Seattle Insanity: Recounting the Days at Amazon.com

By BETSY HUNTON Special to the Planet
Friday June 18, 2004

There’s a storyteller loose on the stage at Berkeley Rep. People who have seen him perform 21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ Amazon.com probably want to call him a comedian. Whatever… maybe it’s most accurate to think of Mike Daisey as something of a walking work-in-progress—a very funny and very polished work-in-progress.  

Daisey is a rather short, tubby guy with a guileless look, who manages to keep the audience’s full attention (laughing all the way) for an unbroken spiel of some 90 minutes. He’s alone on the stage with a chair and a table made out of a door—and, of course, a laptop. Gotta have a laptop handy when you’re talking about life in Seattle.  

The present version of Dog Years is the result of slightly more than three years of Mike Daisey telling the (hopefully somewhat exaggerated) tale of his labors at Amazon.com. “Labors” doesn’t seem to be quite the word. Perhaps “activities?” Or, maybe “hysterics?” Although he makes it clear that he spent a lot more time at work than the traditional eight hours a day, he is equally clear that he wasn’t really doing anything which could actually be identified as “work.” 

Daisey wandered into the dot-com world because he had a toothache; he needed a job with dental benefits. He claims that Amazon hired him because they were looking for freaks. This may not be an exaggeration since, from what he says, he may well have been one of the sanest people on the grounds. Perhaps the most remarkable part of the experience was that when he finally fled the company, he was deluged with job offers.  

He says he got rid of them by accepting them all.  

Daisey’s director/stage manager/wife, Jean Michele Gregory, swears that he alters his performances to fit the different audiences he has faced along a road that started three years ago at an unheated, beer-serving, garage theater in Seattle. Since then, Daisey’s made the rounds of theaters around the world with Dog Years, including, of course, New York’s Off-Broadway. 

Dog Years must be pretty much finished. It’s a very smooth performance; there’s not a single hesitation, or an “Uh!” or a search for the next word or idea in the whole evening. And Jean Michele Gregory puts some real effort into persuading the audience to come back and see Wasting Your Breath, the new piece Daisey’s working on. It’s playing on June 28 and 29, immediately after Dog closes, and it might be kind of fun to compare the two. 

It’s no wonder they make the pitch. After all, Daisey’s way of “writing” must make an audience even more essential for him than it is for most performers.  

Amazingly enough, this is the show’s only appearance in the Bay Area. One would expect Daisey to have taken it straight into Silicon Valley early on in his career. And why Berkeley and not San Jose or Palo Alto?  

Funny as Daisey is, it does seem that our neighbors on the peninsula and in San Jose would take the dot-com insanity to heart in a way that just isn’t quite Berzerkeley’s passion. Don’t take this wrong, this is a hilarious evening for anybody. But this town can’t be expected to produce an audience as stuffed with dot-commers filled with first-hand knowledge of the madness of the Big Boom era as are our neighbors in the South Bay. 

Do you suppose that the Seattle people landed here by mistake?