There are at least three shows at Edinburgh Fringe this year involving bananas in some way … we chatted to Michael Galligan and Bailey Nassetta (writer-performer and director of Banana); Matt Eberhart aka “The Banana Man”; and Dan Koeppel, author of the book Banana.
Banana (Michael Galligan)
At ZOO Southside, 4-13, 15-20, 22-27 Aug at 2.15 pm
The Amazing Banana Brothers (Bill O’Neill)
At Pleasance Courtyard, 2-13, 15-27 Aug at 10pm
The Banana Man (Matt Eberhart) – street performer
The Edinburgh Fringe is going bananas this year with your show and those by Bill O’Neill and The Banana Man. So what’s going on with the humble yellow fruit?
GALLIGAN: The banana is the second-most popular fruit in the world (damn you, tomatoes). So pretty much everyone has an association with it.
Everyone who sees the poster, at some level, can relate to a banana. And after doing this show for a year and a half, it seems like everyone has a specific memory of a banana.
Someone came up to me once after a show and said the show had unlocked a memory of the first time they lied, to their grandmother, about a banana.
We love that kind of response because it means that the banana, which has allowed us to search inside of ourselves, allows others to go inside themselves too.
NASSETTA: Absolutely. bananas are RICH! And the more curious we’ve gotten about bananas, the more we see they have to offer.
Bananas are historically linked with the comedy pratfall and universal physical humour. Bill O’Neill’s show is all about this – how do the other two shows address this common perception of going bananas?
KOEPPEL: If you’re about the origins of the phrase “going bananas,” I would say that though there are several possible explanations, none are proven.
The first explanation is that it is a derivative of “going ape,” and refers to the frenzy apes demonstrate when attacking a bunch of bananas for food. I don’t know if this makes a ton of sense.
My choice – though it isn’t the conventional wisdom, which centers around the ape theory – is that bananas were so insanely popular when they were finally introduced to America that people went nuts over them. So I guess to the extent that we’re all apes…
GALLIGAN: I like that one too. And this explanation ties into the pratfall and slapstick aspect, which was a big “a-ha” moment in reading your book.
Dan writes about how when bananas were introduced to America, they were so exotic that nobody knew what to do with the peels when they were done. So they threw them on the street. And that’s when the slipping started.
I love that Chaplin, Keaton, et al, were actually reflecting a real sociopolitical moment in their physical comedy. Little do we know that those routines were linked, somehow, to the political violence and imperialism that brought this exotic fruit to the Americas. Comedy is so often the tip of the iceberg in that way.
The term banana republic is often used to describe a politically and economically unstable country, while the banana has been linked with strikes, blight, war and Brexit. Why is such an innocuous crop linked to so much instability and violence?
KOEPPEL: This one’s easy. The banana companies needed to keep their costs very low in order to popularize the fruit – it was part of their business model to be half the price of apples.
Yet with the fragility of the fruit, the distances it needed to be transported, this could only be done with what was basically free land and labor.
The result was that the banana companies, mostly United Fruit (aka Chiquita), intervened in at least 20 coups and takeovers in the banana growing countries between around 1900 and 1955.
They installed their own governments, often with the assistance of the US military, and these countries ruled by puppet regimes became known as “banana republics.”
(I would slightly disagree with your definition of the term as referring to a “politically and economically unstable country.””” That may be a feature of the term, but the real heart of the definition is countries controlled by non-local puppet regimes.
But I grant that at this point, the definition has broadened, and anyone who is willing to acknowledge the political dimension is miles ahead of those who think Banana Republic is merely a great place to buy ugly shorts.)
GALLIGAN: And yes, we do have ugly banana shorts featured in the show!
The Banana Man stalks the streets dressed as the humble fruit, while your show has you ripening in a box! Is this about visibility, vulnerability, or both?
NASSETTA: In many ways our show is working towards vulnerability. I think, at its core, BANANA speaks to the boxes we live inside, the systems that create them, the people who enforce them and the truths that come from questioning the ways in which we can reinforce them.
GALLIGAN: I also feel that ‘vulnerability’ has become a bit of a catch-all phrase in discussing performance. Everybody seems to want more vulnerability.
For me, sometimes it feels like performing is actually the least vulnerable thing I can do. I’m protected onstage, everybody agreed to hear me talk, and all their faces are hidden in darkness.
So part of the conceit of the show was: alright, let me double down on that feeling and literally hide inside a box onstage. And so I think Bailey’s specification of “working towards vulnerability” hits it home.
EBERHART: I stumbled upon my career as a rapping banana purely by accident. It all started with a Halloween costume bash back in 2018. Little did I know that my decision to hit the streets dressed as a singing banana would yield hilarious results.
My theory was simple: a spontaneous, serenading banana would force people to lift their heads from their screens, captivate their attention a bit longer, tickle their funny bones, and set me apart from the myriad of street performers in Sydney, Australia.
Let’s face it, the elongated, yellow allure of a banana is inherently comedic. So, catch the Banana Man on the Royal Mile, busting out impromptu rap sessions on a precarious balance board.
Dan Koeppel’s book Banana puts the history, fate and near extinction of the fruit under the microscope in a kind of detective thriller. How has this influenced your show, and potentially the others at Fringe this year?
NASSETTA: Extinction is a huge theme in our piece. We explore the extinction of Gros Michel (the banana our grandparents ate), the impending extinction of the Cavendish, (the banana we eat today), and the contemplation of one’s own extinction (a human who consumes bananas).
Dan Koeppel’s research and storytelling on banana extinction has helped us to explore mental health in a non-linear and nuanced way that allows for distance, play, and depth.
GALLIGAN: And it was cool, because we only discovered Dan’s book a year into the development process. All of these ideas we had about mental health and vulnerability and extinction were spinning around in the air, and Dan’s book brought those ideas down to the ground and proved that there was real legitimacy to them.
A banana does and can represent extinction. A banana can serve as an analogue for the human experience. When Dan and I met, he used the phrase “banana highway.” Once you get on it, you don’t get off.
Our process on this show has been a long and rewarding road, and we hope that others at Fringe will join us on the highway, too – or you call it a motorway, right? So for August it’s the Banana Motorway.