Paul Mangan, wearing glasses and a blazer, works in social media during the day.
By night, his friendly, brushy moustache becomes a cartoonish waxed handlebar, and he dons a half-red, half-black ringmaster’s costume, becoming Monsieur Pompier.
Then, in Monsieur Pompier’s Travelling Freakshow, he leads a band of warped and nightmarish characters in a comedic romp that lasts for more than two hours.
Mangan and his co-organiser Hayley Connolly have found a spin-off home for those in the freakshow, and other performers, with their new show, Out Come the Freaks.
Out Come the Freaks is hosted once a month in the Lost Lane on Nassau Street, which replaced Lillie’s Bordello earlier this year.
It’s not a traditional freakshow, says Mangan. “It’s very surreal and absurdist.”
Says Connolly: “It’s a mix between comedy and stuff outside the boundaries of what you’d normally see. Something that’s got more of a shock factor.”
Last Monday, downstairs from the Lost Lane in the nearby Porterhouse bar, Mangan and Connolly talk about their love of outsider cabaret, absurdist humour and costume-making.
The Travelling Freakshow features a cast of characters dreamt up by Mangan, who creates their costumes and the music for the shows.
There’s the Ear Fairy, who cleans people’s ears in their sleep. Banana Boy whose fingers turn into bananas every time he does something bad, and the Crabbit – who’s half crab, half rabbit.
“The characters come from mundane topics like earwax or bread mould,” Mangan says. “Then I figure out a fantastical or absurd way to portray them on stage as characters.”
Themes such as social media, celebrity culture and procrastination are explored, he says. “Dr Moogle, for instance, is all about the dangers of using Google to search for medical diagnoses.”
Mangan, with an ever-changing cast of actors, has toured with the Travelling Freakshow around Europe.
He was lured back to Ireland from France by Connolly’s idea of setting up a monthly night dedicated to other surrealist performance artists. This is where Out Come the Freaks was born.
“I was already thinking of coming back anyway and the idea of putting on a monthly night was a drive to come back,” he says.
Connolly has been performing with the Freakshow since June. She helps source the monthly show’s talent, acts in the show, and DJs afterwards.
There are no permanent actors in the freakshow, says Mangan.
An ever-changing line-up of people add their own spins to Banana Boy and the rest of the characters.
“So many people have put their ideas into this project that it’s taken on a whole new life of its own,” says Mangan.
He says he’d like to have an amateurs’ show, where anybody can be a freak for the night.
Some of the actors have been friends with no background in performing, he says. “Because all the characters wear masks, people that you’d never expect to go on stage or do something crazy have gotten involved.”
Connolly says that they’re on the lookout for other performers to join the Out Come the Freaks line-up. Finding acts can “take days”, she says.
They’re keen to put the call out to unconventional performers and artists who might not think their work is good enough to be seen, she says.
“We want people to come to us with their projects,” she says. “To experiment and understand the platform we’re offering up.”
So far, they’ve had acts like gender-bending burlesque performer BigChief RandomChaos, band Acid Granny, actor Roger Gregg and surrealist brother-sister video-making duo KIN.
Acid Granny is an electronic music band and street act that push around an electrified shopping trolley, and play other instruments.
They hauled the shopping cart all the way up the stairs to the room where they put on the show, said Connolly. “They power it with a car battery and it must weigh a ton.”
Mangan says it’s “surreal” seeing the acts in the Singer’s Room of the Lost Lane.
It’s intimate and elegant with chandeliers, dark wooden bookshelves, and red velvety wallpaper. The floor is covered with embroidered carpet.
Connolly calls it the “velvet womb”.
Says Mangan: “It’s a decadent environment. A lot of [these acts] would usually be playing in punk venues.”
All the acts are paid after the show too, says Connolly. “Whatever we make on the night gets split up between the artists. There’s no one getting more.”
Outside of Out Come the Freaks, the original Monsieur Pompier’s Travelling Freakshow is still in action.
They’ve just completed a tour in Germany.
“Today, I’ll be painting costumes and fixing up masks and all kinds of nonsense,” says Mangan last Monday, before the tour.
“It does have a lot of props and there’s so much madness involved,” says Mangan. “A full show could have 10 different characters.”
Some of the costumes have customised masks or embellished existing costumes, he says.
The Ear Fairy, for example, has a nightmarish, grinning mask with a bald head and long teeth. The costume for the Crabbit has crab claws and a rabbit mask with a dapper white suit.
“Some of it is completely handmade, some of it is customised using older stuff that I’ve collected over the years,” says Mangan.
His house, as a result, is a “museum of nonsense”, he says.
Mangan also makes the music for the show using pianos and synths.
The music is a strange mixture of cabaret and “children’s music for adults”, says Connolly. “It’s got a little bit of a sinister edge to it.”
For the performances, Mangan and Connolly draw on a range of musical and performative inspirations.
Connolly, a burlesque dancer, says that traditional theatre was “too conventional” for her as a kid. She preferred instead to dream up her own characters.
Laurie Anderson – the avant-garde performance artist, musician and film director – was a big inspiration, she says. “She’s absolutely amazing.”
“One of the things that stood out to me is that she stood on the street of New York City on a block of ice and played the violin until the ice block had melted,” she says.
Closer to home, Irish performer BigChief RandomChaos is “the apex of outsider cabaret”, says Mangan. “His show is different every time.”
Mangan, whose background is in visual arts and music, says he was inspired by absurdist humour like that of the old comedy group Monty Python.
“Musically, there was the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, who were linked to Monty Python,” he says. “They had a lot of contraptions and costumes on stage. They would have been a big influence on me.”
Mangan says he and Connolly, who are partners, also bonded over their appreciation of ’80s “mutant disco” band Was (Not Was), which inspired their show’s name.
“Their first song from their first album was ‘Out Come the Freaks’ which is celebrating all kinds of weirdos and oddballs from the city,” says Mangan. “It was fitting for the night.”
“I’d been searching for something like the freakshow for years,” says Connolly. “It was nowhere to be found.”
Out Come the Freaks III is scheduled for 7 November in the Lost Lane from 8pm. You can pay through Eventbrite or on the door.
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