Whore’n again
Chicken John’s Whore Church: a real Bible- and body-parts-thumpin’ hoo-ha
by Summer Burkes

“Dilettante” column originally published in the SF Bay Guardian on 06.02.1998. Re-intro 06.6.2018 here.

Chicken John is a busy man. When he’s not organizing game shows in his infamous “You Asked for It” series, he’s practicing for his act as the world’s only one-man-band Elvis tribute, ringleader of the Circus Redickuless, logging time on the laughing squid site or, in this case, ministering to the lost as Reverend of the Church of the Bleeding Ulcer.

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The Cacophony Society’s Chicken John, making margaritas on Jim Mason’s V-8 Blender, in the SF Chronicle in 1998 at a different event at SOMARTS

No matter what he does, he does it according to the laws of the Cacophony Society, an organization that embraces anarchy, hedonism, and dressing in costume for no apparent reason as a way of life. At Chicken John’s Whore Church on this Sunday night, religion is mixed with sex and science, performance art gets a big thumb to the nose, and pandemonium is the rule beneath a thin veneer of organization.

Neon crosses and ocean waves adorn the bottom of the stage at the Transmission Theater; sparkling lights twinkle at the base of a stodgy-looking podium. Xeroxed Bingo games, jigsaw puzzle pieces, raw pinto beans, and candles adorn the small tables throughout the club. Women who look like drag queens mingle with men in tiaras while Martin Denny plays in the background. Without warning, and an hour late, the radio-voiced Dr. Rev. Howland Owl comes onstage to introduce “chaos enthusiast, circus Svengali, and pusillanimous prestidigitator” Chicken John.

Chicken John in the author's kitchen, 1998. Get it? Chicken / eggs? ba-dump-chink

Chicken John in this writer’s kitchen, 1998. Get it, Chicken / eggs, ba-dump-chink

Chicken, wearing a black choir robe and obvious toupee, emcees with a sanguine rasp, introducing his sidekick (the pompadoured Geekboy) and organist (the fake Hasidic Rabbi Joeseph Leon). He begins the church service with a traditional (for them) game of Bingo. Leon accompanies him, playing the infamous Bingo song like an organ player at a skating rink.

A 1957 Maytag washer spins the Bingo balls, numbers are called, and someone wins. As the winner approaches the stage to accept her “cash prize” (a tape of Johnny Cash’s greatest hits), she is showered with beans and puzzle pieces. Chicken bravely shields her with the washer lid.

Dr. Rev. Howland Owl reappears onstage to deliver the sermon — a brief history of creation in couplet form. Although it has the engaging, singsongy rhythm of a Silverstein or Seuss work, its length bores half the audience, just like a real sermon. (That may be the point.)

Dr. Rev. Hal "Howland Owll" Robins

Dr. Rev. Hal “Howland Owll” Robins, the San Francisco legend with the huge brain

A few paper airplanes, fashioned out of Bingo mats, sail past the Reverend Doctor. He gives the stage over to Michael Peppe, a curious man in a cape, boxers, bra, and Zorro hat who pretends to be part of a futuristic sci-fi scenario in which he’s a male slave in a female-dominated society. Again, it’s an interesting story (the invention of the Orgasm Pill, followed by the obsolescence of romance and sex, all-female communities, genetic engineering to weed out most males, the remaining ones kept as slaves), but the antsy crowd can’t sit still.

Chicken John calls a 10-minute smoke break, projecting ’70s porn-film trailers on the back wall for the pervs who have come to see the star, former peepshow girl and crackpot sex scientist Dr. Ducky Doolittle. After the collective nicotine fix, it’s all about her.

Dr. Ducky Doolittle. photo by Katrina del Mar

Dr. Ducky Doolittle.
photo by Katrina del Mar

Dr. Ducky Doolittle, ex-street kid and daughter of a pill-popping mother, has been working in the sex industry since her teens. Deciding to avoid the downward spiral that the stripper route often leads to, she became a self-professed nerd, teaching herself all things scientific and sex-related to become a lascivious, comedic performance artist. A small, busty woman in a full-length leopardskin dress, she slinks onstage to deliver her latest work, the “Screwy Animals Show.”

[hey look, Puzzling Evidence TV recorded part 1 and 2 of Doolittle’s talk & it’s still on Youtube:]

With a meek, wavery voice, she breaks the Animal Channel down to the nitty gritty, educating us — her tongue planted firmly in cheek — with flip-charts and zoological facts. We learn that deer please themselves by rubbing their antlers on the ground, and lions do it with their back paws as they lie belly-up. Octopi, who have no distinguishable private parts, reproduce when the boy sticks one of his “arms” up the girl’s “nose,” and if she’s (ahem) got a headache, she bites it off.

Male lizards and kangaroos have two penises, not one, and although snakes can have sex for up to 180 days straight, they usually only do it for a week. “This is fact, ladies and gentlemen,” Doolittle tells us over and over again. “This is science.” She ends the 20-minute lecture (everyone’s paying attention now) with scientific anecdotes about, um, interspecies love between men and sheep, dogs, and pigs. Some of it’s funny, some horrifying. Doolittle knows from the other Wild Kingdom.

More performances follow: Howland Owl improvises a twisted voice-over to a vintage educational film about the hotel and restaurant industry, Bishop Joey from the First Church of the Last Laugh guest stars to testify to the crowd, and Doolittle, in a skit called “Oral Stimulations,” channels the ghost of an unfortunately-gummed stripper named Ginger Vitis. And, as with all services at the Church of the Bleeding Ulcer, the folks from Bianca’s Smut Shack administer communion to the believers for the finale.

Rabbi Leon goes to town on the organ again, another porn flick starts up in the background, and someone named David Apocalypse breathes fire as people file up to the stage to receive their holy marshmallows. Sensory overload, titillating zoology, cocktails, Bingo, and fire-breathing: Chicken John’s handbasket to hell is padded with kitsch, folly, and chaos. Hallelujah.

Next week, ‘Beach Blanket Babylon’…

she's written a book now - git it girl

she’s written a book now – git it girl

This is the eleventh piece in my “twenty years ago this week” project; this post’s intro here, and Dilettante’s first installment is here

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