I'M CHE GUEVARA, GOD-DAMN IT! Friday, September 2, 7:10pm Saturday, September 3, 2pm Sunday, September 4, 7pm Monday, September 5, 2pm and 8:55pm Thursday, September 8, 9:20pm Saturday, September 10, 1:35pm Plan B, 2180 Gottingen Street $4, 40 minutes
If you can get to Bud Hunter's Atlantic Fringe Festival show I'M CHE GUEVARA GOD-DAMN IT! and actually get to see and hear him, it'll be quite the feat, and you'll be doing better than most people. Bud Hunter is the original Mr. Mystery.
Talk about under-the-radar. Hunter performed his first Fringe monologue, Bud Hunter's Life in the Big City or Male Menopause and the Single Guy way back in 2007, about which Graham Pilsworth wrote in a Coast review, "The two-barrelled title of Bud Hunter's play is only the first of Hunter's many problems." Pilsworth described it as all downhill from there. In 2014 Kate Watson wrote, "Bud Hunter used to be a fixture at the Atlantic Fringe, and it's an understatement to say I was not a fan of his unpolished one-man shows."
Hunter has performed Fringe monologues since then, missing a year here or there because of various glitches in the matrix, gathering unenthusiastic reviews along the way. One year he had a magic act planned, where his dog Spots would disappear behind a blanket, but Spots died and that was that. Another year was derailed by a late application. Projects brought to fruition include Dog Town in 2008, Bud Hunter: Not Plugged In in 2010, Bud Hunter says comma quote If I was king of the world dot dot dot end quote in 2014 and Six Stupid Things People Do last year.
Tracking this guy down is exercise. There is only a post office box address on his (handwritten) Fringe application. The first phone number I'm given reveals a woman's voicemail message, a Melanie. In my message I ask for her to let me know if this is not a way to reach Bud Hunter. No reply. The second phone number is answered by the generic robot voice. I leave another, friendly message.
Online there is not much for Bud Hunter. Bud is a generic male nickname and it's very unlikely he was born with it. One other Bud Hunter (actually Dog the Bud Hunter) in Nova Scotia is a marijuana grower. There are pics of him in his grow-op, with a hound's face badly photoshopped onto his.
There is a happy ending: Bud does call back, and we do meet, sort of. Talking with him is another exercise: I am instructed to say I spoke with Guevara, the Marxist revolutionary, and not Hunter, but as we get into a friendly, bantering chat he mixes up his pronouns and sometimes it's Guevara and sometimes it's Hunter. He's daft, yes, but has tons of smarts and human frailty and charisma.
On the spot I become a fan. Hunter has been unexpectedly detained and sent Che Guevara in his place, dressed in his iconic Cuban style military beret, a green canvas vest (with plenty of places to strap on revolutionary accessories) over a green checked shirt and atop black cargo shorts and black sneaks with velcro closings. Mirrored aviators. His eyes are clear green and he has three-day stubble of his well-known mutton chop sideburns and circle beard. For a man who's been dead since 1967 he looks very good.
"Not many people believe I am who I say I am," he says. "Some friends and family." I guess he means Che but really, who can know? I ask why, in the face of bad reviews and small audiences (sometimes only two people have attended his shows; sometimes none) year after year, does he continue?
Passion and avocation. Guevara says of Hunter, "his brothers and he had their bedroom next to the TV room. On Sunday nights they'd be in bed and Bud stayed awake. He couldn't wait for the comedians on Ed Sullivan. He loved John Byner. Pissed himself laughing, and thought that would be a great way to make a living."
But Hunter grew up in a place where, as he puts it, it would be easier to become an astronaut than a comedian. Meaning next to zero: This was somewhere in Nova Scotia. "In Canada back then," he says, "there was Rich Little and who else? No one else. Plus Little did impressions and I didn't." Big sigh. "Imagine my situation."
So Hunter had to go another road. He seems to have a university degree. He once worked as a janitor. The flame stayed kindled. "I have a Matron of the Arts," he says. "My sister Melanie has been behind me all the way." He throws props generously: To Ken Pinto, former executive director of the AFF, for showing him the ropes, and to Lee-Anne Poole, the current one, for putting up with him.
In I'M CHE GUEVARA GOD-DAMN IT! Hunter will be Guevara, describing the events that brought him to Halifax. A reincarnation, if you will. Hunter says of Guevara, "he had passion, and a death wish. I would've been proud for him to call me a friend." Hunter's politics are like Guevara's, minus the overthrowing and executions.
Hunter seems an outsider, an outlier, a daffy duck, but make no mistake: He knows exactly what he's doing. Every line in his plays is written and memorized. In a way, he's a true artist, driven to do what he does, no matter what the reaction. He embodies the spirit of the Fringe exactly. In one of his bursts as Guevara, Hunter gets his own bad review. "Bud sucks," he says. "No way around it. Bud sucks."