President, Twin Cities Puppeteers
A TICKLISH BUSINESS
In our eleven years as Punch performers, Stu (aka Mr. Bottles ) and I have entertained thousands. (Thousands of what? Notions? Chocolate cravings? People? Yes, yes, and yes.) One thing we learned early on, is that audiences tend to have a mob psychology. Behavioral trends can roll through an audience like a tidal wave, and sometimes we have to just get out of the way.
There was the time, for example, when my Mr. Punch was dancing a hornpipe onstage, and every kid in our audience began to dance frenetically, too. They kept it up even when Punch stopped, and even though they pretty much missed the rest of the show! It seemed a bit odd, until we learned that the these same kids had earlier seen a performance by that heinous purple wombat from Hell known as "Barney the Dinosaur," who encourages his all too eager little minions to bounce up and down like demented kangaroo rats.
So that particular mystery was solved. But a new question recently plagued us: What IS this tickling stuff? I'm referring to an obssession lately developed by our young audiences: they have a burning desire to know if Mr. Punch is ticklish. It all started with one little girl, who began shouting at him, "Are you ticklish, Mr. Punch? Mr. Punch, are you ticklish?" She kept it up for ten minutes straight, until finally Mr. Punch stopped the show, stared directly at her and croaked out, in his swazzlish way, "No, I am NOT ticklish!"
We thought that was the end of it, but no. It's become quite a common thing, during our shows, for kids in the audience to suddenly shout out "Tickle him!" (referring, of course, to Mr. Punch, who still is not amused by the suggestion.) We had about decided to accept this behavior as universally inexplicable, when a friend of mine suddenly hit upon the answer: it's the "Tickle Me Elmo" Phenomenon!
Now it all makes sense. It began with the ticklsh toy that EVERYBODY wanted, and now it's the tickle that every toy has. Nowadays the shelves of Toys R Us spill over with legions of maniacally quivering, giggling characters of every description: Elmos, Cookie Monsters, Poohs and Piglets, and even (argh!) a ticklish Barney. So of course, when children see Mr. Punch, their little pea brains think "It's a doll. It talks and moves. It must be ticklish."
This would be almost sad, were it not for the fantastic entrepreneurial opportunities that now await us Punchians. Picture, if you will, a wide-eyed fleecy pajama-clad child on Christmas morning. She dashes with passionate anticipation to the Christmas tree, reaches for a large beribboned gift, rips it open and finds...Tickle-Me Punch! Tickle his tummy, boys and girls, and WHAP! goes his cudgel. "Hee Hee! THAT'S the way to do it!!"