Charles Ross defines becoming a geek thusly: It’s when you’ve found something you can relate to so well you are willing to open yourself up to ridicule for it.
True love necessitates vulnerability. That’s the trade-off. Until you shed the armor, you can never really experience something that makes your head spin.
A geek’s heart is big enough to gush what he loves. A bully sneers, using scorn and ridicule to keep anyone from ever looking deep inside and discovering that nothing’s there.
In this sense, the difference between geeks and bullies is more about the size of the heart than the size of the biceps. Thus, Ross wears the hard-earned title of geek proudly.
Best known for his tour de force One-Man Star Wars (which is also being performed at Piccolo Fringe and not to be missed), in which he boils down the beloved space opera to an hour of pure fun, Ross loves nothing more than delivering a stand-up mix tape of popular favorites, rarities, and strange segues. That’s exactly what he does with ‘80s Blank Tape.
Remember the 1980s? A decade that rolled in with Reaganomics, ended the Cold War, and got us all addicted to Rubik’s Cube.
For Ross, who was growing up in Vancouver, the decade was a liberating rush of John Hughes films (i.e., The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles, and Weird Science), the early days of MTV, and a surge in popularity for over-the-top pro wrestling.
“It was not a subtle decade,” Ross says. “There were people dressing like Cyndi Lauper or David Bowie, very androgynous styles, and wearing their hair like Flock of Seagulls. Everyone from that time has a few photos tucked away of some pretty wild hair. For whatever reason, it was really a time when we had free rein to experiment.”
Ross, who was in middle and high school through much of the 1980s, had the added benefit of an older sister with a penchant for the styles of the time. And in the 1980s, the styles were, shall we say, memorable. Who didn’t own at least one pair of parachute pants or a Swatch?
“That’s the fun of it,” Ross says. “There was so much going on in the 1980s. Some of us remember Star Wars, The Dark Crystal, and Labyrinth, while others remember the commercials. But all of us who were around during that time remember something.”
The title of the show pays homage to a blank videocassette that Ross and his sisters would use to record whatever seemed most important to them at the time. Music videos would be recorded over soap operas and Doctor Who would wipe away the Muppets.
“What ends up in the show is not necessarily my favorite stuff but the stuff that got stuck in my head,” he says. “It’s about the pop culture from that time that got ingrained in all our psyches.”
In other words, everything from Dallas and Dynasty to big hair and the Miami Vice look is open game. No word yet on whether Ross will, like, dabble in Valley-speak or slip in an A-Team reference, but neither is outside the realm of possibility.
In fact, the best approach to attending a Charlie Ross performance is to expect the unexpected. Expect plenty of “oh … yeah … I remember that” moments.
After all, this is a guy could probably craft a comedy show around his memories of working at a 7-Eleven convenience store (actually, he is already hard at work on exactly that). He notices stuff, stuff sticks with him, and he has the heart to share it with the rest of us.
“That’s the key to all of it,” he says. “Being able to hold on to that love you have for something and stay true to it.”