Tommy Nugent is a familiar Cincinnati Fringe performer: Starting in 2007, he’s been here with Tommy Nugent’s The Show and Tommy Nugent’s Burning Man Redux. He’s a monologist grounded in public speaking — not exactly a theater guy, but someone who’s totally comfortable in front of an audience. Although in the program for this year’s Fringe offering, American Badass in Cincy, he writes, “I’m no longer compelled to put my name in every show title,” his subject matter is focused completely on … Tommy Nugent. That’s not a bad thing, because he’s an entertaining guy and he’s quite capable of turning the events of his life into tales that keep audiences coming back for more.
Nugent made his theatrical debut at Know Theatre back in March 2002 with a piece he wrote and performed Tommy Nugent’s Burning Man. I saw it and gave it a harsh review, which I suspect it deserved, although after a decade, I don’t clearly remember it. But he does, as you’ll discover if you drop in at 1317 Main Street for a performance of his 2012 show. I’ll leave it at that, other than to say, if he’d been as charming and self-deprecating in that long-ago piece as he is today, I think I would have offered a very different assessment.
Nugent weaves together a line of malarkey about being inspired by his soul mate, Kid Rock. He extrapolates amusing (and largely forced) parallels in their lives — both are from Detroit, both have had up-and-down careers, and so on. Nugent, who likes to use a stage moniker as “Rev. Nuge,” suggests that he’s achieved some modicum of success today by asking, “What would Kid Rock do?” It’s an unlikely premise, but Nugent makes it work with easy good humor and a likeable, relaxed stage presence. It’s not impossible to imagine how Rock’s career served as a kind of oddball inspiration for Nugent’s own aspirations.
His 60-minute narrative includes his obsessive pursuit of Rock’s performances (Nugent’s own “long strange journey”), elements from his experience as a motivational speaker, a questionable arrest in Moffat, Okla., and crossing paths with several oddballs — including perhaps the “Angel of Death” — after a Cincinnati Fringe performance. The show is particularly fun for local audiences since he clearly knows Cincinnati and the Fringe scene. Early on in his storytelling, Nugent explains that his “badass-ocity is ironic,” and as he concludes he calls himself “the least badassed man who ever lived.” By then, we’ve come to understand that he thrives on being onstage and appreciated by an audience. His final epiphany earned my respect, and I imagine he’ll win over more fans during the 2012 Fringe.