A ragtag group of four pirates singing songs, firing guns and looking for treasure entertained hundreds Saturday during the SwashChuckler’s Pirate Comedy Pirate Show as the Missouri State Fair went into its first weekend. A winning mixture of sight gags, jokes, puns and word play made both kids and adults laugh through four free shows against stiff competition from the bands, rides and animal displays all around the fairgrounds.
Swashchuckler’s is set up between the 4-H and Agriculture Buildings, close to the kid’s stage and the Poultry and Rabbit Building. The stage is a mix of pirate ship and tavern, complete with water shooting cannons, captain’s wheels, treasure chests and pirate weapons. On a humid and overcast Saturday, the show lured nearly 300 people into three large bleachers for the 25 minute show.
“As far as fairs go, this is kind of our biggest audience,” said Josh Bruton, 30, who plays Patch Eye Pete. “We get some great crowds. I’ve had a blast here.”
Swashchuckler’s follows the adventures of the pirates Daring Dirk Doubloon, Patch Eye Pete and Ebenezer ‘Eb’ Tide as they search for Black Jack Blownaparte’s cursed treasure chest. The three hapless pirates find the treasure but ignore the warnings of their talking pirate flag and say Black Jack’s name three times, summoning him to fight them for his lost treasure. At one point Black Jack appears and takes off his hook hand to slide down a pole and then puts his hook back on, which sums up the lighthearted feel of the entire show.
“I enjoyed it,” said Cart McLaughlin, 28, of Paris, Mo., after the 7 p.m. show. “There were quite a few laughs.”
“Those gunshots were loud,” McLaughlin’s father, Mike McLaughlin, also of Paris, said with a laugh. “I almost jumped first time I heard it.”
The four men of the pirate crew have been working off and on for West Texas Productions, the company that puts on Swashchuckler’s, for years. Bruton has been working on Swashchuckler’s and the cowboy comedy show Shenanigans since he was 18. Swashchuckler’s is a traveling show so a small stage and crew makes it easier to move around the country.
“There are 50 effects available, so we’ve got 50 for the show,” Ron Cameron, 54, said at the control station behind the stage. Cameron is from Winston-Salem, N.C., and has been working for West Texas Productions for 30 years. He both runs most of Swashchuckler’s from the U-Haul-sized trailer behind the main stage and plays Black Jack Blownaparte. A maze of PVC piping and water hoses powers the show’s special water and explosion effects from the control booth.
Swashchuckler’s is a 25-minute show with 90 minutes between performances, but the efficient setup allows the crew to reset everything in roughly 15 minutes. Resetting the pistols, water hoses and the pneumatic cannon that performs the show’s finale is one of the biggest parts of the performance.
“It’s a cannon, so you got an air tank,” Cameron explained, “you pump it up to 100 pounds (of pressure), put the dummy in the trash can and stuff him in there hard. I also get to climb up there because that’s the perks of being tall.”
The water cannon that pirate Eb Tide shoots is one of the highlights of the show. He pops out of a wooden box with large X on it (for both ‘X marks the spot’ and an Xbox pun) twice and sprays the first few rows of the crowd with water. The audience is warned, and in the 7 p.m. Saturday show the first few rows were crowded with kids and their parents laughing as they were sprayed.
The cast poses for photos with kids when the show ends and makes jokes as the rest of the crowd leaves. When the final kid leaves satisfied, the cast and crew rounds up all their prop weapons and guns, resets everything and then wanders around or waits for their next performance in the air-conditioned trailer.
“I love this job,” Bruton said after the 5 p.m. show. “We perform here, at theme parks and for a few Halloween shows. It’s a good gig if you can get it.”
The SwashChuckler’s Pirate Comedy Show is performed every day of the fair: 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. today through Friday; 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday; and 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday.