Photo by Noah Eberhart
Richard Perez Has to Do This, Okay?
In his one-man show, the comedian blends imagination and truth, making fantasy feel almost embarrassingly real.
By Lizzie Racklin
There’s a scene in Richard Perez’s one-man show “I Have to Do This” where he pretends to be on a rollercoaster. He lets out yelps and screams, squirming and gripping imaginary straps by his shoulders. He tilts back as the rollercoaster climbs up, looks down in fear as it approaches a drop. Watching him maneuver like this, you can envision the rollercoaster’s track almost exactly. Richard is alone on stage, sitting on a stool, performing every stomach drop to a tee. It’s a vulnerable moment for his character, who is just beginning to open up to his new romantic partner, represented by the empty space beside him.
“I Have to Do This” was developed by Richard and director Charlie Bardey, after they agreed that Richard’s Instagram videos seemed to be forming an actual “thing,” not just one-off skits. The show unfolds as a series of scenes depicting the main character’s experience of a romantic relationship. While discussing his artistic approach with me, Richard talked about how, in both photography and comedy, he likes setting up loose narratives that allow the viewer to fill in the empty space on their own. “I Have to Do This” gives you enough space to imagine your own details, but Richard guides the show with rom-com-inspired dialogue and overly earnest improvised songs.
The narrative that emerges is of a nameless main character’s new relationship and all of its highs and lows. On a dinner date, he overshares but is accepted; while he’s trying to sleep, his partner is hard, and he lazily jerks him off; after hosting a party, they playfully argue about dishes. It all has a tinge of performance, but there are layers—Richard’s performance for the audience and his character’s performance for his partner.
“We all have a character we play in everything in life. In how we have conversations, how we confront each other, how we work through things, how we cry, or even sex and dating. We pull from something in our lives, whether it’s media or whether it’s personal. It’s all part of building some sense of self,” he said.
Richard told me that he’s “gotten feedback from friends that [the show] feels like when you’re in your room pretending to act out kissing someone.” It does—it feels like a kind of daydream version of love, lying in bed, having whole conversations with a crush who isn’t there. Even the relationship’s challenges feel like the built-in obstacles that you sprinkle into your fantasies to remind yourself that relationships are work, and this won’t all be easy. “This” being the fictional relationship that only exists in your mind.
Yet Richard also has a singular ability to blend imagination and truth, to make fantasy feel almost embarrassingly real. As the couple on stage argues, flirts, and has sex, it all feels startlingly familiar. He told me that he took inspiration from rom-coms in the way that his characters interact, and watching this reveals how much we all kind of act like we’re in a rom-com when we’re flirting. We hit our crush’s arm, we bat our eyelids, and we poke fun at them for being “so silly.” It’s somehow so unbelievably scripted, and so undeniably real.
This is especially, and painfully, true in his sex scenes. As seen on his Instagram, Richard has a talent for pantomiming sex. These scenes are hard to watch, but hilarious and impossible to look away from. They’re cringey not because he himself should be embarrassed, but because he’s so accurately pointing out the way people perform for each other while hooking up.
Photo by Max Branigan
When I asked Richard how it feels to perform these kinds of scenes and how they relate to his real life, he started a few sentences about approaching his work and life differently now that he’s sober and starting to date again, trailing off each time, before concluding, “Basically, I’m trying to say, like, I’m starting to hook up with people.”
“I Have to Do This” is an extremely funny and movingly vulnerable show about how it feels to form a romantic relationship and how the cultural imagination influences our ideas of love. Go see it on September 15th at The Bell House. Maybe bring someone you’re hooking up with.
Follow Richard here.