Not long ago, Butthole Surfers frontman Gibby Haynes appeared at a comedy showcase, along with a prop he referred to as his "negro baby doll leg." Things went south from there.
It was just another Sunday night in July. My wife and I went to the Bell House in Gowanus, Brooklyn, for the fourth anniversary of Eugene Mirman's popular comedy showcase. The doors opened at 7:30; we took seats on the left side of the room. At 8, Mirman introduced the show with some funny bits about attending Comic-Con. A.D. Miles opened with a decent act. He was followed by Leo Allen and Wyatt Cenac.
Then it was time for the evening's special guest. When it comes to the "special guest" at a Eugene Mirman show, it's a crapshoot. If you're lucky, maybe John Hodgman will step out from behind the curtain. If you're unlucky, it's the insufferable David Cross or Botox-addicted Janeane Garofalo. I doubt anyone expected Mirman to introduce Gibby Haynes. Yeah, THAT Gibby Haynes: Butthole Surfers frontman, old-school hellraiser, trailer-park raconteur. Much of the room didn't know they were in the presence of one of punk rock's godheads, a true progressive who was stirring up shit during Reagan's first term.
For the first few minutes, Haynes delivered tired but raunchy one-liners with a sly postmodern wink. If you saw Norm Macdonald's genius set at the Bob Saget roast, you get the idea. Then, the 52-year-old Haynes pulled out a large plastic leg from his messenger bag. He'd found this baby doll leg on the street, he said. (It actually looked more like a leg from a child-size mannequin). The plastic was black, so Haynes described it as his "negro baby doll leg." Then he said it again: "negro leg." And again: "negro leg."
The room wasn't quite silent, but only a few of us were laughing. Haynes was goading the Brooklyn crowd, begging to be booed. As luck would have it, the most vocal objections came from a chick sitting in front of me. "Stop saying the word 'negro'!" she yelled. Haynes ignored her. Again, she yelled: "Stop saying the word 'negro'!" And again.
She and Haynes went back and forth for a few beats. He directed obscene gestures her way; she wrongly accused him of not being funny. With every rebuke, more of the crazy got in her eyes. When Haynes finally called her an "evil fucking cunt"—that was it. She stormed the stage and tried to grab the microphone.
Twenty years ago, Haynes might've punched her in the face. Even today, if this had been his performance—that is, a proper Butthole Surfers show—she might've ended up with a few bruises. Lucky for her, then, Mirman came out and stepped between them. In a final move, Haynes pretended to jack off and—boom!—he blew a load of shiny confetti all over the girl. She stormed back off the stage and took her seat. Haynes exited stage-right to a fair smattering of applause.
I emailed Mirman a few days after the show. As it turns out, this wasn't Haynes's first time on a Brooklyn comedy stage.
"He did a set at Union Hall once," Mirman said. "He played a ukulele and sang some songs and told a handful of corny-ish jokes. It went great, partially because it was not what you'd expect him to do at all."
What was Mirman expecting this time?
"I thought he'd do the same thing he did at Union Hall. Once he got to Bell House, it was clear he was going to do something else."
As Mirman put it: "[I]n the end it wasn't totally a disaster. It was more of a crazy spectacle. He meant to have something dramatic happen and it did. But it does rate high on the spectacle scale."
Will he invite Haynes back?
"I'd have him do something again sometime. I also think he'd do something totally different, because it wouldn't be shocking to repeat yourself. But who knows—I don't think I'd second-guess what Gibby Haynes was going to do at this point."