[Excerpt #2 from what I hope to be the upcoming book on The Quite Ordinary But Mildly Interesting Historical Adventures of The Actor Known to Many As Ralph Puke]



“I’ll come no more behind your scenes, David, for the silk stockings and white bosoms of your actresses do make my genitals to quiver.” –Samuel Johnson to his friend and actor, David Garrick

When I stepped onstage at Long Prairie High School at the age of sixteen under a bank of lights in front of an audience of family, friends and neighbors, no part of the experience had anything to do with art.

Galloping adolescent hormones and the pleasant discovery that high school girls liked dressing up and doing plays drove my decision to audition for the spring production. A chance to hang with the ladies after school? Yes. Definitely yes. It didn’t hurt that my best friend Larry, the hard-nosed fullback on our football team, had the same idea. Who would question our choice to dabble in the “arts” if he was involved?

To my surprise I was cast as the city dad in a “farm life vs. city life” play, filled with standard gags about an urban family adapting to new lives on the farm. The play required actual baby pigs and chickens onstage. Lots of manure jokes. I had the lead male role and some of the best lines. Getting laughs from the generous audiences of parents and friends was like the Simpson’s episode where Barney guzzled his first beer with Homer: “Where has this been all my life?”

I hadn’t been in a play since a traumatic grade school appearance as one of the three kings in the Christmas pageant. The long terrifying entrance from the back of the classroom, down the long aisle to the stage, all eyes on me (or so I thought) as I tried desperately to quit tripping on my robe while I sang my solo– “Myrhh is mine its bitter perfume…” And as I handed her my gift, Mary threw up in the manger. Enough to permanently drive a boy away from the theater.

Over many years of watching late night TV, we’ve all seen and heard the stars tell their backstage stories: tales of missed entrances, falling sets, disappearing props, inebriated King Lears, guns that fail to fire, actors falling into the front row during blackouts, unforeseen disasters that at the moment may have seemed career-ending, but in the fullness of time are just amusing. This high school drama stuff was all new to me, the memorization, rehearsals, the sets and props, the costumes, the makeup. It seemed complicated, lots of moving parts. And since no one else in the cast had any theater experience, it was communal discovery at every step, so no one felt out of his depth. Our director, Bernie Peterson, a gentle and infinitely patient English teacher, made it fun and let us explore the process to come up with our own versions of these one dimensional characters. It was a grand time and we all dove right in.

I made a quick costume change one night as the city dad, running onstage to start the scene, and before I could say my first line, chuckles and laughs bubbled up from the crowd. Thought I: “You’re good at this acting thing—you’re funny before you even say a word.” Seeing Larry staring at me, I glanced down and saw that in the frenzy of the quick change backstage I had tucked my pantlegs into my socks, my fly was open, and I was now standing center stage making an unintended fashion statement. If I’d have known what a “dresser” was—besides the place in my bedroom where I stashed my socks and underwear—I’d have asked for one the next day.

By the time the senior play rolled around the following year, I saw myself as a veteran lead actor, and I went to auditions cocky and convinced I’d play the meaty male lead as the Inspector in the murder mystery Meet A Body. Instead I was cast as the unsympathetic rich guy who gets killed in the first act and spends the rest of the play in an open coffin. I was to be The Body. The good news: I got the title role. The bad news: I died at the end of act one. Other than remaining deathly still for the entirety of act two, my work was essentially done by intermission. I shrugged off my disappointment and decided to make this the most intriguing and memorable corpse anybody in that little town had ever encountered.

Rehearsals chugged along, by opening night I was comfortable in the role and at peace with my limited stage time. My coffin was actually fairly cozy, with a clean and firm pillow, and I was able to work on my shallow breathing and keep the corpse quite motionless and believably dead. At one point in the second act, my “wife,” who was being played by a classmate I barely knew and didn’t much like, is overcome with emotion and leans into the open casket to plant a farewell kiss on the cold remains of her beloved. According to Director Bernie it was to be a simple, mimed kiss that didn’t actually make contact, an agreeable solution to my reluctance at being involved in anything resembling necrophilia. My grieving wife was to be positioned upstage between the deceased and the audience, they couldn’t see the kiss, so there was never a need for anything physical.

