Charlie Sheen in Detroit: Did He Bomb, or Did We?

Charlie Sheen’s opening stop for his “Torpedo of Truth” tour in Detroit on Saturday has been almost universally declared a disaster. Late start time, terrible opening act. Incoherent meanderings, pointless video clips. Booing, walk-outs, demands for refunds.

He even reminded the increasingly hostile audience at one point that they had agreed to pay money for tickets to a show before they knew anything about it. Indeed they had. I’ll get into that point in a moment.

In response, during the the second stop on the tour in Chicago the following night, the “show” was revamped completely. The entire show was now Sheen being interviewed by a DJ. And so, it would seem, the audience, (some of whom showed up with the hopes of seeing a Detroit style train wreck) was far more accepting. Though it seems Sheen himself was a bit unhappy with the change of format at times.

I don’t know what Sheen’s deal is. Drugs. Mental illness. Or a genius for marketing by use of a grand hoax ala Joaquin Phoenix. I think there is ample evidence for any of the above options, frankly. But based on the nature of the Detroit show at least, I don’t consider the evidence for lunacy to be overwhelming yet. Frankly, I don’t even think, as many seem to, that Detroit proves he has no idea how to put on a show. We can easily read about what happened and throw what we consider some truth right back at the “Torpedo of Truth”, assured in our knowledge that what he did was bound to fail. But was it?

I think the whole thing really is an excellent field study on the entertainment consumption habits of our society.

To begin with, I think Sheen, in whatever state of mental health he is in, honestly had every right to assume that people who paid all that money to see “Torpedo” would love what he was doing. Even if it was half-assed and thrown together at last minute. It was after all basically the same sort of thing he has been doing since this alleged meltdown began. Weird rambling monologues. Women making out. YouTube videos. It seems that the stage show was in fact a visual, live reproduction of the frantic stream of consciousness of Sheen’s mind that caused so many people to watch his internet streams, and follow him on Twitter. The very same sort of thing that led people to buy a ticket to “Torpedo” in the first place. Why shouldn’t people have loved it? If Sheen is asking this question now, I can’t say as I blame him much.

Let’s face it; people enjoy paying money for some weird and lame, and even hostile garbage. Andy Kaufman made a career of pulling antagonistic, at times rambling and certainly nonsensical stunts on stage and people booed and yet loved him for it. Snooki’s book is a best seller. There are the inexplicable cult followings of trash like The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension, a movie so obviously inept, unprofessional and void of story, purpose, theme, structure, coherence, and at times even proper lighting, that it does not in the strictest definition even qualify as a movie.

So I think the line between Charlie Sheen’s opening of “Torpedo” in Detroit, which was vilified, and the examples I give above which are lauded by considerable numbers of people, is a very thin one. Obviously “Torpedo” was torpedoed. Yet I have to think that in an alternate universe not too far from our own, (as in perhaps just one universe over) Sheen’s opening in Detroit would have been a smash hit. If he hadn’t been late, they might have loved it. If he had opened in say, Austin instead of Detroit, they may have loved it. If any one single random thing had been different, the entire affair may have caught the very same invisible wave of mass audience adoration that carries people like Dane Cook into inexplicable stardom.

In other words, it is easy to say the show was absurd, now that it has failed. But we, the American public have foisted similar or even worse fare into our collective greatest hits album. And just when we think we can define what is and is not likely to be a blockbuster, something comes along and changes the game again. Either because it failed, or because it succeeded.

The truth is, we really have no idea why the media/arts/entertainment consuming masses propel one book, act, scandal, celebrity or stage show into oblivion, and another into immortality. We haven’t the slightest clue what we want. At times I think the best anyone can do is watch what people follow, and then either follow the pack, or run fast enough to get to the head of same. And even once there, you may get trampled.

I am no fan of the crap Charlie Sheen has been doing the last few months, whatever its cause. I wouldn’t have paid money for his live show. I wouldn’t have enjoyed it. However I am withholding the tiniest amount of judgment about the show’s flopping, because society has proven over and over again that there was every reason to believe the show could have worked without the slightest alteration.

Sheen is reported to have yelled back at a heckler in Detroit,

“I’ve already got your money, dude!”

That may be the most significant and telling observation of the entire thing.


  1. Anonymous

    Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts

  2. Being a Michigander, I can honestly say that Sheen choosing to launch his tour from Motor City could have been one of the reasons the audience didn't love him. Detroit is the home of Kid Rock and Eminem – an infamous rock(-ish?) playboy and a rebel who breaks rules so one would think Detroit would love Charlie. But Kid and Em are real performers – not actors just ranting incoherently. The more structured format of Chicago's show would have likely been better received in Detroit, too.

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