To celebrate this year's St. Patrick's Day, we went to the Renaissance Festival to enjoy the atrocious acting, weird jokes, dust, green beer, and smell of horseshit hanging in the air. Sure, it sounds bad, but it's all part of the magic. For those who don't know, the Renaissance Festival is a medieval carnival that is held in the Tampa area each year for a month or two. It is complete with carny food, games, shows, shops, and human powered wooden rides. This festival has been an annual attraction as long as I can remember. Going to the festival was one of the highlights of my childhood years. I would laugh my ass off at the comedy shows, be amazed by the magic tricks, try in desperation to climb Jacob's Ladder, be engrossed by the fake swordfights, and gorge myself on apple dumplings and gyros. It was a day in heaven for this kid! It has been nearly ten years since I have made my way back to the festival; ten years entirely too long.
Here Be Dragons
The Renaissance Festival is highlighted by an assortment of magic and comedy shows. Even a decade later, the same cast of characters is up to their old tricks. There was the old mud wench show, the gypsy belly dancers, the comedian escaping from a straight jacket show, and the guy in red tights who likes to put fire in his mouth. I highly doubt, or at least I sincerely hope, these are not the same actors from the last time I visited. These old stand-by shows have not changed much. They consist of incredibly obvious jokes which are exponentially funnier with the quantity of green beer consumption—there was no fruit too low for these performers to pick. Every show you attend will somehow feature the star picking random guys, AND ONLY GUYS, to come up on stage and be humiliated for next five minutes. Why only guys? Because a chick wearing a pink bra over her clothes isn't funny. Three out of every four shows I saw used this gag; one even had two guys from the audience and the performer himself wearing a bra.
What's funnier than a dude wearing a bra? Three dudes wearing bras!
I myself have been the victim of their mockery. The last time I went to the festival, I was chosen in two separate shows to go on stage. I'm sure the bright orange t-shirt didn't help my cause. The first show we attended this time featured the belly dancers; if you love watching chicks with little beer bellies and huge boobs shake it all, this is the show to watch. They tried to change things up by balancing plastic swords and other random items on their head while they danced. It became obvious about two minutes in, however, that their one calling in life is to shake anything on their body that can possibly wiggle.
Again, I have seen this same show a dozen times before and eagerly awaited the moment they would pull a poor unsuspecting schlep on stage and make him dance and wear a pink bra. As I was enjoying the show, my wife's spider-sense began to tingle. She witnessed the dancers in the back look in my direction, point, and whisper. Mrs. Zenestex immediately said, “I need a drink, let's go now.” Unaware of the imminent danger I faced, I begrudgingly left the show with her to buy some green beer and let the libations begin. As we stood a safe distance away in the beer line, she debriefed me on her observations. A minute later, as I watched another guy on stage dancing and wearing a pink bra, I thanked her for sparing me that fate.
That very well could have been me onstage
Since it was St. Patty's Day weekend and wearing green got you a $2 discount off admission, I figured wearing my Green Lantern shirt would be awesome—and it was. You never realize how many Green Lantern fans exist in this world until you don the shirt. No less than ten complete strangers wanted to converse with me about the latest in the Green Lantern universe. Everywhere I went I was greeted by drunken shouts of “Green Lantern Rules!” and “Green Lantern! I remember him! Sweet!”
Me in my infamous Green Lantern T-Shirt, green dyed Bud Light in hand.
One very inebriated, bearded old man who was wearing tights, sporting a pony tail, and armed with a whip sparked up a conversation with me about Green Lantern. Oh, he loved Green Lantern. He also thought it prudent to inform me that there is, in existence, at this very festival, a shop selling homemade whips that has one with the Green Lantern logo on it. It was possibly the most uncomfortable conversation I have ever participated in. I had the uneasy notion that this creeper was mind-humping me and fantasizing about beating me with the whip in question. After ensuring the old man that I would definitely check it out, I quickly walked away, didn't look back, and refused to make eye contact with any more of the 200 other old guys at the festival wearing tights.
