Thursday, April 20, “around 5 p.m.”
Rozz-Tox, 2108 Third Avenue, Rock Island IL
Free admission, all ages
Since their live debut last summer, Holy Smokes have left a trail of destruction, ruined lives, and controversy across the Quad Cities. Self-described as “improv, but cool,” the comedy troupe have built a reputation for their anarchic live shows, leaving a trail of smashed props, broken bones, pig masks, and endless drama. They will stoop to any level of degradation in search of laughs and attention.
There are those in the Quad Cities who have chosen to enable this behavior. Davenport's Stompbox Brewing decided to soil their own reputation by brewing and naming the Holy Water alcoholic seltzer after these degenerates; fitting, given the deceptively dangerous nature of those beverages. Validating Holy Smokes with a drink was not enough; Stompbox let the devil in by inviting the troupe into the bar on March 25, compounding their errors of judgment and taste by letting each member of Holy Smokes perform a standup set. Instead of turning into a drunken catastrophe, sending the clientele back to their Jeeps in disgust, the seltzer launch was inexplicably successful. Maybe the dulling effect of the alcohol kept butts in seats; maybe it was the same morbid curiosity that draws people to gawk at fatal road accidents; maybe some in attendance were actually motivated by the prospect of winning a bag of loose cigarettes as a raffle prize. Tobacco ain't cheap.
Morbid curiosity and the eternal allure of spectacle are probably the rational explanations, but I have a hunch of my own. Holy Smokes are growing some heavy cult vibes. The clues are there. The Holy Water seltzer clocks in at 6.66 percent alcohol. At one point, the group would dose an audience “volunteer” with psychedelics before shows, with the victim/initiate/guinea pig required to sit calmly in a chair at center stage for the entirety of the program, in the midst of what must have been unfathomable chaos and danger even in a state of relative sobriety.
Picture Sidney Gottlieb and P. T. Barnum reborn as psilocybin spores, grown in a dank garden of evil in the basement of the Village Theatre and harvested by crude, self-styled baby Satanists recklessly applying some thirdhand psychology in a ramshackle move to boost their questionable attempts at “comedy.” Real Manson tactics, but bumpkinized by fame-hungry dilettantes blinded by their own lust for notoriety.
My visit to Stompbox confirmed these suspicions, and with another Holy Smokes show looming in April, I knew what I had to do. As one who has spent extensive time around psychoactive substances and raging egos, evil places and cult-like environments, I knew that I had to pull The Truth out of the smokescreen.
“Holy Smokes Smoke 100 Joints” is set for 4/20/23 at Rozz-Tox in Rock Island. Presumably, this most upstanding of venues is allowing Holy Smokes to perform based on its past association with several group members, who would stage comparatively tame comedy shows there on 4/20s past. Whether Rozz-Tox is aware of what it's allowing, or whether their collective vibes are strong enough to hold off whatever the Smokes are dealing, is another matter entirely.
The event starts “around 5.” Initially, I rejected the claim that the group would actually smoke one hundred “joints” with the audience; I had a great joke about the Smokes being too lightweight for such a feat. I am now not only convinced that they'll go through with it, but also that I'd rather smoke synthetic weed off the floor of the Family Video in Clinton before even touching whatever evil they've got rolled.
In their craven desperation to fill the building, no admission fee will be charged, but there will be a price for those who wish to enter the bags and Nintendo 64 Super Mario tournaments. A carnival huckster's idea of millennial “fun-and-games” has been applied, in case attendees become bored with the tasteless stage show.
I decided that the best way to convey the cult-like atmosphere of Holy Smokes was to let each member speak their own piece. Take what follows as a warning.
The Squeaky Fromme of the group, Celeste conversely seemed like the first one to crack. Her rambling, incoherent testimony is the first serious sign of dissension in the ranks since an “intractable” past member was thrown out last year: “The Holy Smokes Smoke 100 Joints show … is not something I want to do. I begged to not be part of it. We all did. After we realized the torture Wayne was going to put us through to prepare for it … Wayne pitched the idea to the group in January, and we all thought it sounded fun.”
Wayne is the Charlie of the group. Short in stature, a failed rapper from the bottom of the hill, he fits the archetype of the jealous outsider trying to crack into a world of entertainment that he neither understands nor belongs in. Unlike Charlie, he's considerably less loquacious, almost laid-back until you look into the dark, burning void of his small eyes; they are dead and soulless, not raging and bugged-out. He is not without a grasp of irony, no doubt crucial to his modest skill as a comedian: “Holy Smokes Smokes 100 Joints is actually a test issued by the government to see how dumb we can get and still manage to survive. I’m already practicing and intend on passing with flying colors.”
Celeste again: “A couple days later, Wayne wanted to get together for practice. We met up, and I immediately knew something was off. Wayne was clearly agitated. He was twitching, and kept mumbling 100 under his breath … Wayne lost it. He started screaming, knocking things over … he pulled out a suitcase full of joints, and said from now on we’re going to use our practice time to build our tolerance for the Rozz Tox 4/20 show.”
Wayne: “This event is just one of many steps that we’ve taken to reach this level of absolute stupidity.”
Pubali is most comparable to Susan Atkins, but possesses a charisma all her own. Girlish and bubbly, no taller than a fifth-grader, she talks with the rapid gait of a street-tough and will cut you mercilessly down to size with her emasculating wit. She is the one I fear most: “Since [the last 4/20 show] everything's changed (except my mustache, that stayed the same). This 4/20 show is going to be even sicker. It'll be like Holy Smokes has a field day. There will be vendors, games, dope, and bitches. I can't wait!”
Celeste: “We were all happy at first. It sounded fun; we kinda thought he was joking. After the fifth joint we were ready to be done. But Wayne wouldn’t let us quit … Somehow, we reached 100. We were stoned and confused. Wayne threw down some pillows and blankets on the floor. He said that we were too high to drive, so we would have to just stay the night.”
Trevor is the Tex Watson (and possibly Tex Colson) of the group. Charismatic, bald, handsome in a toad-like way, he seems to be the one most interested in presenting a respectable front. Like Wayne, he keeps his remarks short, managed and to the point: “Lucky to give the possibility of making people feel like they can laugh and be happy, or feel like they’re getting ripped out if a car window. A small car like a Geo Metro so you get knocked around pretty good from the small windows. Then we stuff you back into the car.”
Wayne: “We plan to put the US in idi’us’ot.”
Celeste: “The next morning, I woke up to the smell of a lit joint. Day after day we lived like this. Wayne kept us on a steady stream of smoke like it was our job. One hundred a day. The worst part is how he would mess with our minds once we were 70 in. He would play weird noises and would go on these rants where he would say our fates would be determined on 4/20.”
Maggie is Patty Krenwinkel, tough and brooding and evasive. She seems to be the most musical of the group: “It's gonna be chill. I'm spinning records. I'm real into frequencies. Everything in the world is just energy and vibration and frequency. I like seeing what frequencies can do … I'm real into Tiny Tim.”
Celeste: “After a month of living like this, I couldn’t tell what was real anymore. We all tried to leave. We begged him to kick us out of the troupe. But he said that this was his magnum opus. That all of this is connected to the final act. The Holy Smokes Smoke 100 Joints show at Rozz Tox is not something I want to do. But I have to. To see how it all ends.”
Wayne: “I have found my tribe and we all have the same goal and that’s to because [sic] as dumb as possible.”
For more information on Holy Smokes' 4/20 show at Rozz-Tox, visit Facebook.com/HolySmokesComedyQC.