Big Underwear rolls into Warren; free show Sunday


It may run on diesel, but what really powers Brady Bradshaw and Irmi Spiegel’s giant 40-foot tour bus is Big Underwear.

The two are jugglers, fire dancers, acrobats, comedians, hustlers, life partners and disciples of working less and playing more, and they just steered their enormous ex-Seattle Transit Authority bus into Warren after a drive of 2,000 miles from Texas. Mr. Bradshaw lived in Warren for years before moving to Oregon about five ago, and he’s in town to catch up with family and old friends. While they’re here they will play a free  show in Warren this coming Sunday, Oct. 28 (see bottom).

That they’re stopping to relax is a change for the two, who bought the bus from an old circus friend in 2008 and promptly set about converting it into a traveling home. They outfitted it with a many as a dozen bunks, a retractable awning, a 1920s gas stove converted to propane, a fridge, sink and toilet, and Mr. Bradshaw’s endless collection of trinkets, shells, circus posters and detritus from the road. The bus now has close to 600,000 miles on it and while it’s big, “it’s such a smooth ride,” Mr. Bradshaw marvels.

Over the past couple of years, the two have driven a seemingly endless loop from his home base in Oregon to Central America and back, stopping in countless towns in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama to park the bus, have a look, pull out their props, clean up trash they find and play free variety shows, usually in the town square. The Big Underwear Social Tour, as their journey is called, has at times had as many as 14 performers, all traveling together on the bus. There were jugglers, accordion players, trapeze artists, magicians and more. When there were guests, they were likely to pitch a tent or two on the bus’s rooftop platform and travel up there, too, if space was too tight inside.

“It was interesting. it got a little crazy at times,” said Mr. Bradshaw, who also goes by the stage name Bobarino Gravittini. “It became kind of a reality show, because we never should have had that many people in there. It was more intense than anyone ever expected.”

Big Underwear

Wherever they go, the performers preach Big Underwear, an all-encompassing “religion” that Mr. Bradshaw said has guided him for 25 years. Essentially, Big Underwear says that we wear our true nature under our skin, or “big” underwear, in the form of our souls, and that our destiny is to lighten up and try to be happy. Making sense is optional, but fulfillment isn’t. He explains it thus:

“The power is not serious but rather humorous, and thus extremely serious and not funny at all. Whenever we realize that nothing, including mainstream religion, is sacred, the Big Underwear shows us that everything is sacred. Thus while most people believe one has to make a certain amount of sense when one does something, we believe the opposite.”

Piloting the old bus in Central America was an experience even for Mr. Bradshaw, who has spent years touring Europe and Asia as a street and festival performer specializing in juggling, comedy, balancing and fire. Nothing is concrete once you hit Mexico south, from negotiating with officials to getting through a border crossing without hassles. But one you learn the norms, he said, you’re fine.

“We’d roll into a place, and someone would go out and look for a mayor and we’d get permission to play,” he said. “We’d get electricity and a bathroom, sometimes water if we were lucky and we would just camp out there for a few days, setting the show up, breaking the show down. We had T-shirts to sell, and that and passing the hat, that’s generally the only way we made our money. People would bring us donations, too — rice, beans, bananas, Coca Cola, water. The people were great.”

The most recent tour ended in April. After parking the bus at a friend’s in Texas, they flew to Europe to travel and perform in festivals for the summer. Now, they’re planning a new Social Tour for 2013, and Mr. Bradshaw has big plans. 

"We may even put the bus on a boat in Panama and ferry it over to South America,” he said. “It may not even be feasible with this bus, because it’s such a humongous bus and I’m not even a mechanic. But we’ve had good luck so far.”

The show

Always at Mr. Bradshaw’s side is Irmi (short for Irmtraud) Spiegel, a German acrobat and fire dancer who he met while performing in Europe years ago.

“She’s with me all the time; we’re inseparable,” he said. “She’s the backbone of any Bobarino Gravittini project.”

The two work together seamlessly, and have the same sense of humor; that is, twisted. During the Warren Walkabout last Sunday, they strapped on their “Fartso” costumes and set out to promote next week’s show, passing out flyers and leaflets to Walkabout visitors. They were hard to miss, not only because the costumes are bright red and yellow with enormous rear ends, but also because each had a very bad case of flatulence — if you see them in their Fartso suits, you'll understand.

Their shows can tend to go the same way. Nothing is sacred, and audience members invariably find themselves the butt of Mr. Bradshaw’s jokes — or thrust into the bits themselves. Audience participation is key, he said, and though people are sometimes shy most shake it off and love it. The shows run from kid-friendly to risqué (Sunday's is a family-friendly event) but the point of all of them is the same, he said: Spread the gospel of Big Underwear.

“We’re trying to inspire people to be a little bit lighter about work, religion, philosophy,” he said. “It’s such a beautiful world, it’s so amazing. We shouldn’t be so caught up in things.” “We’ve made this conscious choice to duck out on the side and play the margins, and we’re really fortunate. I’m pretty content with this bus. We have all we need. If I was going to try to tell anyone anything, it would be, try to find happiness with whatever you are doing.”

The show

Brady Bradshaw and Irmi Spiegel will play a free family Big Underwear show at 4:30 p.m. this coming Sunday, Oct. 28, in the courtyard behind Cutler Mills in Warren (use the 30 Cutler St. entrance to the mill). Mr. Bradshaw and Ms. Spiegel plan to pull out the stops and may have a musical opener, as well as guests artists, performing. The show is free, and they're selling custom underwear made for them for the Big Underwear Social Tour. The show will be held rain or shine.



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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.