On opening night the scene went grotesquely awry. My distraught wife, emitting howling, Shakespearean grief (far more than any of us had seen at any rehearsal), leaned over the casket and gave me a huge, open-mouthed lip-lock that seemed to go on for minutes. Her breath was broccoli-esque. I couldn’t breathe. Worse, I couldn’t protest without breaking character and coming back to life. So I let her have her way with me. My disgust was palpable, but my self-control and cadaver-like stony acceptance was the best acting I’d done in two years.

I learned something important about the theater that night, about the need to get to know your fellow actors and establish a level of trust, so if things get weird at least you’ll have a relationship with the person who’s trying to stick her tongue down your throat.

If I could time machine myself back to that night, knowing what I know now about improvisation, I would lurch upright in the coffin and scream “It’s ALIVE!” Then stalk off the stage and let the chips fall where they may. That little town on the Minnesota prairie would still be talking about it.


[2018 marks the 44th year that the Puke & Snot Show has been annoying renaissance festival visitors and comedy clubs everywhere. 2018 will also introduce Snot Version 3.0, Mr. Scott Jorgenson stepping into the stained, sweaty and overstretched tights worn the past ten years by John Paul Gamoke, who saw the error of his ways last fall and gracefully retired. John replaced the Original Snot, The One and Only Joe Kudla, who abruptly picked up his sword and went home ten years ago in August. The one common thread through all this loopy frivolity has been me. Ralph Puke. I don’t know how I’ve made it to this point, but the audiences still show up and the laughs are still loud and long in all the wrong places. John and I had just finished a performance at the Royal Fox Stage in Maryland last October, we were standing by the merchandise cart when a group of twenty-somethings strolled by. One of the guys trailing the group, clutching a beer, turned around and said merrily, “You guys are hysterical.” I was touched. “Thanks,” I replied. He took three more steps, stopped, turned around and finished his thought: “You’re older than fuck, but you’re HYSTERICAL.”  

So as Henny Youngman told Joe and me at dinner one night at Jimmy Hegg’s in South Minneapolis back in the 70s, “If they want to pay you for it, and it’s what you love doing, you don’t have a choice: just go do it.” Henny was still doing malls and club dates well into his 80s. Just doing it.

I’m working on a second book, the sequel to CALL ME PUKE: A Life on the Dirt Circuit. For the next few months I’ll be posting excerpts from what I hope will eventually be book #2. It doesn’t have a title yet, but given my penchant for rambling on about my curiously long career working in the open air in front of heavy-drinking, over-fed, over-stimulated festival crowds, I’m sure whatever I come up with will be appropriately colorful. For now, it’s AS I WAS SAYING]


How do you convince a couple of home grown Minnesota actors to leave their flyover city and take their odd little comedy act on the road? Why would you do that? What’s wrong with you? Leave them alone.

Ever since the Phoenicians invented money, there’s only been one way to convince an actor to go anywhere and do anything. But if you’re trying to get a job at a renaissance festival, don’t put the word “dignity” on your resume. That isn’t part of the deal. Just pack up the Nash Rambler, get out of town and take your chances.

There will be costs. The home life may suffer. (If only one of you has a home life, it’s a bit easier) Sharing a hotel room to save money can be a poor choice when one of you has a diet that would give pause to a Kalahari goat. And it can be particularly disturbing late at night in humid Miami when the air conditioning isn’t working and the shark steak, french fries and Bloody Marys begin to work their gastric magic on your roommate.

Festival producers, a sub-category of humanity that can be found listed just above mattress salesmen and one step below meth dealers, can be unreliable about contracts. Staging can be dicey. One show in Toronto had us working under a roller coaster. While it was in operation. Audiences can be testy and unpredictable, like the Shriner’s Kickoff party where we were sandwiched into the program between the beer-drinking contest, a guy playing three trumpets while bouncing on a pogo stick in and around pools of spilled beer, and just ahead of the stripper. Five minutes into our show an unimpressed, well-oiled guest yelled, “Where’d ya get the tights, Romeo?” I know my limits. I’ve never paid any attention to them, but I know them. I’m an artist, goddammit. I hissed to Joe “Cut to the final swordfight.” He gave me a startled look, we did, took a bow, and walked offstage.

