Charlie Sheen review: An inept performance has his audience baying for human blood
This post has been corrected. Please see note at bottom for details.
Charlie Sheen got a lesson in the fickleness of crowds Saturday night. While doing his best to cash in on his recent cult with the launch of his "My Violent Torpedo of Truth / Defeat Is Not an Option Show," he tried to position himself as a folk hero of freedom. Unfortunately for him the audience that turned out at the Fox Theatre in Detroit took him at his word: They felt free to boo him off the stage.
Admittedly, this was one tough house. The warm-up act, some lanky, underwhelming comic named Kirk Fox, could barely finish a joke amid all the hoots and jeers. Sheen had to come out and ask the audience to cut the poor guy some slack. But there was no one to fly to his rescue once it was clear that the ex-star of "Two and a Half Men" had no ability as a live performer.
Honesty is Sheen's touted value, so here goes: He didn’t bring the goods, and no amount of pandering to the spectators with his you-and-me against-the-trolls malarkey could convince them otherwise. The Malibu messiah’s stab at demagoguery died a quick and not entirely painless death.
What did anyone expect? Undoubtedly, there were a few looking forward to seeing a mental case unspool. (Before we judge our own moment too harshly, let’s not forget that asylums were once tourist attractions.) My head spun around when someone cried out for Sheen to kill himself onstage. (Probably the same species of nut job that buys a ticket to “Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark” in the hope of seeing an actor break his neck.)
But most of those in attendance — largely white, slightly more male than female, the majority seemingly under 40 — fought their own incredulity: Did he actually think he could get away with serving them this cruddy potluck, even with "the Goddesses" on hand to assist him?
Techno-seduction was clearly the wrong tactic for such a blue-collar bastion. The Charlie Sheen app that supposedly brings you inside his mind — naturally called “the MaSheen” — was projected on a screen with a menu of options intended to structure the evening, but this narcissistic shtick fizzled. (Too bad there wasn’t a self-eject button.) Likewise, the Twitter banter — about how many followers he had amassed and his need to live Tweet his "Sheenius" — seemed like nothing more than self-advertising.
The atmosphere at times approached that of a professional wrestling match. Sheen was torn between offense and defense. He taunted the hecklers that he already had their dough. But then he pleaded for softer treatment, reminding them that they gave their “hard-earned money without knowing what this show was all about.”
Sheen thrives on opposition, but how do you maintain your aggressive, pseudo-populist stance when the antagonist isn’t a studio chieftain or a holier-than-thou TV reporter but an army of working stiffs? The rebel yell inevitably became a schoolmarmish rebuke. Yes, my friends, the man who bragged about “banging seven-gram rock” chided the audience for being disruptive. Nothing apparently gets this wild child more steamed than a roomful of people all talking at the same time.
The funniest line all night came from someone seated behind me who hollered at the top of his lungs that the show had scared him straight. From now on, he promised, he would just say “no!” Clearly, for him, Sheen’s act was a “this is your brain on drugs” object lesson.
It’s a pity Sheen’s commentary wasn’t as witty. Improvisation, alas, is not one of the warlock’s gifts. Without a workable script, or an interviewer (either kowtowing like CNN’s Piers Morgan or sneering like ABC’s Andrea Canning), he’s completely at sea. Short on patter, he kept praising Detroit to the hilt, but Motor City denizens know when they’re being conned. And the anger that audibly erupted when Sheen, in a last-ditch effort at bonding, proposed swapping crack stories was a credit to this town.
The humiliation, however, wasn’t easy to watch. It’s one thing to read about the missteps of the rich and famous; it’s another to see a celebrity fall flat on his face in front of several thousand people. Rage, Sheen’s default mode, wasn’t an option. The fed-up hordes at the sold-out Fox would have trampled him. The indulgent love of his fans had transformed into deep distrust, if not disgust. The outlaw was revealed to be a spoiled brat.
The audible mockery directed at him was having an effect. Flushed with embarrassment, Sheen suggested, like a cool kid suddenly getting picked on in gym class, that it was time for a break. “You need someone else's genius for a few minutes,” he said after floundering with questions from the audience. Some rapper marched out and futilely tried to shift the mood. Then a video of the new Snoop Dogg-Charlie Sheen single was shown, but by this time the head-shaking exodus was in full flow.
Still, many of us waited patiently in our seats for Sheen to return. He never did. The houselights came up. A stranger asked, “Is this really it?” Resignation was unavoidable. What had we witnessed? Sheen's psychiatric exhibitionism had morphed into something more embarrassing: a theatrical meltdown. This torpedo of truth wasn’t what anyone expected.
For the record, 1:41 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to opening act Kirk Fox as Kurt Fox.
— Charles McNulty in Detroit
Photos, from top: Fans leaving the Fox Theatre in Detroit after Charlie Sheen's performance; Sheen onstage. Credits: Geoff Robins / AFP/Getty Images; Carlos Sorios / Associated Press. See more photos of Charlie Sheen's "Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat Is Not an Option."