Daisey notes that he has performed the monologue in the United States and Great Britain since the scandal broke, without incident. Shalwitz says: “You assume the loudest voices are the only voices out there. But there have been others saying, ‘Stop apologizing. Keep fighting.’ ” (That was true the night Daisey made a lugubrious Q&A appearance at Woolly in March.)
● On apologies: “I’m not capable of being as apologetic for as sustained an amount of time as my culture would like me to be. Because certain parts of my culture would like me to be just kind of continuously apologetic forever, and this is not possible. I’m probably not even capable of being apologetic the minimum amount of time they want, truthfully.”
● On theater and activism: “I really believe that touching people emotionally, piercing the layers of disinformation we have — and I don’t even mean the kind that people would laugh at and say that I spread disinformation; I mean the kind that guards our hearts, so we don’t actually get exposed — in theater, I feel like it’s possible to actually connect with people humanly. And as a consequence, shake them into wakefulness.”
‘He just doesn’t stop’
Much of Daisey’s life story has been chronicled in his bombastic comic monologues, which he has been creating professionally — and performing — since his emergence in 2001 with “21 Dog Years.”
Washington has only seen a handful of Daisey shows, though, all at Woolly, and they’ve been his Big Issue pieces: The Homeland Security-themed “If You See Something, Say Something.” “The Last Cargo Cult,” about systems of money. “How Theater Failed America,” pointing the finger at the lapsed not-for-profit ideal. Now “Steve Jobs” again.
To us, he is Mike the Muckraker. Other monologues have spent more time on such personal matters as, say, his parents’ divorce.
He roughs in the biography: The family settled in northern Maine when Daisey, the oldest of four kids, was very young. The place was cold and remote, which he thinks fueled his imagination, not having much to do but stand in the snow when ordered outside.
By high school, he found a niche competing on the speech and debate team. Dramatic interpretation — monologues — was part of it. The bigger deal for Daisey was extemporaneous speaking: researching domestic and foreign issues, fielding a specific question, talking off the cuff.
By studying headlines, he could pretty accurately anticipate questions. “All the good competitors did that. I really enjoyed it.”
By college, still in Maine, “I loved theater, but I was going to be a poet. I was very certain about this.” Teaching poetry would “be amazing,” he thought, but one class in critical theory killed the English major idea.
“I am very craft-driven,” Daisey explains. “I just want to do things where I do things.”
He created his own major in aesthetics, which boiled down to a combination of English, theater and philosophy. After college, he moved to Seattle and ended up in the busy garage theater scene, which is where he met Gregory.
“Bad theater really bonds you,” Gregory says with a laugh by phone from their Brooklyn back yard. “It’s like war or something.”
Soon Gregory was directing Daisey’s monologues. About his move to a one-man format, Daisey says, “I would fix people with my hoary eye and not let them leave at bars,” he recalls. “Colleagues, other artists, would say, ‘You should tell that onstage.’ ”
He adds, “I wanted to do theater that I can control the variables of.”
The breakthrough was “21 Dog Years,” a stage monologue and delightfully snarky book about Daisey’s time working for Amazon in customer relations and business development. The Washington Post took notice of the book in its financial pages. David Letterman had Daisey on. Daisey’s stage performance got picked up in New York and around the country.
Since then Daisey and Gregory have industriously created show after show, building a unique brand around the informed and inquisitive, riotously over-the-top comic style that has been edging toward activism for some time.
“Mike and Jean-Michele are like a mini-theater company,” Shalwitz says. “I can’t think of a more productive company. He’s got a drive that is just astounding. He just doesn’t stop.”
A lot of preparation goes into the extemporizing — researching, interviewing, and, in the case of “Steve Jobs,” trekking to the gates of Foxconn in China. The pieces inevitably grow in refinement as Daisey performs them, which he does sitting at a desk, with a notepad and a glass of water nearby.
But ask what he has for “American Utopias,” the Disney-Burning Man-Zuccotti Park show he’ll perform at Woolly next spring, and Daisey says, “I have nothing.”