First the U.S. automaker recession, and now this. Charlie Sheen unleashed his Violent Torpedo of Truth Tour on the Motor City on Saturday night before a crowd that greeted the actor with an adoring standing ovation and concluded with booing and walkouts. The padded and disjointed show was a hodgepodge of video clips and Sheen-isms that felt hastily assembled and misjudged the patience of even the hardest of hardcore fans. Below is our on-the-scene progressive timeline of disaster from Detroit:
7:50 p.m. ET — Lovefest: Outside Fox Theater, Melissa Shovlin and Haley Clark — two young women wearing homemade “Winning!” T-shirts (see picture below) — are asked what they expected from the show. “We have no idea,” says Shovlin. “That’s part of the excitement.” Is she concerned about Sheen’s mental state, given his recent tendency toward multimedia outbursts? “Everybody is a little crazy,” she shrugs off. She also notes, “I think in this environment, he’ll be a little more free to jump around like a snake in a chair.”
Geoff Resek, an attendee from Connecticut, declares that Sheen will use his theatrical performance “to prove he’s completely sober, because he wants to win.” In general, the atmosphere outside is irony-free: People are here because they find Sheen hilarious, because they have always found Sheen hilarious, and because they are officially in support of his “winning” transformation. They are more devoted to Sheen than the media, but they simultaneously are taking him less seriously.
Inside the theater, the program for the evening (which cost $20) features a collection of Sheen’s radio quips — “I’m on a drug. It’s called Charlie Sheen” — and pictures of the actor. The T-shirts are selling briskly. A popular one for $30 declares “F—ing Brilliant!”
7:59 — You cannot walk through the crowd without hearing someone say “Winning.” There are girls wearing tiger-striped pants, and assorted custom Sheen quips T-shirts. The Midwestern crowd has come from all over, devout followers of the Vatican’s most famous assassin.
8:13 — The show is supposed to start at 8 p.m. A geeky comedian who is decisively not Charlie Sheen comes on stage and begins a set. There is some booing from the audience, followed by chanting: “Charlie! Charlie!” The booing gets louder.
8:17 — The comedian starts a joke: “I found out exactly how I’m going to die–” Someone in the audience yells, “Yeah, on stage!” Note to comedians: If Charlie Sheen asks you to open for him, say “No.”
8:19 — Here is just a sample of this painful opening act: “Shouldn’t they call the defibrillator a difibra-now?” Sheen himself comes out to defend the comic, telling the audience to give him a chance. The actor receives a standing ovation. Sheen says that he’ll be right back out, and exits. The comedian continues his set. Problem: This is a rock-concert atmosphere, and nobody wants a stand-up act. They’re here for the warlock.
8:30 — The comedian has been literally booed off the stage.
8:32 — That’s weird. The lights have come back up, and the audience is waiting again. Everyone is confused — it’s not clear why the show started and then stopped again. So far, this has the makings of a disaster, the Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark of celebrity stage acts.
8:53 — The show officially begins with a mock iPhone ad, advertising the “MaSheen.” This app will be used throughout the show to introduce each segment. Two attractive scantily clad women — contest winners Kelly Jean and Lisa Jaques — come on stage to sing the national anthem before a waving flag. They’re not exactly great singers. “Do it topless!” one audience member shouts.
8:58 — Film clips are playing on screen. Die Hard, Midnight Express, Taxi Driver, Animal House, Sheen’s own Platoon, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and (of course) Apocalypse Now. There’s no context, just the violent clips. One imagines it’s like being inside Sheen’s fever dream and the experience is taking on a Clockwork Orange quality.
9:00 — Two goddesses are now making out on stage. And finally, Charlie Sheen returns. He holds up a sports shirt of the style that’s worn by his Two and a Half Men character and puts it on. The audience gamely boos. The Two and a Half Men theme song plays and is intercut with a scene from a classic film of a man screaming “Turn it off!” Then Sheen grabs a Detroit Tigers shirt instead. The crowd roars and gives him a standing ovation. Regarding the Men shirt, Sheen says, “Take that out and burn it.” On video, the girls burn the shirt backstage.
9:07 — Sheen steps behind a presidential-style podium that proclaims “Warlock States of Sheen.” Guitarist Robert Patterson is playing on stage. Sheen begins a lengthy speech in his newfound Malibu Messiah semi-coherent metaphor-stuffed neo-Hunter S. Thompson style, talking about his “napalm-dripping brain.” “I’m here to solve a portion of this grand mystery,” he says.
9:08 — Sheen: “I am finally here to identify and train the Vatican assassin locked inside each and every one of you.”
9:10 — Sheen’s promises are largely incomprehensible, though they at least seem intentionally so: “Freedom from monkey-eyed…sweat-eating whores. Freedom from the dour and sour taste of malignant reproach…. I’m a giant and leaky bag of mayhem.”
9:13 — Sheen: “They took my awesome children… They took my sometimes bitchin’ job… And when they thought there was nothing left, they tried to take my heart and brain and titanium spine. But they could not.” Audience growing restless. This show is all pump-up, no narrative.
9:15 — Okay, nobody understands a word Sheen is saying. “Is anybody else as confused by this s— as I am?” he finally asks. There are roars from the crowd. “I wrote every word!” Later, a cabdriver tells me that it’s about this time that angry fans began walking out of the theater.
9:18 — “Nothing terrifies a troll more than its own reflection,” Sheen continues, before shifting gears into politics. “In a recent poll, they told me I’d bring down that whore [Sarah] Palin. I don’t have time for that nonsense.” [Read about the poll he’s referring to here.]