One of the best parts of the Renaissance Festival is the shopping district. A majority of the shops feature artsy-fartsy wares such as jewelry and knick knacks, but there are also a bunch of shops with deadly tools of human butchery, cool beer tankards, toys, and sweet looking armor. As a kid, I would dream of being able to just buy all of it: the medieval style boots, real weapons, fake weapons, kites, costumes, geodes. All of it. The one thing I wanted above all was the sky chair. For those who have never seen one, it's kind of a chair hammock that hangs from the ceiling. I have no clue what these chairs have to do with medieval times, but they have always been there and I have always wanted to own one.
I have wanted this chair my entire life!
I went to the festival with my primary objective being to acquire the sky chair. After a long search, I finally found the shop that sells them. I tried one out and it was just as comfortable as I remembered. I looked up to see how it was installed. I was immediately struck with what can only be called a case of prebuyer's remorse. As I sat there, immersed in sky chair bliss, I pitied myself for the effort this chair would require to install. I thought of the blinds that have sat in my bedroom, still in the shrink-wrapped package, uninstalled for over two years. In an act of desperation, I asked if they have some sort of stand I could buy instead of having to install it in my ceiling. Unfortunately, they didn't account for the laziness of customers such as myself and had no such stands. I came away from the shopping district empty handed. I would chalk it up to adulthood if I hadn't already dropped $200 at an anime convention the previous weekend.
Much of the talent at the Renaissance Festival features skills that require years of practice to perfect—decades even. At the end of each show, the performer will plead with the audience to tip him or her as our generosity is how they make ends meet in life. A portion of the audience will give a buck or two to the actor and go about their business. There is one actor who has completely outwitted, outmatched, and outplayed all the rest. Some of these guys studied sleight of hand for years. They probably scalded themselves countless times trying to swallow fire or juggle torches in order to take the stage at the Renaissance Festival. Not Christophe the Insultor. Christophe likely spends a few hours each year simply memorizing an assortment of Yo Mamma jokes and small dick jokes such as “Your dick could be used as bait to catch a sardine.”
He may not possess the pure skill of the other performers, yet he earns at least ten times the money anyone else at the festival does. Not that I am slamming Christophe the Insultor—far from it—I applaud him. Hell, I tipped him five dollars myself. The dude was hysterical! And he's got the perfect setup for his gimmick. You see, Christophe is paid by show goers in advance of each of his four daily shows to insult their loved ones. His stage is nuzzled right next to a large beer tent. As a result, the vast majority of his audience is well on their way to a good buzz and has cash to spare from their green beer change. I was no exception—I was well aware of the game occurring here and I was all too happy to be a part of it.
Christophe the Insultor berating some guy's mom.
People secretly pay Christophe between $10 and $40 to insult a friend or family member for a minute or two. About twelve or so years ago, my own mother paid this same gentleman an Andrew Jackson to insult me. It was funny, kind of embarrassing, and probably well deserved. A few weeks beforehand, I drove her car into a ditch, got mud all over the leather interior, and never told her about it. Thus, I secretly called it even and never sought retribution. The show's format has changed very little, but now Christophe has found a way to collect even more cash: “The Ultimate String of Yo Mamma Jokes!” One man paid Christophe $40 to insult his boss' mother. Before he made good on the payment, Christophe said he'll go one better and unleash the ultimate string if he can collect over $300 from the audience. He spent the next couple of minutes walking through the audience and hyping the jokes he would tell. I thought his bestiality and dick jokes were absolutely hilarious so I gleefully handed him a five dollar contribution to the degradation of this stranger's mom. After a few minutes of begging, he collected his $300 and we were privy to the “Ultimate String of Yo Mamma Jokes.”I won't spoil Christophe's entire line of twenty or so jokes here, but it was good. Surprisingly, I hadn't heard them before. I won't go as far as claiming they are original jokes; I actually have no idea if they are and I'm too lazy to Google the jokes. Christophe had excellent delivery, complete with a faux English accent that, unlike other performers', did not strangely waver every sentence between English, Irish, Scottish, French, and German; I give him props for perfecting his trade. The funniest joke to me was “Why did your mother cross the road? Because she had the chicken's dick in her mouth.” Comedic genius? No, but after the fourth green beer, it was the funniest shit I have heard in years and well worth my five dollar bill.
