July 8, 2010

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Grown-up comedy
Mike Dugan fakes nothing
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com

“Growing up, I had one major flaw,” Mike Dugan says early in Men Fake Foreplay, his one-man show playing this weekend at the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord. “I laughed at the people I should have listened to, and I listened to the people I should have laughed at.”

When he was 13, Dugan’s father caught him reading Playboy magazine and banned it from the house. At the time, Dugan found it amusing. But he realized later that the old man was right — Hugh Hefner’s free love philosophy was the tip of a pernicious iceberg.

As role models like his dad grew scarce, “Morning Zoo” misogyny and mean-spirited porn, dressed up in euphemisms like “gentlemen’s club” and “adult entertainment,” became cultural norms. Coming from a world where calling someone a “bitch” or a “ho” often led to a beating by an older brother, Dugan was appalled.

“It started to rankle me how women were being treated,” he said recently from his home New Jersey. “When I was growing up, I was told to respect my sisters, my mother and women. That’s not something you hear over burgers at Hooters much these days.”

Men Fake Foreplay is a humorous look at Dugan’s efforts to get past the baser instincts of his masculinity. The show’s title is the answer to a question: why do women fake orgasm? Dugan is less concerned with the sexual definition of foreplay than with its second meaning, as a signifier of future events. “Everything a man does to make a woman feel safe is foreplay,” he says, “including everything he does to build the character of the man he brings to the relationship.”

The challenge, then, is how to become a decent man in a culture that’s dependent upon irresponsible male hunger. “A man led by his impulses and appetites is a liability,” Dugan said. “He’s still a boy.”

But the point of the show isn’t to trash men — or let women off the hook. For example, Dugan finds the notion of ‘women who love too much’ utterly ridiculous. “How self-congratulatory! You mean it’s not that you keep choosing the same kind of jerk over and over?” For their part, men can be very unclear on the concept of ‘sharing’ with their partners. “‘I’d like to have sex with you and your best friend’ isn’t a feeling. It’s a mistake.”

Dugan believes the male sex drive is a lot like capitalism: “It’s a great system, as long as it’s tempered by conscience.”

For all its seriousness of purpose — “If Seinfeld was a show about nothing, then this is a show about something,” Dugan says — there’s humor and hope throughout Men Fake Foreplay. “I’m not a pessimist;that’s one of the reasons I’m doing the show. In the end, it’s compassionate … it offers an ideal to men.”

“But there are a lot of demons we have to battle,” he said. “The dragons we have to slay are inside of us.”

Dugan started developing material for the show in the late 1990s, while serving as a hired gun for Tom Arnold, Keenan Ivory Wayans, George & Alana Hamilton and other talk show hosts. Prior to that, he parlayed a win at the 1988 San Francisco International Comedy Competition into years of successful touring, with appearances on Comedy Central, A&E and other cable network outlets. But the television jobs, while lucrative, were wearing him down. “I was making all this money,” he recalled, “but at one point I said, this wasn’t part of the dream.”

He’d moved from standup to regular writing after winning an Emmy for his work on the first year of Dennis Miller’s HBO series. “This was back before he was a fascist,” Dugan jokes. The two met when Miller, now a conservative radio host, was a regular on Saturday Night Live. It was Miller who’d urged Dugan to try his luck in California.

“We were best friends,” said Dugan, who wasn’t totally surprised by Miller’s transformation from caustic comic to right-wing darling. “He was always kind of a centrist, and not as liberal as everybody thought — more of a libertarian.”

But Dugan, who was then working at Catch a Rising Star in New York City, remains awed by Miller’s early work: “That guy was brilliant, nobody could do what he was doing,” he said. “Nobody had an acceleration curve like Dennis Miller. He could just take your metabolism and slowly attach himself to it and just start running. By then he was hitting stuff like a speed bag, just masterfully, and your heartbeat was going the same way.”

Dugan believes 9/11, and a personal invitation from George W. Bush to ride on Air Force One, marked the change in Miller. “He saw Bush and got on this jingoistic thing, and it was just creepy. Because good comedy speaks truth to power, and what he was doing was trying to sanction the powers’ lies.”

In Men Fake Foreplay, Dugan writes, “in the immediate wake of September 11, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter declared it ‘the death of irony’ and was roundly ridiculed — probably because death-defying firemen don’t respond to crisis with an impulse to have tea with Oscar Wilde.”

Dugan hopes this isn’t true, that instead the tragedy marked the “death of cynicism … we could use some hope and trust and humor that enriches our often frail lives, not degrades them. We have had enough hurt.”

Of his former friend, however, Dugan says, “it wasn’t the death of irony; it was just the death of Dennis Miller’s irony. Once you have an agenda, you no longer have that balance as a truth-seeker.”


Mike Dugan
What: Men Fake Foreplay, a one-show starring Mike Dugan
Where: Spotlight Café, located in the Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 South Main St. in Concord
When: Thursday, Friday & Saturday, July 8-10, at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $30 at www.cccanh.com