JOE: “What are you doing? We only did five minutes, they won’t pay us.”

ME: “Oh yeah? Watch.”

We quickly changed clothes, I found the guy who hired us talking to the stripper’s bodyguard. I stuck out my hand and with great relief he handed me the $500 check. He was overjoyed that we’d bailed out. The revelers wanted to see the dancing lady, and our little costume comedy was an unnecessary distraction. This was an early lesson: before booking a show, always find out who the audience will be, how long the bar is open, and if anybody on the bill is going to be naked.

Road life for an actor is a continuous and unpredictable series of encounters and skirmishes that, at the time they were happening, we both knew would make for excellent stories around the campfire at the next festival when the newbies were eager to hear some rip-roaring tales from the wily road warriors.

 In this series of posts, I hope to reveal not only some of the delightful and terrifying surprises we encountered in our years entertaining crowds from New York to Florida, Vancouver to San Diego and lots of places in between, but how it came to be that a conservatively raised Catholic boy, the son of small town Minnesota parents– who knelt with their boys on the cold linoleum floor of their drafty farm house every night to say the rosary, thereby causing their eldest son, fifty-eight years later, to undergo knee replacement surgery and blame his parents for it—how that boy ended up as Uncle Puke, a political liberal with a well-honed skepticism of most forms of authority, carving out a strange career as an actor and comedy performer at renaissance festivals, just the kind of pure, exuberant joy conservatives have always warned us about.

Part 1: DON’T KISS ME, I’M DEAD [to be continued]

–Mark Sieve/Uncle Puke

puke in frame.jpg

If You Voted For Donald Trump, You Owe My Children An Apology

by John Pavlovitz

If you voted for Donald Trump, you owe my children an apology.

You owe them an apology for making them grow up with a hateful, incompetent, petulant, predatory monster as their President.

For placing their safety in the hands of an impulsive child, who trolls world leaders with nuclear weapons and wields our military like an insecure coward brandishes a gun at a party.

For unleashing the fierce tide of bullying, racism, bigotry, and homophobia they have to see in their classrooms and ball fields and neighborhoods—because the man you chose has repeatedly encouraged and legislated it.

For making them do “shooter drills” at school, because you’ve sanctioned a man who is fully in bed with the NRA, who removes barriers to mentally ill people getting guns, and who does nothing to prevent military grade weapon proliferation into our streets.

For the terrifying images of a crowd of emboldened, violent, torch wielding Nazis terrorizing a town—and of a President who coddled them afterward.

For the inexplicable disconnect they see in a man claiming to be Christian—while being so devoid of anything remotely resembling Jesus.

You owe my daughter an apology for excusing his reprehensible words about women when voting for him; for ignoring the multiple accusations of sexual assault against him, for placing a man with such clear disregard for her at the highest level of leadership in the country she calls home.

You owe my son an apology for taking someone with a lifetime resume of filth and misogyny, and asking him to look up to that man as a leader; for rewarding the very sexist, ignorant, repugnant behavior we implore him never to engage in or abide in those around him.

You’ve let my children down by thrusting them into an America that is far less secure, less compassionate, less decent, more fractured, and more violent than it was a year ago—and because that truth alters children immersed in it.

But lest you think this is just about me, about my family, about my children—be assured it is not.

Yes, you’ve surely failed my children with your vote, and more so with the way you’ve doubled down on the toxicity released over the past year—but you don’t owe an apology to them alone.

You owe your children an apology too.

They too are inheriting this jagged, hateful, angry nation you’ve co-created with your vote. They too are reminded every day by their President, that honesty and integrity and empathy and kindness are of little value; that going low gets the intoxicating applause of the crowd and the affection of the ignorant.

They too will have their personalities, their priorities, their sense of safety, and their very identities formed in the crucible of this scalding hatred Donald Trump presides over and continually cultivates.

