Written by Jacqueline Ryan
“Live people tend to ignore the strange and unusual. I myself am strange and unusual.”
– Winona Ryder as ‘Lydia’ in Beetlejuice.
NEIL E. DEE’S BIZARRIETY SHOW at LANALOU’S was, without a doubt, a foray into the strange and unusual. For Dee, the freakishly outlandish is simply the norm. For me, it’s nothing short of jarring, jaw-dropping amazement!
Special props to Lana (drummer “The Furniture) and Lou (keyboardist, vocals “Men Without Hats”), the two owners of LanaLou’s – a cozy, funky haven, garnished with curiosities, in the heart of Downtown Vancouver’s East Side. Each week, LanaLou’s showcases offbeat local artists, and serves a nice little menu containing an assortment of healthy and comfort food options. Thank you for the Bordertown Burger and spinach salad, Ladies! With a hot vodka Caeser to spice things up, I was deliciously primed for entertainment of the utmost peculiar sort!
Way in the back and through the kitchen, in a teeny broom-closet-like space, Neil E. Dee reflected in the mirror while he applied his stage makeup and explained to me what tonight’s show, and Neil E. Dee, were all about…
“I’m Neil E. Dee, and I run the Neil E. Dee’s Bizarriety Show, which is basically a fucked-up variety show. Normally, I host and do sword-swallowing, beds of nails, fire-eating – a lot of the classic ‘sideshow stunts’ – and I kinda do my own twist on them. I don’t like to do them too traditional because that was a long time ago, and things have changed… so we do it our way. We normally have a burlesque dancer and a belly dancer – or one of the two – plus another kind of novelty or variety act. Tonight we have The World’s Fattest Contortionist, Matt Alaeddinne, who’s been all over the world doing rad performance stuff; Amber Eastman from Luciterra – which is one of the best belly dancing troops in town – so we’re really excited to have her; and little Yuki Ueda from The Sideshow Studios. We’re really, really, really stoked to have these guys here because they all do really rad shit with all their different talents… so it’s a good lineup. And, plus me, acting like an idiot and shoving swords down my throat and sticking my face in grinder sparks and lots of silly stuff, so yeah…”
And with that (and the mandatory Jägermeister warm-up shot at the bar) it was on with the show!
Ya ta dada dada da da da da… Ya ta dada dada da da da da…
Twisted circus music pumped out of the hanging speakers at the secret little hole-in-the-wall, and the crowd at Lanalou’s – small but mighty – cheered wildly as the carnival sideshow “Bizarriety” kicked off with Master of Ceremonies, Neil E. Dee, grinding millions of dazzling white sparks all over his face and body – shocking us by lighting a cigarette gripped between his lips in a blazing shower of cinders! As if that wasn’t enough, from his tabletop covered with everything sharp and dangerous, Dee collected up his tools of torture and encouraged a hesitant volunteer to hammer a 4” inch spike straight through the inside of his nose and into his sinus cavity (close enough for me to wince at the possibility of one tap too many pushing said spike directly into his brainstem) and pull it back out again. As he instructed her, “Rule #1: Don’t Kill Me.” “Rule #2: Don’t fucking kill me.” and “Rule #3, Don’t let go!” Dee warned the crowd, “Focus here,” (he smiled wryly as he teased us with naughty pelvic thrusts) “cause we’re going to do some fucked up shit!” Oh, yeah… He wasn’t kidding. Neil E. Dee, with his boyish grin, a sparkle in his eyes and a twist of his jasmine-scented waxed handlebar moustache, proceeded to transform himself into The Human Everything!
In what is usually a game played with rainbow coloured balloons at traveling midways, Dee’s blindfolded assistant, (tatted up, rockabilly burlesque cutie, Rianne) cheerfully hurtled pub darts into Neil E. Dee’s torso, utilizing him as a human dartboard, puncturing his body, and burying each pointy missile deeply into his flesh! He was stuck with four in the back, and we collectively cringed in horror as one projectile lodged itself a hair’s breadth away from his deep “innie” – we thought for sure it went in all the way! OUCHIEEEE!
Dee never missed a beat, continuing to charm up a storm while he introduced the other featured performers, and taking the stage between acts to offer up even more of his fantastical shenanigans!
