by Jahna Peloquin
The Other Great Minnesota Get-Together has been an autumnal benchmark in my life for as long as I can remember. In fact, as my mother revealed last weekend to Sir Ralph Puke, one half of the longest-running act in the Renaissance Festival’s history, Puke & Snot – to his admonishment and my embarrassment – I had apparently been conceived around the time of one of her visits to the fair. The rakish Uncle Pukey, still pulling off them damn tights with aplomb after 36 years on that pirate ship stage, shouldn’t have been all that shocked. The waning sunlight and crispness of the air – not to mention all the licentious men in tights and corseted, busty ladies! – only lend themselves to the romantic, lusty-for-life spirit of the fair. With its authentic and intimate village grounds, smaller crowds, and plentiful (and largely free) entertainment and amusements, I’ve always found the Ren Fest to be a much more palatable experience than certain other fairs, with equally delicious food and happening during a much more agreeable temperature.
As we approach the final weekend of that annual smorgasbord of food, drink, and merriment, let me share with you, dear reader, some of my 13 favorite must-dos at the fair. So grab one of the handy, detailed maps, or try it my way and just walk around until you stumble across what you’re looking for.
1. Spinach pie
Upon entry, especially if you are going in the morning (which you should do, as to avoid having to park way, way in the back), the first thing to do is grab a piece of the delicious spinach pie. It strikes the perfect balance with its flaky, buttery crust and rich filling.
An after-breakfast alcoholic beverage? Don’t mind if I do! With the Twin Cities’ mead supply nil to none, I can hardly wait to enjoy a sweet variation of mead, a wine fermented from honey. You can’t go wrong with the classic flavor, but I rather enjoy the slight spicey Egyptian mead, and if you really want to go crazy, the mint flavor is surprisingly flavorful. But be forewarned: the bees will flock.
3. “Danger Comedy” with Johnny Phoenix
Johnny Phoenix and his brand of “danger comedy” is a solid bet. His act is tried and true – he plucks a couple of guys out of the audience to serve as assistants, and has them restrain him in a straightjacket and chains, which he wriggles out of in 60 seconds time. Hijinks ensue – including Johnny jump-roping (while straightjacketed) with the aforementioned chain. Bonus: he’ll let you touch his tights. Bonus #2: he sells his own branded hot sauce, available for purchase after the show.
4. Tuey the Comic Stunt Juggler
Tuey is an all-time favorite of mine. The slender, towheaded juggler/tightrope walker/fire wrangler looks like an all-growed-up version of Richie Cunningham, but looks are deceiving – Tuey has been at it for years – 37 to be exact (making him 50 years old, in case you’re wondering). His act cycles through a series of tricks ranging from his “most complicated trick” to his “most dangerous trick,” which involves simultaneous juggling, fire, and rope-walking. This guy can do it in his sleep by now, which is why it’s fun to see he’s added a new performer this year: his adorable nine-year-old daughter, who proved that playing with fire isn’t something frowned upon in his household.
5. Live mermaid
I’m putting this one on here because it’s new this year, but after an unfruitful search, I gave up. If someone sees the mermaid, let me know.
6. Paper making and glass blowing demos
Get some edu-ma-cation in with live paper making and glass blowing demos. Cuz it’s neat.
7. Pickle guys
Seriously, the pickle guys are the best. They are shirtless, saucy lads whose lone purpose is to make lascivious double entrendres involving phallically-shaped vegetables. And for a dollar a pickle, there’s plenty more where that came from!
Men in authentic armor! On horses! Jousting! Bite it, State Fair “Miracle of Birth” barn. This is REAL action. The double entendres are yours for the making.
9. Camel and elephant rides
The State Fair has amusement rides; the Ren Fest has CAMEL and ELEPHANT rides. The Ren Fest wins by a trunk and two humps.
10. Tomato insult guy
The tomato insult guy is the BEST. I don’t know how he does it, but this one guy sits behind a board with his head and arms poking out and comes up with new insults to hurl at people hurling tomatoes at him all day long. Comic GOLD. Watched this go on for a full hour once and it was funnier than most anything you’ve ever seen on Saturday Night Live. Hell, it ranks up with there with the best of Kids in the Hall. Somebody, get this guy to write some better jokes for SNL.
11. Turkey leg
Sure, the State Fair has its own variation of the turkey leg, but the Ren Fest’s is as classic as it gets – char-broiled, smokey, and as big as your head. Ordering this is a serious commitment – I was only able to chew my way through half of it before giving up.
12. Italian ice
A perfect little treat to cap off a belly full of meat, the Italian ice – available in classic orange flavor and strawberry – is one half of an orange, one half flavored ice in one ball of frozen deliciousness.
13. Puke & Snot
And finally, the aforementioned Puke & Snot, without a doubt the most popular act at the fair for 30-plus years running. It’s not quite the same with the original Sir Thomas Snot gone – he tragically passed away shortly before the 2008 fest – but the act from this vaudevillian duo-in-tights never gets old for me, despite the fact that much of the material gets recycled year after year. Hearing the same bad pirate jokes (“They’re driving me nuts!”), Robin Hood-related double entendres (i.e., Little Jon and Friar Tuck), and even more double entendres involving a matador’s “magaga” is a tradition of its own – it’s the pair’s interaction with the audience, and the occasional current political joke throw in the mix, that keeps things fresh and having the feel of the unexpected. That, and my mom telling a Puke about my conception.
So if you like bad jokes, dangerous stunts, traditional folk music, men in tights, handmade artisan goods, good food, brewed/fermented beverages, and the perfect fall activity, be sure to check out the fair for its final weekend, this Friday through Sunday from 9 am to 7 pm, rain or shine. Located 7 miles south of Shakopee on Hwy. 169, $21.95 (discount tickets are available at participating SuperAmericas, Menards, Walgreens and Whole Foods), www.renaissancefest.com
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