Something strange is going on in FoPo. At the Old Gilbert Road Tavern, a cavalcade of artistic freaks descends each second Friday to out-weird unsuspecting patrons—and each other. The ringmaster of this sideshow is the purple-fedora-sporting author Garrett Cook, who won Bizarro literature's Wonderland Book Award for his comic smut book Time Pimp.
"I want to create a place where basically anything could happen," says Cook. "You don't hear people crinkling pages. You don't hear people reading poems about ducks and aerosol cans."
This is no mild-mannered reading event. Poets are the most likely to hear crickets; performance is key. "One of the big inspirations, of course, is BizarroCon and the Ultimate Bizarro Showdown," says Cook. That annual contest is held at Edgefield and breaks all boundaries of what is common practice in literary reading circles. "In Bizarro fiction, we have very high standards for performance. A lot of us are not typical MFA writers. We are spazzes and we are theater kids."
Just how wild have things become at Cook's event? "The craziest thing I've seen happening thus far has been a reading of Marat/Sade where the performer was pelted with cold hot dogs." If that whets your appetite, try throwing a singing monkey into the mix. "We have Deanna Bananas of Monkey Business PDX-—she's not just like having a young lady dressed up as a monkey, this is a person who embodies being a monkey…I mean, we're apes. It's a step down, but she always executes it."
The monkey acts as The Gong Show's shepherd's crook—yanking a character offstage—as the beast shrieks and challenges performers. As Cook puts it, "I wanted this to be a place where you can fall flat on your ass…because there's this whole thing nowadays that fame is a quintessential human right."
"You do not deserve respect for making art," Cook says. "I know this is an unpopular thing in Portland, but I'm from the East Coast. We don't get that."
Cook puts himself in the spotlight as well, taking risks and throwing down. In his words: "The grotesque is sort of the uncanny. It's the twisted and the wrong. I like to cultivate a sense of wrongness in the books I write and in the sorts of performances that I like to see put on. I'd like to see more chaos…I hope Portland opens up and we have people who just have like a giant ghetto blaster and someone gets up and does the robot and just fails. Or mimes. I want to see more unmitigated disasters. I want to see more character building."
Grotesque is a testing ground for foolish ideas, a place to fall flat on your ass, pick up some attention or maybe win some crappy prizes.
In a nutshell, Cook says: "This is like The Muppet Show for smart perverts."