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Monday, January 23, 2012

Mike Daisey at the Byham

Posted By on Mon, Jan 23, 2012 at 12:17 PM

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Something I probably emphasized too little in my CP preview of the monologuist's show The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs is just how funny he is.

Having not seen Daisey perform live before, I was delightfully surprised by his electric stage presence: Though his whole two-hour show this past Saturday was performed sitting down, behind a desk, Daisey's a one-man comedy troupe, from funny faces and hilarious sound effects to elegantly amusing hand gestures.

If he reminded me of anyone, I'd say that most often it was Jackie Gleason on The Honeymooners. Daisey had the same volcanic, fast-burn comic rage, landing on a single syllable ("WHAT," "HOW") like a blast of heavy artillery.

And indeed, the first half-hour of this show was almost unadulterated comic storytelling, mostly detailing Daisey's own life-long love of technology in general and Apple products in particular.

He was especially adept at mocking consumers' instant need for devices that didn't even exist yesterday. To watch him berate his own computer's operating system as "sooooooo slooooooow," minutes after learning that a faster one was available, was to watch an oversized 2-year-old execute an existential protest in his high chair.

But Daisey's as good as anyone I've seen at mixing funny faces and serious subject matter: The show's genesis was in his fact-finding trip to Shenzhen, China, the huge industrial city where half the world's electronics are manufactured.

There he met factory workers as young as age 12, and plenty of others only a year or two older. There he learned about the brutal shifts, sweatshop pay and deplorable living conditions workers exist under — so bad at a plant run by a corporation called Foxconn that suicides are common there — all so we can have the cheapest electronics possible.

This American Life recently aired a radio version of Agony and Ecstasy. Find it here.

After the show, I was loafing in the Byham lobby when Daisey himself emerged from the theater. He asked if we'd gotten the papers that theater staff were supposed to be handing out, and when we said we hadn't, he hustled off to see what had happened.

In the paper, titled "The Rest of the Story is in Your Hands," Daisey writes that shortly after the This American Life episode aired, Apple announced a new inspection and monitoring regime for its suppliers. News stories like this one cite Daisey and his show's role in the decision.

Daisey said Apple's announcement is nothing more than a good start. But he adds that you can do more.

For instance, Daisey encourages people to email heads of electronics firms, including Apple CEO Tim Cook.

He asks you to consider if you really need that next upgrade.

And he urges you to learn about rights groups like China Labor Watch and the Electronics Take Back Coalition ... and otherwise to simply "spread the virus" of knowledge about the shadowy side of digital-device culture.

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