By Serene Dominic
It's odd that the initials of Donald Thomas Roth's chosen stage name spell out SAD because Space Alien Donald in performance was nothing but unrestrained joy. Most of us have probably met him where he had the home court advantage, at Funny World, the house he purchased on 12th Street and Madison, which he made into a downtown arts and performance venue in 2011. There, in what would have probably been someone else's boring living room, you could see him and countless other performers do the thing which would have made them Class 1A weirdos somewhere else. The property was supposed to be leveled after six months but through divine, maybe alien intervention, Funny World has lasted all this time and hosted more than 80 shows.
No matter how long it lasts, it will be a monument to Space Alien Donald, who died in his sleep on April 20. He was 79.
In human years, anyway.
Having already dubbed himself Space Alien, the 70-year-old didn't feel that he needed to also include his longer moniker,"The World's Oldest Gay Canadian Rapper," perhaps surmising that being Canadian was alien enough for most people. With a head-plate festooned with pastel-colored spikes, alien sunglasses and maybe a festive planet print dress, Space Age Donald would rap old-school over a primitive beat box that looked like a Radio Shack tape recorder. What might pass for rap in outer space sounded more like talk-sing to earthlings. No matter. The subject matter could be about how ugly robots shouldn't have sex or the prehistoric history of cell phones but it was always something meant to amuse.
And it did.
Donald was from the era when that's what performers were supposed to do — bring a smile to your face as opposed to the modern blueprint of an artist who sneers at his audience and takes their money without regrets. There is no doubt in this context alone that this septuagenarian had a profound influence over groups like Hug of War, Treasure MammaL, Father's Day, Diners, Dogbreth and Dinosaur Love. And the benefits were mutual, as being surrounded by so many 20-somethings this late in the game probably added a couple of years to his earth-bound life.
Hug of War's Jason Kron, who lived with Donald at Funny World, wrote in a Facebook post after the news broke that Donald was like "a father to me and a grandfather to my daughter. I constantly wanted his approval. He's been more influential to me than anyone I've ever known, and will continue to be a huge influence and inspiration to me for the rest of my life."
"As well-known and well-regarded as he was" he continues, "most knew him as merely an oddity and did not get to really know him. Those who did regularly have real conversations with him constantly learned new things about him. He despised all government and dreamed of a world of peace. He viewed the little details of the world with a fascination that I've never seen in another adult. He was incredibly generous and took care of the people he considered friends, because that's just what space aliens do. And when saying or doing anything, he did not for one second consider what others thought of him. We can all learn a lot from this."
Tyler Blue Broderick of Diners, "Living at Funny World will always be a highlight of my life. Donald was happy to meet everyone who attended a show at Funny World and he was supportive of everyone's art. He never stopped offering advice and he was adamant that we drop the things that make us unhappy so we could achieve our dreams. He is an inspiration to all humans and Earth was lucky to have him around."
Ryan Avery of Drunk and Horny and Father's Day says "Space Alien Donald was one of the first people I wanted to release music from when I started Related Records. But when I asked him he said 'Ahhh, no one wants to hear that.' Almost a year later, Jason Kron finally persuaded him to record an album's worth of material, although there is more that he has written. I am told that when he was recording, he insisted on every song being one take."
That album turned out to be last year's "Must Be Funny," which you can stream or download from Related Records.
Artist Daniel Funkhouser, who lives at Funny World and painted the venue's distinctive name on a carport wall outside the house, wrote a tribute on Space Alien Donald's Facebook page that said " I loved being around him because he constantly surprised me and it was impossible to guess what he'd think about anything.... We went to an art show last year where a performance artist asked him, 'What age are you deep inside?' Without hesitation Donald said 21. I love this memory of him."
Musician Ray Reeves admits "My last album would not have been possible with out him giving me free rent, so I could afford studio time. He was a brave soul, a nice man. I hope I am as cool as that, when I'm that old. "
One thing I always wondered was the talk of Donald being a "backyard scientist" and that Funny World would also be a place where he could conduct physics and gravity experiments. Was this part of Donald's story more alien shtick than reality? Ryan Avery sets me straight. "He had a laboratory set up in the front room of his house on Brill Street for years. He put it all away a few months ago I guess. "
Human gravity weighed heavy on Donald in his last months, having lost the ability to walk early this year and undergoing three major surgeries. But he handled death with the incredible lightness of being. According to Kron, "He spent his last waking moments doing the things he loved most: reading and eating ice cream."
For those who never experienced Space Alien Donald, this video directed by Ben Kitnick captures him at his best.
Travel easy, Space Alien Donald. Your "Not Yet Funny" button will never leave my lapel.
A show Space Alien Donald would've gone to this weekend.
Friday April 24 - Father's Day at Trunk Space
It's the eighth album from Douglas Patton and his charges entitled "That's It!" probably the last word you heard from your abusive dad before losing consciousness. Supporting them will be the Freaks of Nature, Big Vinny and the Cattle Thieves, Mooseknuckle Sandwich and Dinosaur Love. Here's a jazzy track from the album, available on Related Records, which emphatically states that Doug will never take his kids to Disney World. Disneyland, maybe. But not Disney World.