Lou Wall’s hilarious recounting of how they tried to join the Illuminati is only the beginning of a story about human loneliness, says Anne-Marie Peard
Coping – or not coping – in lockdown was the inevitable theme of this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival. After all, the 2020 festival was cancelled, and we spent a year inside. After Lou Wall cancelled Lousical the Musical last year and made a magnificent dress out of their useless flyers, they disappeared from social media. Turns out that they’d gone incognito and tried to join The Illuminati.
From Wall’s 2017 solo musical comedy shows to being in the queer musical Romeo is not the only fruit and curating the Melbourne Fringe hit Lou Wall’s Drag Race, Wall has gathered critical love to have quotes for years and enough fans to sell out any new work.
In That One Time I Joined the Illuminati, Wall wears loose, faded jeans with a black Illuminati t-shirt. Their only prop is a tv to show a PowerPoint display. It’s far from their silver-sequined, fabulously loud and glorious Drag Race persona. Yet it feels right in the Storyville nightclub/theatre with its décor of giant books. With titles like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Alice in Wonderland and On the Road, the vibe is “I’m groovy and open minded but I read books before I believe internet memes”: so it’s very unlikely that anyone from The Illuminati is in the room.
Wall’s conspiracy-theory obsession began with an uncle coming out as a flat earther. There’s another story waiting to be told there. All it takes to find out about the Illuminati is putting “Hail the Light” into Google. In two and a half hours, Wall had gathered 72 WhatsApp numbers, 473 Instagram accounts, 163 Facebook groups and three library books related to The Illuminati. Surely, they thought, this was going to be easy to crack – until they hit the deeper pages of The Illuminati site, which were password protected.
Illuminati histories agree that the group was founded in Bavaria in 1776. As Wall had been to Bavaria, they knew that the connection must be more than a coincidence. When an online stranger told them to look for triangles – the Illuminati symbol is a triangle with an eye in the middle – Wall knew to they had to keep going because they pooed a triangle (there’s a photo), bought a triangle-shaped pie and was triaged (close enough) in hospital.
This is all told through a boppy-rap mini-concert with rhymes about chronic, ironic and yonic fatigue that are so hilariously perfect that it’s easy to forget that they’re singing about being exhausted, not finding anything funny and not being interested in sex.
Of course, reading about how all pigeons are robots and the Queen is a lizard person and why Covid-19 was released by Disney to improve subscriptions is more fun than being sick. And that’s before the hours that can be spent reading about every celebrity who’s a member; there’s a long verse listing them.
Wall spent months trying to get into The Illuminati. When their house was identified in a tweet, they didn’t stop digging; it was time for a burner phone and a VPN. They went on a failed date to meet a Grandmaster in Box Hill – turned out that he wasn’t. They slipped into the DMs of 173 celebrities, were invited to a Zoom meeting of local members, tried to get anti-vaxxers to miss a rally by having a birthday party, read The Da Vinci Code – something that no one not living in 2003 deserves – and met Deborah.
Deborah is an admin for an official Illuminati group. Lou’s choice of verbatim lyrics of the “Deborah conversations” should be played before anyone clicks on a “why not” Facebook quiz. Deborah didn’t check her spelling, didn’t understand what Wall meant by “homo” and promised them $US109 million a month (less a $40 upkeep fee) in exchange for $70. To get this, she talked to “Louiser” for hours. More than 3000 hours.
In an almost a throwaway line, Wall reminds us this was mostly happening when they were in hospital, in a psychiatric ward. Wall spent over 3000 hours talking to an obvious scammer because the mental health system was failing them.
Deborah was as real as The Illuminati, but Deborah listened. Wall’s compelling story is easy to enjoy as a ridiculously fun exposé of a group that doesn’t exist. But it’s not about The Illuminati. That’d be too easy. And it’s not about anyone who believes in them. Wall knew Deborah was a scammer, but kept talking to her .
With its pop music, cutsie animated dancing Lous, and jaw-aching laughs, this show doesn’t feel personal – but Wall shares a trauma so deeply personal that it reaches into our hearts without being noticed. The last time I felt so devastated after a comedy show was the first time I saw Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette. Maybe laughing in a room with friends and strangers is a way to recognise our own Deborahs and understand that thousands of hours isn’t lost time.
That One Time I Joined the Illuminati is about how easy it is to trust and hope, even when we know it’s not based on truth. It’s about being heard when it feels like no one is listening. It’s about wanting to be accepted into that secret club which everyone else seems to be part of, so that your life can make sense and the inexplicable hurt can stop. Maybe that’s worth getting your PayPal account drained. Maybe.
It only took me three minutes to find Deborah on Facebook. In another minute I’d found an Illuminati page with the tag: “Initiation Satanic group, Strictly for serious people”. They are offering $80,000,000 a week. I’m a serious person and I’ve got spare time…
That One Time I Joined The Illuminati byLou Wall, Storyville Melbourne, Melbourne International Comedy Festival.