Yuki Ueda, a juggler and “object manipulator” with a charming smile and great connection with the audience, delighted us by rolling a crystal ball in his hands like a magical floating orb. Yuki moved on to balance a chair on his forehead, coming back to retake the stage in a kimono and red and white face paint. Speaking Japanese, he firmly instructed us to respond with an exhuberant “HAI!” (YES!) to each command, as he entertained with a paper parasol, tossed three balls behind his back, and enthusiastically juggled five balls as high as the ceiling would allow!
But wait, there’s more! A human cutting board? Why not? Dee, wielding a finely sharpened meat cleaver, Ginsu-Knife-chopped a celery stalk on his skin (exactly where you would slice your inner arm to ensure a certain suicide)… Then, to up the freakiness level of the whole thing, Dee pressed the blade up to his neck/jugular vein and chopped some more! “In high school we called this tragic,” he mused, “now we call it entertainment!”
I have absolutely no doubt that if he had a Sabertooth Tiger there onstage with him, Dee would have thrust his head between its jaws and pressed down onto its gleaming fangs. The human toothpick, perhaps? But I digress…
Forging ahead with the show (as the ancients began practicing over 4,000 years ago) Neil E. Dee swallowed two, 2 ft. sharply honed swords – all the way down his throat and into his stomach – making our eyes water almost as much as his. This is for real, kids – every bit of it! Dee next hung a 1970’s macrame hanger, weighted with both a lawn-bowling ball and an audience member’s fully stuffed leather handbag, by two sharp metal hooks lodged in in his eye sockets. As they dragged the flesh away from his eyeballs, Dee joked, “Well folks, that’s a real eye opener isn’t it?” Yikes!
Amber Eastman’s big, intense eyes, almost took our attention away from her coin embellished hips – almost – as she shimmied in impossible ways – popping and locking her body to an “Enigma” sounding vibe, while belly dancing and channelling “I Dream of Genie” with style and precision. She went on to balance a sword (straight from Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves) on her head, dancing to a middle eastern sounding dubstep, and completing the seduction with the splits and a smile… still perfectly balancing the blade across the top of her pretty cranium.
Amber: “The technique is basic belly dancing, but it’s fusion in that it’s a modern style of belly dance originating in The San Francisco Bay Area, starting about in the 1960’s and taking off and developing through the 90’s. The first one is a dark, moody fusion to a modern, electronic song with sort of, R & B Vocals, and the second piece I’m doing is sword balance which has been done since the Sixties – it’s arguable whether it was actually done traditionally or based on Orientalist Fantasy, but it’s something that’s been done all over the world for quite a while… We use non-arabic, modern music, and we don’t limit ourselves, so we’ll use music from anywhere. You saw us at The Burlseque Fest” (yes, I did) “and it was definitely more like Vaudville Fusion – we had a juggling artist that we worked with, (Chris Murdoch), so we mix juggling, and a bit of acrobatics and belly dance, but also a bit of hip hop dance and definitely with a jazz and ballet influence…”
Just when you thought he had done more batshit crazy things in one night than is humanly possible, Dee set up the “Neil E. Dee Death Bed,” consisting of two razor-sharp swords serving as his support system – one for his back, one for his legs – with their lacerating edges digging deeper as gravity pulled his weight onto the blades. Just in case the swords actually were to slice through his body, his soft place to fall was a bed of dozens of long, hard, steel nails – jutting straight up – like soldiers at the ready to pierce through his skin. But it just wouldn’t be any fun if there wasn’t a cinderblock and a sledgehammer involved now, would it? Fat Matt was all over it, wielding a sledgehammer and slamming it down onto Dee’s abdomen, smashing the concrete to chunks on the belly of the sideshow stunt man. Dee got a much needed hand up, and revealed that the blades had dug sharply into his skin – leaving long, deep impressions on his back and legs! Holy sheep shit, Neil E. Dee!
Fat Matt Alaeddinne, the aforementioned “Fattest Contortionist in the World,” and the self-proclaimed “Cockiest fat guy you’re ever going to meet… Ladies!” is 450 pounds of pure comedy, great timing and ‘I-can’t-believe-I-am-I-seeing-with-my-own-two-eyes!’ entertainment! Fatt Matt is Edmonton Boy, and has traveled all over the globe – notably, making appearances on Canada’s Got Talent, and The Late Show with David Letterman.
