Punch in the Face: The Story of Kool-Aid Man
A young actor decided to take part in the Montreal Fringe Festival with what he thought would surely be the most successful play in its storied history: a musical about Kool-Aid Man, and about the man behind the giant, red, pitcher-shaped, mascot costume.
The stage was to be a simple one: a brick wall, before which the actor would come out on stage and say hello. For the length of the show the actor, dressed in the Kool-Aid Man costume, would NOT come crashing through the wall. Not until the very end of the show—when all of the audience in unison shouts "Hey, Kool-Aid!"—would he come bursting through the brick barrier. Then he would shout "Oh yeah!" in Kool-Aid Man's characteristic raspy voice, and the play would end.
Unlike all other marketing gimmicks employed at the Fringe, Kool-Aid Man's success would tap into the one sales conceit that has worked throughout the ages: Celebrity. Everyone loves the Kool-Aid Man, so rather than distribute flyers or put up posters or anything of that ilk, the actor, in costume, would simply wander around the Fringe Beer Tent, sign autographs and, of course, distribute free Kool-Aid from a full, glass pitcher. He would sign autographs whether people asked for them or not. Using whatever writing surfaces happened to be around he would sign KAM then wander away—his enigmatic, perpetual fingerpaint smile leading the way.
Fringe is a highly capitalistic enterprise, with good advertising and marketing often superseding the artistic integrity or quality of shows. The young actor truly wanted the show to be successful, both as a commercial venture and as an artistic one; for the commercial aspect of the show he only needed one thing: the costume—which had to be as big and unwieldy and authentic as the original; for the artistic aspect he needed a good story.
Because this was for the Fringe, he decided to get the costume first. His research led him to Kraft Foods Canada, headquartered in Toronto, on Moatfield Drive in Don Mills. He tried to keep his telephone inquiry simple: "Where can I find a Kool-Aid Man costume in Montreal?" Knowing that his question would be a tricky one, he wisely elected to return home to the West Island to use his mother's land line because she had a long-distance plan.
His mother did not approve of her son's plans. "The Kool-Aid Man," she said. "Shouldn't you be doing something with a little more... I don't know... integrity?" But the young actor was determined. He got his idea from a dream, and dreams never let you down.
After having his strange query passed down a very long chain of command, including multiple answering machine message boxes, he finally was transferred to Kraft Foods Atlantic Distribution Regional Advertising Department Montreal. There, he was relegated to speaking with an infernal, nasal-voiced woman by the name of Ghyslaine. "No mister," she said. "You cannot 'ave duh Kool-Aid Man costume. You 'ave to go to Toronto." She said Toronto in French.
Undaunted, the young actor called Kraft Foods Canada on Moatfield Drive once again. He vigorously articulated, to some innocent Bangladeshi receptionist girl, his poor treatment at the hands of the Ghyslaine woman, as well as his disgust with being passed along from department to department. He swore to the girl (aptly named Parbarti, meaning Surrender) that he was planning on doing free advertising for their company and demanded to speak directly to whoever was in charge of such a thing. He added that if he was forced into speaking with an answering machine again then "whomsoever" was responsible would be responsible also for losing the advertising "contract", he called it.
By the end of his tirade the young actor was so possessed by rage that he had adopted a slight East-Indian accent.
Within moments he was speaking to an affable, older gentleman named Ed Perkins, who was the head of North American Operations based in Hastings, Nebraska. Ed was more than helpful, expressing excitement about the project; more importantly, he was determined to put the young actor on the right track.
Less than an hour later, the young actor (sitting anxiously by his mother's telephone) got the call. Ed had discovered that there was only one man in the province of "Queebec" with such a costume. His name was Gaetan Legault and, quite fortunately, he lived in Montreal— on "Parthenays" near Gilford. The young actor took down the information, as well as Gaetan's telephone number, and thanked Ed profusely. Ed insisted on receiving a follow-up call, for which the young actor was only too happy to oblige.
Gaetan turned out to be a strange fellow with an horrific, cigarette-shrilled voice. "So, you want my Kool-Aid Man costume, hein?" The young actor tried to explain that Ed Perkins himself had sent him. "Je m'en fous, Hed Perkin," said Gaetan. "Hed Perkin j'm'en tabarnac. Tell me 'ow much you gonna pay me to say OH YEAH!"
