Photos by Maggie West
The Cat Circus is a one-hour stage show where cats romp around across some stools and cat trees draped in velvet and glitter. If the set design resembles ordinary living room furniture, we're told halfway through the show, it's because it is actually the living room furniture of Samantha Martin, the woman who hosts the show, invented the show, trains the cats, and lives with the cats. She gets reliable laughs when she goes the “Can you believe I’m single?” route – though I hope it’s just part of the act because, damn, that’s a lot of cats to take care of by yourself.
I saw the performance on a Sunday afternoon, the second of three performances for the day, in an intimate but full theatre in Santa Monica. The crowd was a mix of children, old people and young couples in jean jackets.
Nobody was there to be "ironic", at least not in the sense that they were making fun of the show. We were there because we all share a mutual interest in cats humiliating themselves for our enjoyment.
The lights dimmed and the music – "Everybody Wants to Be a Cat" from The Aristocats – swelled. When the lights came back on, our star cat left his carrier cage to reluctantly ride a skateboard down a ramp to centre stage, and after some pleading, he clawed at a rope that raised a sign: "Welcome to the Show."
The cat-circus brand is a touring show that has been around for years. It seems to do pretty well. How could this be, I wondered? As the circus progressed, it seemed like a clear outline of every reason why kitschy cats have become such a popular enterprise.
Cats Are Arseholes
One of the joys of seeing cats doing stupid things is that it openly mocks how cats want to be seen.
Cats strut arrogantly, displaying their superiority by rejecting most of your ideas on what they should or should not do, but they're also powerless puffballs. They're like old British men, and it’s satisfying to see them get pied in the face.
The star cat is named Tuna, and she is a big-time diva. The only contribution Tuna makes to the show is pressing her bell, but her attitude is what makes her a star, and that’s why she’s on all of the merchandise. Throughout the show, I find myself alternating between loving Tuna and hating Tuna but never denying that Tuna is one magnetic cat.
Cats Are Cute
Duh, a huge part of the fun of seeing a cat do anything is that they’re cute as shit. The eyes, the ears, the fur, the little paws – c’mon! They’re hot little fuckers, and they know it.
There were a few non-cats within the show. A chicken named Cluck Norris competed with Tuna to see who could ring their bell more. On this day, it was the chicken. Tuna gave up after the audience cheered more for the chicken, which I think was honestly only because they liked the name “Cluck Norris”, which was pretty lame. Being a master showcat, Tuna started ringing her bell again only after the contest had been called for Cluck, which was one of the funniest middle fingers I’ve seen from a cat in a while. “Oh sorry, did I not play your stupid fucking game the way you wanted me to, you cocks?”
There was also a groundhog that came out at the beginning of the show. They’re fun animals too, but they’re no cats. You wouldn’t have this be a chicken and groundhog circus, just like you wouldn’t have a Destiny’s Child stocked with only Kelly and Michelle.
Photo by the author
Cats Have Stupid Faces
Cats are such dorks. They’re arrogant, they’re soft and cuddly, and they have the dumbest faces. Cats tend to have one of two faces: They either look pissed off, or they look completely empty mentally. Our most famous cats, Grumpy Cat and Lil Bub, are perfect examples of this.
Tuna is a cat that walks the line of both: She’s equal measures unamused and confused. Her face looks funny blown up on the cardboard cutout, and anytime a trick doesn’t work out, Martin points to it as if to be like, “They’re cats – what can you expect from them?" It’s good for laughs every time.
Creatures with dumb or empty faces tend to accessorise well, like George Bush in his cowboy hats, and it was pleasing when some of the aristo-cats wore hats. A cat in a hat is never unappreciated (almost never).
Cats Are Too Cool for School
Throughout the show, cats wander freely between the stage and the audience. They make their way around getting pet by everyone. It’s cool because there’s ample opportunity to pet cats, but it’s also fun because it is a demonstration that cats plainly do not give a fuck about anything except what they want.
Cats aren’t afraid to cause bidding wars for their attention. Winning the cat over to me instead of the people sitting nearby wasn’t easy, and I’m not proud of some of my tactics (there was a little finger snapping and saying, "Here, kitty” thrown in there), but I was compelled to do it because cats also reward you with being very soft, and they purr.
Can we talk about how pleasing a purr is for a moment? A lady’s climax and a baby’s laughter are the only things that are even in the same conversation, and that’s being a bit considerate, frankly. It’s why we put up with a lot of cats' bullshit, because it is one of the greatest rewards available in everyday life.
The sound that the show ended with was kind of like the equivalent of purring for cat humiliation: It ended with a cat band. The Rock Cats are a five-piece – guitar, keyboard, drums, chimes and Tuna on cowbell – and their sound is best described as “fuck you.” It was probably the most punk thing a band has done in 20 years. People will be saying years from now, “Man, the Rock Cats had fuckin’ balls, man. They didn’t give a fuck about the audience. Shame they all got too addicted to cat-nip to record another album.”
Hard to believe you just read a full think piece about why cats are fun to mock? You can catch the Cat Circus for yourself – its next stops are San Francisco and Denver.
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