If your children one day become ill, they too will have a difficult time affording care or staying alive without going broke.

They too will have to breathe the air and drink the water and reside on the planet that this President leaves to rot.

They too will be saturated in the enmity and the callousness of this country—and make no mistake it will change who they are. It will change the way they perceive truth and the way they respect differences and the way they value people’s bodies and well-being. 

And not just my children and not just your children.

You owe an apology to every child who has to spend their formative years in an America that is defined by:
fear of the other,
an epidemic of cruelty,
a poverty of decency,
a deadly allergy to facts,
a Christianity of coercion and malice,
a defiant resistance to diversity.

You owe an apology to every young woman growing up in an America where celebrity preachers vilify assault victims and defend predators, where accusers are tried and offenders elected.

You owe an apology to every young man who forms his identity in a culture where men can do whatever they want to women and they will rarely be held accountable; where gentleness is a liability and brutality an asset.

Yes, this horrible stuff existed long before this year, but it’s never had such a powerful and uncontested cheerleader with such an ability to ratify it all—and that’s something that’s on you and that you’ll have to own. That’s just how it is.

So yes, you can puff out your chest online, and posture and boast all you want.
You can cling to the fading lie that you’ve won anything here, or that you’ve somehow struck a blow for America or Jesus or patriotism.
You can tell me to suck it up and to let it go and to f*ck off—which I’m now quite used to.
But at the end of the day you’ve simply let a lot of people down:

My children.
Your children.
The children of this country and the planet.

They all have lost because you were irresponsible with one of the greatest responsibilities you’ve ever had in their lifetime, and now they have to live with the terrible fallout—and you owe them all an apology.

I’m well aware of what your likely response to all this will be. I don’t imagine an apology will be forthcoming—so I’ll apologize to them on your behalf.

Then, I’ll spend every day living that apology.

I’ll remind my children your children and all children, that there are lots of adults who still believe that people are inherently valuable and stunningly beautiful—that not all adults fear brown people and gay people and foreigners and immigrants.

I’ll remind them that there are still people committed to the truth and to equality, and the richness found in diversity.

I’ll do my best to make them feel safe and loved and hopeful here, even on the days that I don’t.

I’ll even teach them to forgive people who fail and hurt them, because I know how difficult that it is right now.

And I’ll remind them that even when bad people are rewarded, doing the right thing is still the thing most worth doing.

I’ll teach them that when hatred seems the most treasured currency, that love is still worth more than gold.

I’m just sorry that they have to live with something (and someone) far less than they deserve—and they didn’t have to.

Surmounting Trump Derangement Syndrome

by Richard North Patterson


[Richard North Patterson is the New York Times best-selling author of 22 novels, a former chairman of Common Cause, and a member of the Council On Foreign Relations.]

Our president poses an unprecedented challenge to America’s national equilibrium. His insatiable hunger for attention subjects us to a relentless fusillade of lies, accusations, distortions, braggadocio, threats, bigotry, misogyny, conspiracy theories, reversals of course and half-baked notions spewing from an unbalanced man empowered to start a nuclear war. Silence terrifies him; only an audience makes him real to himself.


That’s the purpose of his presidency ― compelling us to hear his ceaseless ringing in our ears. Metastasized by media, his oppressive omnipresence fractures families, ruins friendships and sours social gatherings. Buffeted without surcease, we risk becoming jittery gerbils on his hamster wheel, unable to distinguish his infinite vulgarities from his gravest harms. His constant din demolishes perspective and obliterates reason. To scour Donald Trump’s behaviors for a coherent philosophy or strategy is to visit our own need for order on his pathological disorder, deepening our disorientation.


In truth, his persona defies all explanation but a self-absorption so consuming that it eviscerates human norms. Trump’s world is a suffocating Orwellian hothouse wherein he expects us to become as bereft of critical thinking as Pavlov’s dogs, reflexively salivating to his latest stimuli regardless of truth or fact ― or whether it contravenes what he said the day before. The presidency empowers him to make his sickness ours.