9:20 — People start booing Sheen. Not playing around, but actually booing him. Sheen yells, “I already got your money, dude!”
9:23 — We are watching video of Charlie Sheen playing Call of Duty.
9:35 — The show has become a padded and disjointed mess. Sheen plays an old short film he made called RPG starring a young Johnny Depp, but the audience gets frustrated and starts booing. Sheen stops the video and says, “Okay, so RPG was a bomb. Tonight is an experiment.” One is reminded of Torpedo of Truth’s subtitle on the marquee outside: “Defeat is not an option.”
9:40 — Sheen says he’s going to “tell some stories about crack. I figured Detroit was a good place to tell some crack stories.” This comment, not surprisingly, does not go over well. “Show of hands who here has tried crack?” Very few people raise their hand. “I don’t do crack anymore, but this is a good f—ing night to do some crack.” The audience boos.
9:43 — Sheen tells the audience, “You paid your hard-earned money without knowing what this show was about.” He asks if people have any questions. A girl from the audience asks for his best porn-star story. Sheen doesn’t want to tell that one. He starts telling a story about getting his car stolen — he says the story involves crack — but nobody wants to hear it. Another woman asks for a hug. He gives it to her and that’s nice — pretty much the whole audience could use one at this point.
9:50 — The show appears to be almost over. More padding, rap tributes to Sheen from YouTube. He plays a video that intercuts his 20/20 interview with new footage of him being obnoxious to Andrea Canning. It’s amusing at first, but drags on too long.
10:03 — The show is now an unmitigated disaster. There’s a fairly steady stream of people leaving early. Attendee Chris Acchione, a self-described Sheen fan who traveled all the way from Toronto for the show, says his entire mezzanine row walked out. “He’s making a fool of himself,” he says. “Is there a bigger loser in the world? He’ll be [begging] Chuck Lorre for his job back by the end of the week.”
10:05 — Sheen is composing a live tweet. More disappointed comments from people leaving early: “I was expecting a comedy show.” “I could have done a better job.” “It’s just like hanging out at his house,” says a man wearing an “I Believe in Tiger Blood” T-shirt.
10:20 — Sheen plays the track he recorded with Snoop Dogg. But Snoop, despite promises, is a no-show (he was actually back in Los Angeles, performing live on stage at Nickelodeon’s Kids Choice Awards). Rapper Simon Rex comes out instead while Snoop’s video plays in the background. Lights come on. That’s it? Fans are angry. When Oliver Stone or whoever makes the inevitable biopic on Charlie Sheen’s life, tonight’s event is definitely making the final cut.
PRESHOW THOUGHTS: There’s a scene in a Simpsons episode where Homer breaks an ant farm on the space shuttle. As the ants float from the confines of their plastic display, they cry, “Freedom! Horrible, horrible freedom!”
That may not be the sharpest literary metaphor in the shed, but that phrase keeps coming to mind when covering Charlie Sheen. He’s finally escaped the trappings of his hit prime-time sitcom and he can now say and do whatever he wants. It’s been a bit like watching an overgrown kid while his parents are out of town. But as anybody who has been laid off can attest, there’s always an undercurrent of dread from being abruptly untethered from your longtime workplace home — no matter how sunny your future prospects. And you combine that “horrible, horrible freedom” with fame and money and addiction issues, and now you have the formula of countless American celebrity excess biopics.
So far we’ve seen Sheen indulge his newfound freedom to pontificate using all the latest communication toys — Twitter! Webcams! But tonight the actor embraces one of the oldest forms of communication: the hastily produced reputation-boosting stage show.
Sheen’s 20-date My Violent Torpedo of Truth: Defeat Is Not an Option Tour seems to borrow a page from the Conan O’Brien post-employment playbook — keep working, connect with fans, generate headlines (and, if possible, earn some sympathy in your PR struggle against Evil Former Bosses). Nobody is sure what to expect, exactly, but word has it that the show will be “music heavy” with guitarist Rob Patterson and Snoop Dogg making an appearance.
Sheen claimed his opening show here at Detroit’s 5,000-seat Fox Theatre sold out in just 18 minutes (and one couldn’t help but wonder how many of those tickets were snatched up by entertainment reporters). But then came the follow-up stories that revealed there were plenty of seats still available (indeed, we bought our seat about a week ago). There is some societal benefit to ponying up $35-65 for a ticket — $1 from every seat goes to the Red Cross for Japan relief (and how you react to that detail is as effective a cynicism litmus test as you’re likely to find).
Throughout the ramp-up to the tour, some have wondered: Why launch this party in Detroit in the first place?
There’s actually a certain symmetry to a fired actor starting his tour in a city that’s become better known for its unemployment level than its automobiles. A couple years ago Detroit unemployment hit an astounding 28.9 percent, three times the national average. Of course, we all know Sheen has pretty much nothing in common with the average laid-off autoworker, and since Sheen himself has been so quick to point out his status compared with the common folk (“I don’t understand what I did wrong except live a life everyone is jealous of”), the surge of interest to see his show is a bit mystifying to some. Perhaps Sheen has managed to pull off the livin’-large braggart style of hip-hop as a Hollywood actor and, if so, Detroit, once again, isn’t such a bad launchpad (in case you’re wondering, Two and a Half Men is slightly more popular in Detroit than in most major markets, according to Nielsen, but not inordinately so). Or…perhaps Sheen just picked Detroit by firing an arrow at a wall map using his giant chicken bow from Hot Shots! Part Deux — you gotta be careful about reading too much into these things.
The show starts at 8 p.m. ET. Will update throughout the night.
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