Gone Postal

“That’s gonna be on my gravestone.”

I’ve just asked Robert Post what exactly it is that he does, what’s his label, what neat category does his artistry fit? The über-hyphenate performer-comedian-juggler-actor-ventriloquist-mime-dance-puppeteer-chef-director-filmmaker-plate spinner shrugged his shoulders and tossed out that canned line. “People have been asking me for years.”

We’re sitting in Upper Cup Coffee Co. on Parsons, and we’ve just run into Post’s granddaughter. She told me to call him “Camel,” her toddler nickname for the lanky, long-faced performer. I do, and he laughs. As we fold into one of the comfy couches, he points out that the coffee table on which I’ve set my recording phone and that he’s set up his iPad for video viewing was made by his grandson. There is definitely a Post vibe in the air.

A beloved Columbus talent, Post has spent the past 30 years perfecting and performing his one-man show, traveling far away from home to places as magical as Turkey, Russia, and Texas. This month, he will be showcasing his singular skills on March 7 and 8 at the Lincoln Theatre. “I’m telling people this is my last show here,” he said. “This one woman was crying…I’m lying, of course…I mean, Barbra Streisand has had five last shows, so I guess I’m the Streisand of Columbus…we look alike.”

Post’s shows – which have been renowned by everyone from NPR to The New York Times to The Today Show – are legendary. A mash-up of endearing characters, sublime movement, and clever banter, this time around the playbill will feature a new side of the artist – filmmaking. Snippets of a documentary Post is working on will be featuring between pieces. Taken up as a way to capture his workings in the studio, the camera also became a trusted tour companion.

“On the road, I drive, I fly…it goes hotel, theatre, restaurant,” he ticked off, finger by finger. “I’ve never been a person that could spend a lot of time in a hotel room; I am not a very good channel flipper. My brain has to be doing something.” Post started delving into the environs of his performance layovers – Yelping, checking out the odd sign by the side of the road, asking around. A kind of travelogue delivered like a sunny-side-up Anthony Bourdain, the videos are hilarious slices of Americana, from a larger-than-life night at the Big Texan steakhouse to a tour of Knight’s Spider Web Farm in Vermont.

“One of my favorite ones is the toilet seat museum in Texas,” he explained. “Here’s the interesting thing, I’ll admit, I was “Oh, here’s a toilet seat museum,” but when I got there, you meet the guy and he’s wonderful, he’s charming, he’s funny, he’s spiritual, he’s kind … you know, he knows my crap, he knows what I’m looking for, yet I discover, wait a minute, this guy is really deep and lovely and real and I’m not going to make fun of him, I’m just going to let him just reveal who he is.”

As we sit in the café, chatting about the U.S. and how it’s our oddities that make us great, a New York Times alert beeps on my phone. It’s about the death of Sid Caesar. I mention this to Post and his reaction is immediate.

“Oh, wow…Sid Caesar,” he said quietly. “My ‘A Rather Unfortunate Evening for Burglar Burt’ is dedicated to Sid Caesar…every night I perform it, I say, ‘I dedicate this piece to Sid Caesar.’ Absolutely. This is a guy…this is a hurricane who walked on the stage.”

Post’s elastic face loses its animation and he sits still for a moment in the cold sunlight of winter. Unsure what to do in the face of this grief, I mumble an inadequate, “I’m sorry.”

He continued, “That’s big for me…That’ll suck the life out of this interview…that generation – Sid, Mel Brooks, Jerry Lewis, Carl Reiner – they’re all still here, they’re all hanging around and then you look at the people that do what I do, that followed up. It’s from watching them, it’s from the Ed Sullivan Show, it’s from that era, it’s what knocked me out.”

“The thing about Caesar is he was the first person that I really saw do pantomime, he talked, he did sound effects, he did characters, he kinda threw it all into one bag, and I thought, who is this? He was obviously early for me – The Show of Shows I think was the ’50s, but when I saw him on videotape I thought, ‘What is this guy about?’ And he did all those crazy dialects – well, there you go. Actually, I’m sad, but also happy because whatever was going on with him health-wise was one of those ugly things…now he’s funny again.”

Today, in addition to performing, Post inspires the next generation as a teacher/director at the Celebration Barn Theatre, Maine’s Center for Immersive Physical Theatre Training founded by Tony Montanaro, the famed American mime artist who studied under Marcel Marceau. “He saw something in me 25 years ago that I didn’t see in myself,” recalled Post. And now it’s his turn to share his wisdom with up-and-comers. “When you can say something to someone and they fix it and they go beyond it,” he said. “There ain’t no better feeling – they begin to glow and they don’t need you anymore.”

Even though Robert Post isn’t sure what to call himself, audiences and students all over call him brilliant. A throwback to the days of physical comedy and a look forward at the cinematic documentary that Post is culling from his decades worth of video observations, Post Comedy Theatre is one of the quirky bits of America that make us who we are.

Post Comedy Theatre
Lincoln Theatre
March 7 – 8
www.capa.com

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