Who: Harmon Leon in Ironic/NOT Ironic
When: 10:00 pm, Saturday
Where: Bryant-Lake Bowl, 810 W. Lake St., Minneapolis
Cost: $12 / $8 with Student I.D.
Irony, as Alanis Morissette contended, is not like rain on your wedding day.
“That’s just unfortunate,” Harmon Leon said.
Leon ought to know. He’s spent years exploring irony through his “infiltration” of various subcultures and reality TV shows using specific and convincing personas to expose the incongruity between a given cultural phenomena’s public face and its actual meaning.
On Saturday, Leon’s show, “Ironic/NOT Ironic,” will bring these contrasts to the fore on the Bryant-Lake Bowl stage. The show is a response to what Leon feels is a general misunderstanding of irony and its attempted representations in culture.
“People think they know the definition of irony and usually, a lot of the time in the general public, the definition is not correct. People think irony is sarcasm or … coincidence,” Leon said.
In the show, Leon goes through his slide presentation of images he declares ironic and not ironic. Jesus on a cross? Not Ironic. Jesus giving the finger? Ironic.
Leon’s “infiltrations” adopt a practice familiar to fans of Borat and explore similar content to fringe-group documentary series “Weird Weekends“ by Louis Theroux.
Leon has detailed his exploits in five books, where he discusses his forays into the worlds of carnies, baby pageants, pot farmers and white supremacist groups, among others.
“It’s always better, from my point of view, to be a participant in the story. You just get so much more,” Leon said.
The reporter-come-performer uses what he calls an “all-knowing fool tactic” to take down the guards of his interview subjects. Leon, who commonly goes by “Hank” in his reality show appearances, also does work as plain old Harmon. Without a disguise, Leon has gone behind the lines of the Colombian mail-order bride industry and also spent a week inside the belly of the bigotry beast, the Westboro Baptist Church.
Leon’s reality TV show appearances include his case as a plaintiff with a fabricated grievance on now-defunct game show “Whammy!” and daytime court-TV program, “Judge Joe Brown.“ Leon appears in character as his way to highlight the true nature of the show.
“It’s not about winning a court case,” Leon said, “I just kinda pushed it a step further.”
The infiltrator also penetrated deep within late-night schlock show “Blind Date“ when he went on as a potential paramour for his date, who was unwise to the ruse. In it, he dons a pair of lederhosen to dinner and shoves an entire stick of butter in his mouth while his date calmly watches on and makes polite conversation. It’s an absurd prank that calls attention to the performativity of “reality” television.
“These shows aren’t reality,” Leon said. “Who really goes on television to find true love?”
In addition to his rapid-fire irony list, Leon also presents other curiosities like a deposition of things he hates, pictures of monkeys in human clothes and a ramshackle song about Stephen Hawking. One of his bits includes slowing down a classic lady-chasing excerpt from “Benny Hill“ — a ’60s British variety show — and adding the theme from horror movie “The Omen.” It’s a stylization that switches out one irony for another and reveals something in the process
“Suddenly you realize Benny Hill is a creepy racist,” Leon said.
Leon’s show is a series of frenetic monologues prepared by the type of person who goes to a celebrity impersonators convention and poses as a fourth-rate Austin Powers with a Chinese accent.
It’s a performance that declares hatred for comedians, yet includes a segment of one-liners with clearly demarcated punchlines. It’s a show performed by a white guy with dreadlocks.
In a world bloated and twisted with irony, it’s hard to tell just who exactly is the butt of the joke. Leon has spent a career exploring this dynamic and hopes that in identifying the ever-elusive reality beneath contradictory presentations, he will supply his audience with a valuable tool to navigate an increasingly “ironic” world.
“I want people watching my show, in the end, to question what they look at,” Leon said.
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