I was a little worried last night when I arrived for Mike Daisey’s one-man show at Joe’s Pub, a chic, midsized venue in the East Village. It was crazy, but I was worried Daisey was going to recognize me and scream at me, like he did when I interviewed him by phone last week. "You don’t know anything about the theater," he had said in the middle of a meandering, expletive-laced monologue.
Daisey’s show was originally titled "Yes All Women," a reference to the hashtag women used to tell their stories of inequality after the devoted misogynist Elliot Rodger went on a shooting spree in California late last month. Daisey says he read the stories linked through the hashtag, thought they were "beautiful," and meditated deeply on them. Feminists felt he was co-opting a forum for women. After enough of a backlash, he changed it. The piece is now called "Yes This Man."
The piece was originally called 'Yes All Women' but Daisey changed it after a backlash online
I emailed Daisey at the time for comment and he offered to call, but stopped responding after I sent him my number. The Verge published a story on his show with the headline "Man who lied about Apple’s working conditions will now explain the subjugation of women," a callback to Daisey’s one-man show about visiting an Apple factory in China that later aired on This American Life and had to be retracted due to extensive falsehoods. That’s when Daisey gave me a call. "The show is not explaining anything," he said. "Your title already is full of shit."
"You don’t mention that there are no tickets left because they’re all sold out," he added.
Curious if that was true, I checked the website, and lo, there were still tickets. That’s how I ended up with a seat at the inaugural performance of "Yes This Man." My seat ended up being in the corner, outside of Daisey’s view from the stage. Relieved, I ordered a glass of Chardonnay and introduced myself to my table-mate, Regina, a Daisey superfan who has been going to his shows for more than a decade. The first show Regina saw was about Daisey's career as an Amazon customer service representative, a tale that was almost certainly embellished, according to a co-worker. Regina doesn’t mind the embellishments. She dismissed the This American Life incident. "You think David Sedaris doesn’t make stuff up?" she asked.
The lights dimmed. Daisey walked onstage and sat at a desk with a microphone. The stage seemed to shrink to a small circle around him. Dressed all in black, he looked larger-than-life huge, with a big belly and shuddering jowls. He stared out at the audience with an intense focus that would last the full hour, never looking down at the iPhone propped on a stand near his left arm.
"I am going to mansplain all over you."
He started the show by checking his privilege. "I am in fact male, and white, and I am speaking to you in the form of the monologue, which is where I tell you all about things and you just take it," he said. "It is the original Greek Aristotelian form of mansplaining. I am going to mansplain all over you. Gobs and gobs of mansplaining will come straight out of my phallicness." There were laughs from the audience, which appeared to consist of slightly more women than men, all white, ranging from their 30s to 50s. "Even more perversely," he said, "you have paid to be come upon."
As it turned out, the show was not really about women. Daisey’s monologue was about Star Trek, sex, and theater, but mostly just about himself. The first mention of the word "women" came eight minutes in, when Daisey started talking about the genesis of the monologue. "I knew I was going to come talk about this impossible thing. And one of the first things I thought about this impossible thing, which I thought about in the context of talking to you tonight, was how often I think about it," he said. "I think about it all the time. I think about that division between men and women."
Race is complicated, he said, but is misogyny that complex? It runs across our culture for all history, and it makes Daisey "outraged" that "50 percent of people are not considered as human as the other 50 percent."
Daisey relayed a scene from a local cafe, where a man and woman sat together at a table. He had his laptop out, and the screen was blocking the woman’s face. She was on her phone, "cowering" behind the screen. It’s unclear what Daisey wanted us to take away from this. Later, he said he wasn't sure if there was any sexism at work, "it was just weird." It was more developed than most of his anecdotes.
Daisey devoted some time to the issue of women’s plays being passed over for production in favor of men’s, and then talked about how moved he was by the tweets on the #yesallwomen hashtag. But he didn’t mention any female playwrights by name, nor share any of the #yesallwomen stories he found so affecting.
Daisey doesn’t seem to have grokked what was going on with #yesallwomen
The last quarter of the show, in which Daisey spoke about his wife, was the most compelling. She was his director, and that dynamic was hard, he said; eventually she told him, "I cannot be myself in your presence. Your presence distorts me." I could have used a little more mansplaining here. I wanted to know more about how she felt, what happened between them, but Daisey withheld details.
There were a few moments when Daisey talked about his weight and how the overweight population faces oppression of its own. "Large" people are better at sex because they have appetites, he says, and because society teaches them shamelessness. This little rant felt fresh and real, possibly because it’s something Daisey has actual experience with.
By contrast, Daisey doesn’t seem to have grokked what was going on with #yesallwomen and he didn’t seem interested in contributing meaningfully to it. "What the men do, is they become ‘allies,’" Daisey said, in a typical non sequitur observation that came after the bit about women in the theater. "‘Allies.’ ‘Allies.’ ‘Allies.’ They wear shirts that say ‘I’m a feminist.’ ‘ALLIES.’ And then they show up and then they get to say, you know, crazy shit. And I understand that not every man who is an ‘ally’ is saying crazy shit, but they all sort of glom together." Then Daisey started talking about something else, and never mentioned allies again.
What happened to the allies, I wondered? Are they part of the problem, or just annoying hangers-on? Should men not call themselves feminists? Is Daisey suggesting he is one of these allies by putting on a show that’s ostensibly about women?
There seems to be the germ of an interesting idea there, but like the rest of the parts about women, Daisey had the right vocabulary and no thesis. Throughout the show, he tosses out perfunctory lines like "50 percent of you are treated like shit," and "I am sexist. I see it too often," and "I can’t even imagine what it is like to be Hillary Clinton," and "That’s patriarchy!" In the end, "Yes This Man" turned out to be a perfect title for an hour of introspective riffing. Just don’t expect much else.