The young actor was startled by Gaetan's rendition of the Kool-Aid Man catchphrase. It was exactly the same intonation and pitch as in the commercials from the 1980s, yet Gaetan's resonated with just a hint of sadness and lost glory. In the dumbfounded silence that ensued, Gaetan said it yet again."OH YEAH!"
It was imperative for the young actor to obtain proof that this man had the costume. "OH YEAH sure, come on over," said Gaetan.
The young actor was ready to head downtown immediately, but his mother sat him down for dinner first. "You can't go to the East End of Montreal on an empty stomach," she said. "It's dangerous out there. There are shootings every day. I hear it on CJAD." Ironically, dinner consisted of wieners in Kraft Dinner. "Just like when you were my precious boy," the young actor's mother said with tears in her eyes.
Full of KD and dogs the young actor sped down the Trans Canada. He wondered how he would be able to finagle this obstreperous man out of his Kool-Aid-Man-role-playing delusions. All that was required was the costume, which likely didn't belong to Gaetan in the first place. That young actor now felt he was on a commission from Kraft Multinational itself; that would be his plan of attack.
Gaetan lived in a ramshackle ground floor of a triplex in an otherwise pleasant neighbourhood. When he answered the door, the young actor was taken aback: Gaetan was in his fifties but could have passed for eighty. Everything about him was in a state of contradictory chaos: his face was weathered, yet smooth; his hair was greasy grey, but with streaks of black; his fingers were strong, but yellowish brown; his layers of clothes were of good quality, but worn and stinking of camel, and of Camels.
"Salut mon ami," Gaetan said. "Come on hin!"
Gaetan's place was a shambles. There were no less than ten thousand dirty objects strewn about, and approximately fifteen kitties darted through the decrepitude. Gaetan hobbled over to a filthy stove, Camel lit. "Du thé?"
The young actor accepted, as a gesture of open-mindedness.
Gaetan poured the blackened liquid into a stained Expos mug featuring a faded photo of Delino DeShields. Without asking, Gaetan threw two tablespoons of crispy sugar into the moatish water and handed it over. As he did, a bit of cigarette ash fell into the tea. "Hi was duh Kool-Aid Man for ten years you know," said Gaetan. "Oh yeah. Hi did shows hall over Montreal, West Island, Laval, Brossard, heverywhere. I was duh best. Oh Yeah."
Gaetan's final words were more subdued than before, and they reeked of bitter disappointment. Surprisingly though, the tea was rather good, even Spritely. The young actor sipped away as Gaetan continued his pathetic narrative, which went on for another three-quarters of an hour. As the young actor sucked at the dark dregs of his cup, Gaetan concluded.
"Den hall of duh sudden, poof! Dey don't need me hanymore. Hi been on duh disability hinsurance and duh welfare ever since."
With an artistic inspiration that could only be described as an epiphany, the young actor had discovered the missing component of his show: the story. Impetuous, as most actors are, he told Gaetan of his plans. Gaetan himself was to reprise his role, with the young actor playing his personal assistant for all media and schmoozing at the Fringe Beer Tent. In addition, he would be a narrator for the story, revealed at the end to be Gaetan in his youth. The young actor could put on a flawless Quebecois accent. They were to share all the profits.
Gaetan agreed. All that remained was the costume. Once again, he hobbled over to his bedroom and soon returned, hauling a large, Surfin' Berry Punch-coloured trunk. Gaetan opened it, using a magical, Lemon-Lime key, and reached inside.
Out came thirty-five pounds of inflatable red nylon. It was magnificent in its anthropomorphism: pitcher shaped, arm sockets protruding forward, and that fingerpainted smiley face.
The young actor shook Gaetan's smelly hand. It was on.
After weeks of rehearsal, they were ready. For the performance, the young actor would come out and introduce Kool-Aid Man. There would be songs, including many from commercials of the past, along with video montage, followed by Kool-Aid Man's reminiscences. There would be physical comedy in play and combat situations, involving "the children" and the evil "Cola", respectively, each played by the young actor. There would be great pathos from Gaetan's fall from glory, all made well again by the audience's (encouraged) chanting of "Hey, Kool-Aid!"
Finally, the play's climax would be Kool-Aid Man's breaking through the wall and shouting "OH YEAH!"
The name of the play was to be Punch in the Face: The Story of Kool-Aid Man.