Thus does Trump derangement syndrome become debilitating.


The challenge for citizens is how to think about him. The challenge for analysts is how to separate idiotic excess from the very real systemic and societal wounds he deepens with every passing day. Without such rigor, we become Trump’s parrots, reacting to what, in his singular presidency, is relatively trivial. Did he lie about Stormy Daniels? No kidding. Does he believe that Canada burned down the White House in 1812? Surprise – Trump is an historical illiterate. Does he want his own military parade? Of course – he’s grotesquely grandiose. Is his marriage shaky? How could it not be? Yet such subjects consume precious print and airtime.


Nor does it serve to emulate his worst behaviors by resorting to mindless insults or public shunning – such inarticulate expressions of rage, however understandable, are a gift to Trump which gratify the most committed while repelling those whose votes we need. The only gratification which lasts is to rip control of Congress from his hands 2018, and expel him from the White House in 2020.


One need not care about Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ tender feelings to eschew tactics which, remarkably, transform her from mendacious mouthpiece to afflicted mom.

Rather, the indispensable imperative in combating Trump is to clearly and rationally identify his gravest underlying offenses. Absent that, we can neither analyze or persuade; to others, we may seem mired in hysteria and trivia.


Thus it is paramount to find an organizing perspective by addressing foundational values and cumulative effects. What makes Trump so destructive is less his day-to-day transgressions, however noxious, but a substantive damage to America and the world which transcends politics or ideology. Consider these.


Subverting our democratic institutions and rule of law. He charges that our electoral systems are rigged, yet refuses to protect them from Russia. He asserts that our law enforcement and intelligence agencies are conspiring to frame him. He attacks judges who displease him. He demeans his attorney general as insufficiently craven. He claims that Robert Mueller is a political operative.  He fires or intimidates law enforcement professionals to thwart investigation of his own misconduct.

Demolishing ethical standards. He commingles negotiations with foreign governments and financial assistance to Trump businesses. His family leverages influence to gain financing from foreign sources and concessions from foreign authorities. He steers political spending to his resorts. He countenances petty grifters in his cabinet. He “drains the swamp” by placing lobbyists and industry insiders in key positions at agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Education.


Dividing America for political gain. He routinely traffics in racist tropes and white identity politics. He accuses blacks and Hispanics of massive voter fraud, and falsifies the crime rate for undocumented immigrants. He exploits xenophobia by stereotyping Muslims, shafting Dreamers and separating children from their parents.

He transforms immigration policies to spurn nonwhite immigrants and refugees fleeing murder and oppression. He labels black athletes who protest unjustified police shootings and violence as unpatriotic. He turns diverse Americans against each other to scavenge votes.


Degrading his office and the public discourse. He lies incessantly and flagrantly. He dismisses science and denies objective fact. He demeans and slanders anyone who displeases him. He bullies subordinates. He vilifies political opponents. He erodes our ability to conduct the civil discourse vital to democracy. He trashes honest journalism and attacks the media for truthful reporting. He treats dissent as an insult and reality as a threat. He views the presidency not as a sacred trust, but as a personal satrapy. He exudes a craving for autocratic powers.


Eroding America’s global leadership and national security. He flatters autocrats and panders to Russian President Vladimir Putin. He disdains allies and coddles adversaries. He disparages nonwhite countries and rejects immigrants of color. He abandons human rights. He scorns international institutions. He shreds trade agreements and environmental cooperation. He shuns democracy and democratic values. He mocks and insults Western leaders. He parades his ego and ignorance on the world stage.

He launches ill-considered trade wars which damage us at home and abroad. He speaks cavalierly of nuclear war.  He abandons the Iran nuclear deal with no considered alternative. He treats complex negotiations with the shrewd and murderous leader of nuclear North Korea like an episode of reality TV. He has no grasp of history or sense of consequence.


Compared to such comprehensive damage, so corrosive and profound, it hardly matters that he is an adulterer and ignoramus.  For where leadership counts most, Donald Trump is the most dangerous and destructive president in U.S. history.


That is why Americans must call him to account where it matters most ― at the polls.