Alaeddinne sat on the stage in a sparkly gold lycra ensemble, and invited us to “Drink it in!” Criss-crossing his legs into what is called the “Bread Basket,” or as the French call it, “A Basket of Fruit,” (think about it), he pulled his feet up to his ears in a yogi-style stretch, a triumph that was as astonishing as it was impressive. The next trick involved Matt slipping his body through a small, duct tape reinforced hula hoop, creating an unrivaled camel toe that can never be unseen. Matt dislocated his shoulder in a determined and ultimately successful attempt, that was particularly gripping – if you know what I mean. I had the pleasure of joining Matt and a girl named “Flashy” onstage to “try on” a straightjacket to ensure that, yep, it’s a straightjacket alright! “Flashy” strapped him in and pull, nice and snug. Once again tapping into his shoulder dislocation talents, Matt threw himself urgently around the stage, struggling, wriggling, jumping and rolling around like a man on fire… until at last *WHEW!* he pulled it over his head and began unbuckling his way to freedom! It honestly still makes me freak out a little – in a claustrophobic kind of a way – just to think about it!
Me: “Can I ask you a few questions?”
Matt: “So, shoot, ask anything you like.”
Me: “Why do you do what you do?”
Matt: “That’s off limits.”
Matt: “Why do I do what I do? I mean, It’s a shortcut, but it’s really hard! You say, ‘OH! And you see the road over there? It beats working, and I’m going to take a shortcut!’ And, it’s a lot harder going through that bush where no one else has been or where few people are. I’m an entertainer, I’m the World’s Fattest Contortionist, I’m a strongman and an escape artist, I’m a comedian – one of the kind of people you find in the brush in the shortcut. I was street performing doing tightrope/slackrope walking on the streets before I could drink or vote or go to war… so I was out there on the street busking, street performing, stand-up comedy, contortion… You just get your tail wind and you just pull in… I mean, everybody starts at something, you know… magicians, jugglers… everybody’s multi-disciplined, right?”
Matt ends with a grin and looks at my iPhone recording on ‘Voice Memo’ and jokes, “Oh, we’re not on film, so nobody can tell that I’m exposing myself… Oh, but if I say that, then that’s just as admissible.” With a smile he was off to the bar for his Jäger shot.
Meanwhile, back to the bizarre… Dee jumped back onstage and began (starting with one end in a tall glass of Rye and Coke) to slide several feet of clear, 1/4” tubing, up through his nostril, winding it back out of his mouth, and into the thirsty mouth of his feather-lashed, corseted, fishnetted pick-up girl, “Flashy,” (Erica Leduc), thereby transforming himself into the Human Twisty Straw. The Gross Factor on that one was off the charts! We loved it, but, EEEWWW!
The evening culminated with one hand over my eyes, and my other hand staple-gunning a five dollar bill onto Neil E. Dee’s armpit… because at Bizarriety, that’s how you roll…
Neil E. Dee: “I like to do things that are real, I don’t like to be fooled, so I don’t wanna do things that fool people – so it’s no illusions, no magic – what you see is real. I like to see what your body can do – ‘cause we’re not just stuck doing routine things – you can make your body adapt and become used to doing all sorts of things that you shouldn’t do. *laughs* So I like to do those, and I like to make people laugh, and show them something that they don’t see every day. We try and bring lots of talent from different disciplines of the body and put it on one stage and make people go “Holy fuck!” and have a good night – hopefully. That’s what I want to do.” – Neil E. Dee
And do it you did, Neil E. Dee! Wow, the crazy-ass stuff people do! And hey… yay for me! Today it was purely for my entertainment purposes, to satisfy my inquisitive nature, and, of course, to pleasure the intimate but raucously salacious crowd at LanaLou’s! Thank you Neil E. Dee, for stapling, darting, and meat cleavering yourself to the point of blood letting! You are spectaculous!
To that end, I found myself standing on Powell Street, tripped out, and clutching a t-shirt that reads, “Neil E. Dee’s Bizarriety, The Most Dangerous Show on Earth.” I jumped into a passing Saturday night cab that whisked me away home, feeling like Alice… having survived the most dangerous and twisted of Rabbit Holes!
Ya ta dada dada da da da da…
Patrick Rooney: Staplegun Photos, Neil E. Dee Swordswallowing, Hooks in Eyes, Meat Cleaver, Darts, Amber Eastman Photos, Set of Bed of Nails, Yuki Ueda Balancing Chair
Jacqueline Ryan: Neil E. Dee Smile, Reflection, Sparks Photos, Yuki Ueda with Parasol, Bed of Nails Horizontal, LanaLou’s, Matt Alaeddinne, Erica Leduc