After watching about five shows and roaming the shops, we decided to take a seat in the shade and relax. We found a seat next to the jousting stage which doubles as a horse ride when knights are not beating each other with dull blades. One girl, a Hispanic chick, was getting ready to climb aboard a horse. What she didn't know was that the horse had a fetish for human mamacitas. When she walked up the platform to board him, the horse grew a semi, which became a full blown woody as she hopped on. I laughed hysterically when she walked by enjoying the ride, unsuspecting, and unaware of the 16-inches of dangling fun occurring beneath her. She was a total blueballer and had no idea.
Once you go horse, you never go back
For a significant portion of the folks attending the Renaissance Festival, the main draw is the excuse to dress up as prince, or princess, or knight, or wench, or pirate, or tree (yes, a tree), or any other assortment of “historically-inspired” characters. The farthest I have gone down this path was purchasing a pair of stone devil horns that tie around your head when I was in high school. Part of the fun for me is seeing all these people walk around and role play whatever character they have conjured in their little minds. Most are horribly acted and laughably terrible. I suspect many of these same people bring their characters to the American Idol tryouts in an attempt to get on TV. You've seen them—the people that dress up, try to be funny, but end up with entirely unfunny routines that make you uncomfortable even sitting at home. There are, however, the rare few characters that force me to question if they are actually part of the show that make it all fun.
I saw a trend at this festival that both delighted and disturbed me: elf ears and cat tails. I admittedly haven't been in a decade, so this could be old news. I was very impressed by the elf ears some chicks were wearing. They were great quality and looked awesome! I eventually stumbled upon the source of these ears, which was a booth near the middle of the festival which would apply the ears for a price (I forgot how much, sorry). I never found the shop that sold the bushy cat tails. These tails were a couple feet long, seemed to tie around your waist, and hung down your backside.
I gotta admit, I liked the elf ears.
Now, I said these new costume props delighted AND disturbed me. On a chick, they are a pretty cute addition to any costume. It added a cool fantasy flair to any kind of costume—even to normal clothes. On a dude, it's just downright gay. I was already too frightened by the creepy old man wearing tights who wanted to whip me, to be subjected to witnessing grown men prance around in their cat tails all afternoon. Guys, don't. Just don't. Stick to the shields and armor; maybe even dress like Jack Sparrow as some others did. But no striped bushy tails please. And no Peter Pans either.
Dude! A Cat Tail?! Dude?
Our day at the Renaissance Festival ended with the joust. In my childhood years, this was the highlight of the whole day. The show featured a match pitting the green knight against the yellow knight. The fighting seemed much tamer than I recalled. It could be that I added more violence to the memories, but I strongly suspect they toned it down. This year's joust was really kind of boring. The highlight of the show was at the beginning of the fight when the stupid yellow knight got caught in the safety net that protects the crowd from the fake carnage. He spent a good three minutes trying to escape the grasp of the net, which was tangled around his boots. The green knight, unable to ad lib, just stood there dumbfounded as the yellow knight kicked and flailed about. The joust routine is a thousand times more fake looking than professional wrestling. Sometimes one of the knights would start to block even before the other one began swinging.
The already lackluster show took a turn for the worst during the middle of the match when the two knights, for some reason, stopped fighting and flipped off the announcer. The enraged announcer stood on his horse and executed a flying double dropkick into their chests, knocking them both out. Not finished unleashing his fury, the announcer then stabbed the yellow knight with a sword. The green knight stood up and begged for mercy; the announcer in his fit of rage ignored the pleas and slap chopped our beloved green knight in the nards with an axe. The two knights quickly recovered from the massacre, seemingly unscathed, and finished their joust with each other. The announcer jumped back on his horse and continued commentating the fight. I truly questioned what I had just witnessed. Nobody involved with the show seemed to acknowledge the bizarre middle tangent where the announcer goes of the deep end and kills everyone. Everything continued as if nothing happened. Perhaps I imagined the whole scene out of boredom? Maybe my “green beer” was really absinthe and I was hallucinating? Nope, I have photographic evidence that this actually occurred.
The Announcer goes beserk and kills everyone! See? I'm not losing my mind.
Regardless of the joust that fell far below my nostalgic expectations, the Renaissance Festival was a great time full of simple fun; it was well worth the price of admission. I will likely make attending it a part of my annual routine. Hell, I may even go again this year. Where else do you get to drink beer, watch untrained actors act terribly, throw axes, laugh at horse woodies and make fun of men wearing tights?