Sex is touchy, so to speak. Discussions on what men and women want (and why) can be so rife with inanity, and even outright disrespect, that often it’s best to avoid them in polite company. Canadian rap artist, writer and actor Baba Brinkman’s new show bravely tackles the subject of human sexuality through the lens of evolutionary psychology — from male courtship behaviour, to ovulation, to parental investment — as framed by his own dating life.
Where Brinkman’s last show at SoHo Playhouse dealt with explaining and defending Darwin through hip-hop, his latest project is perhaps even more ambitious. You could reasonably assume that the audience for a show entitled The Rap Guide to Evolution would be predisposed to agreeing with its premise. But when the topic up for discussion is our own sex lives, and why we do the things we do therein… well, there was a nervous energy to the room from the start. Thankfully, Brinkman handled it deftly.
Not that he shies away from controversy. He begins the show by sitting in front of a computer, accompanied by the moody beats of DJ Jamie Simmonds. (Simmonds remains on stage throughout the show, DJing and occasionally giving comment in both word and music. He’s Silent Bob to Brinkman’s more gregarious Jay.) Projected behind him, the audience can see exactly what he’s doing on screen: checking out OkCupid profiles. Brinkman has the audience vote via text on whether or not to message certain women, and comments affably on the decisions. Did we not like this one because of looks? Boring pictures? Or were we just being “shit-stirrers”?
Let me suggest you vote up at least one. Watching Brinkman stumble through writing a message in front of an audience is voyeuristic fun.
When the show really gets going, though, it plays out like a very engaging undergraduate lecture. (I’d say put this guy in front of college students, but considering his own admitted problem with post-show hookups, maybe that’s not such a good idea.) Opposing viewpoints are presented as women Brinkman has dated, with Brinkman acting out their roles or responding to them in rap. Creationism, Spiritualism and Social Constructivism all get their say, some more favourably than others. And between these dates, Brinkman raps about his thoughts on everything from the evolutionary origins of liberals and conservatives to the aphrodisiacal effects of ovulation. Erik Pearson’s funny and informative projections do a good job of presenting the science graphically.
Brinkman is smart and charming, if occasionally piggish (in a smart and charming way). Even if you don’t agree with all his points, they’re well-researched and well-delivered. His self-deprecating jokes about being a white Canadian rapper lead into some lyrical pairings that are winkingly funny, rhyming “evolutionary history” with “Agatha Christie” and “techniques” with “butt cheeks.” He’s also a huge flirt, twice singling out a reticent woman in the audience to serenade her.
Gays and lesbians might find the ideas presented to be a bit heteronormative, though Brinkman and Simmonds sell a $10 album afterwards called The Rap Guide to Human Nature that includes a track, ‘The Evolution of Gayness,’ which is both affirming and interesting. The CD is worth picking up.
Have your cell phone charged and ready – there are portions of the show that involve audience participation via text voting (all free and anonymous) – and stay through the end. Brinkman shared his album with a slew of evolutionary experts, who recorded some great tongue-in-cheek responses. One of them is in rhyme.