every adult American life right now. When we meet someone, we ask them, “What do you do? What’s your job?” And if the answer to that question does not actually match what you’d like to be doing, this is a serious disconnect.”
Ah, another reason why Daisey connects.
Beware. The R-rated language flows freely.
Daisey along with four “Agony” shows will also perform “Teching in India” once during Spoleto (June 6, Emmett Robinson Theater). It’s the story of his five-city tour across the country, spiced with curry and commentary on multinational corporations, slums and call centers.
A Spoleto veteran, Daisey performed “The Ugly American” in 2005 and “Monopoly!” in 2006.
As part of Daisey’s 2012 Spoleto appearance, he will answer questions from host Martha Teichner in a free interview session at the Emmett Robinson Theater on May 31 at 10 p.m.
Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or on Twitter @sapakoff