Ballsy Babe With Barracuda Brains

There she stood: Vera Verbiage, vivacious, voluptuous, and very vulgar Venusian, portrayed by a peroxide blonde American woman with no post-911 fear of flying. All she needed now was a crotch-revealing tight skirt and a bit of Spanish moss dangling from her armpits…

Karen Loftus has created a marketable standup schtick revolving around her Californian sexbomb image and her feisty Irish roots. In a field traditionally dominated by men (like the legendary Lenny Bruce in the 1960s; Severn Darden, Alan Arkin, and Dick Gregory in the 1970s; Chris Rush, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, John Belushi, Dan Akroyd, and Eddie Murphy in the 1980s) and not-particularly-pretty women (Phyllis Diller, Whoopi Goldberg, Shelley Duvall, and Roseanne Barr, to name a few) the fearless Ms Loftus stands out like a day-glo hot-air balloon.

The term “stand-up comedy” itself contains a wealth of Freudian subtext. To stand up before a strange (and possibly hostile) crowd armed with only a mike and a motor mouth – and keep its attention from flagging for a solid hour – is a job for pushy, priapic personalities. Women hoping to break into this tough, do-or-die area of showbiz, might find themselves dismissed as “lie-down comics” by male chauvinist pricks. But the moment Karen Loftus stepped onto the intimate stage at Wisma K.R. Soma and began flaunting her pornstar assets to a disco beat with a self-satirizing blonde bimbo expression on her face, it was pretty evident this lady has clanging balls of weapon-quality bronze.

In his famous red-suit days, local-hero funnyman-musician Rafique Rashid used to pop Upjohn vitamins to keep up his manic stamina. I have no idea what Harith lskandar (who was in the audience) takes to keep his humour turgid, but with two bottles of Red Bull, Karen Loftus was able to sustain her frenetic non-stop verbal barrage on everything that has ever crossed her well-travelled path. It would be revealing to wire her up and record her metabolic rate during her fast-paced routine – and then compare it with that of your typical civil servant. I’m willing to bet she burns up more calories in an hour than a betudunged clerk in the Jabatan Ugama does in a year.

But what is all this high energy in aid of? Well, for one thing it has taken Ms Loftus places. She was a hit in the Edinburgh Fringe, before embarking on a sell-out tour of the Middle East, and making an impact at last year’s Singapore Comedy Festival. And, considering the effort and natural-born flair she invests in her work, Karen Loftus certainly deserves a place in the ranks of world-class comedy acts. (She explains, in one of her charming autobiographical asides, that her family name derives from the time when itinerant storytellers would barter their entertainment skills for a hunk of bread, a flagon of ale, and a couple of weeks in some farmer’s loft – a tradition she proudly continues, only now she gets to bed down in the cushy comfort of the PanPac.)

Good rap artists are really freelance anthropologists and social critics with the gift-of-the-gab and who can think on their feet. In the early 1960s Lenny Bruce was hauled up repeatedly on charges of blasphemy and obscenity, and hounded to death by the feds and the narks. Black comics like Dick Gregory, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, and Eddie Murphy contributed in no small way to breaking down racial barriers (as Eddie Murphy once crowed at a sold-out one-man gig in New York: “Used t’be they’d hang bigmouth mothafuckas like me from a tree. Now they’s payin’ this nigger 25 grand just to rub his crotch and shake his black booty in public. Hey, brothahs and sistahs, we’ve come a loooooooong way, baby!”) Second City veteran Severn Darden’s cerebral metaphyical spiel (as Professor Walter von der Vogelweide) tickled thousands of egghead funnybones on a hundred campuses. Chris Rush pushed Catholic and Jewish taboos through the cosmic meat grinder of his freewheeling, free-associating brain.

So what’s Karen Loftus’s contribution to the ancient tradition of public truthspeaking through outrageous mirth? Well, I can’t think of a single issue she touched on in her entire rap that I’d consider a cogent social or philosophical issue (unless you include the right to discuss your vagina in mixed company – but Eve Ensler has already cornered that market with her highly successful Vagina Monologues). Ms Loftus seemed content to merely slag off all stereotypes, including herself. Perhaps she grew up in an era when it was considered kewl to tell the whole world to f**k off, just as the current crop of US-born neo-Nazis are doing.

In view of America’s latest bid for world conquest through massive media dominance and ruthless military might, one would have thought that Karen Loftus – billing herself as THE AMERICAN WOMAN – would have taken a more provocative political stance and engaged her Asian audiences on a more cogent, meaningful level.

However, she chose to avoid all controversy (she didn’t take a single swipe at US foreign policy or the Machiavellian machinations of the Bush-Cheney oil-and-weapons cartel). Perhaps she’s a true-blue American patriot who hasn’t a clue about her government’s bad behaviour. On her Korean and Middle East tours, Ms Loftus says she performed for the US troops, who must have swooned at the sight of this acid-tongued, barracuda-brained, blonde bombshell from L.A. (“the Pamela Anderson of Comedy”) and sworn on their lives to make the world safe for an all-American babe to shake her verbal booty at the local yokels and get paid in US dollars.

All the same, Karen Loftus’s stage persona is such a lovable hoot, any red-blooded male would be happy to buy her a jug of beer after the show and offer her a nice, long backrub. As for me, I look forward someday to meeting her wombmate (Karen says she has a twin brother, Peter, who grew up “normal.”)


First Published: 12.02.2002 on Kakiseni

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