"I'm going to cut off all your hair and make a wig for my pussy," declares Chocolate Puddin', one of Jonny McGovern's numerous alter-egos in his one-man tour-de-force Dirty Stuff. McGovern possesses a chameleon-like ability to transform himself into characters ranging from a blaxploitation diva (Puddin') to a trailer trash wannabe superstar (Lerlene) to a nerdy young man named Jimmy who discovers another side of himself as Velvet Hammer, the Gay Pimp. The process doesn't simply involve a change in voice or body posture, nor is it akin to the way Anna Deavere Smith or Danny Hoch embody their characters. Rather, McGovern infuses his creations with a hyperkinetic energy, that marks them as distinct and much larger than life.
Following a rousing strip tease performed by Jonny's Soccer Team GoGo Boys, McGovern enters, singing a hip-hop number with the recurring refrain "Don't you want a pussy ride?" If you're easily offended, you might as well steer clear of this show; McGovern delights in non-p.c. phrases and stereotypes. His caricature-like portrayal of Chocolate Puddin' would probably get him booed off the stage of the Apollo, and his song lyrics certainly won't win him friends among anti-porn feminists. At the same time, however, McGovern pokes fun at racist and homophobic attitudes. His charismatic presence diffuses the more problematic aspects of his show, and it is clear that the artist understands the power dynamics at play in his fetishistic reliance on a black popular culture commodified for white audiences.
It takes a while for McGovern to introduce his cast of characters and establish the narrative thread that ties them all together. Unfortunately, he begins the evening with his least-defined character, a gay Arab playboy named Zarzuffa. The accent McGovern employs here sounds vaguely European, and his mannerisms are wildly unfocused.
However, once McGovern dons the persona of Chocolate Puddin', the physical precision of his characterization removes any doubt as to the skills of this writer/performer. Puddin' argues with the racist Lerlene, who wishes she lived during the glory days of slavery and who tries to bribe Puddin' with offers of fried chicken and watermelon. "Black people are scary," she confides to the audience. "Well, maybe not Bill Cosby."
In addition to his character comedy, McGovern also impresses with his dance and vocal talents. He's a good mover, very entertaining to watch. But the highlights of the show are two duets that McGovern sings with himself. The first is between Jimmy and his alter ego, Velvet Hammer, who sing about doing "manly things" with the boys they cruise. The other is a confrontation between Chocolate Puddin' and Lerlene as they fight over a fake Chanel bag. Extraordinarily, McGovern is able to begin a note as one character, and finish it as another. This creates a surreal harmony that McGovern uses to comic effect.
Dirty Stuff is a light-hearted evening's entertainment. There's nothing particularly profound about its message that we should learn to love ourselves and get along with others. Still if you're looking for a good time and a bit of raunchy fun, this just might be the show for you.