Liar, liar, pants on fire

“Describe the kiss in great detail and the way it made you feel.”

It would normally be a strange thing for someone to shout across a crowded pub, but this is no ordinary night. More than 60 people from across Tokyo have gathered here on a mission — to expose the fabricator in their midst.

Welcome to the Perfect Liars Club. Four “suspects” get up on stage and describe a wild or wonderful story that may have happened in their lives. One of them is fibbing.

The whole truth? On stage at the Perfect Liars Club’s Tokyo launch on Thursday 6 October are (left to right) Marlene, Layla (organiser), Chris, Vipasha and Craig.

The whole truth? On stage at the Perfect Liars Club’s Tokyo launch on Thursday 6 October are (left to right) Marlene, Layla (organiser), Chris, Vipasha and Craig.

The audience — who must eventually give their verdict — are told at the outset to be on guard for any signs of subterfuge.

“You can enjoy it a little bit,” quips the host, Layla McCay, a Scottish storyteller who launched the concept in Washington DC three years ago and now wants to replicate the success in Tokyo. “But you need to be on alert at all times.”

Marlene is the first suspect to take the stage at Good Heavens, a British pub in Setagaya ward, at the launch event on Thursday. She opens the batting by describing her avian nightmare. She had been persuaded to feed the seagulls at a coastal restaurant in the United States — only to experience an attack from behind. One of the critters had gotten its legs stuck in her hair.

“My irrational fear of birds suddenly became very rational,” she says. “I was now in a fight for my life.”

Marlene tells of her desperate struggle to dislodge the creature; her subsequent fear that she had killed it (it was fine); the restaurant manager’s reprimand for hassling the birds; and her discovery when she went to the bathroom that her ruffled hair continued to harbour a pointy seagull feather. “It’s time to go — grab the calamari,” she told her friend.

When the time comes for questions, the audience proves it is no pushover.

What was the name of the improvisational show Marlene participated in immediately before the bird attack? How much money did it raise? Wait, what year was the incident? How can it have had happened a fair while ago, like she says, if the friend had taken photos on a “smartphone”? If Marlene hates birds so much, how come her bracelet has an owl on it? (There is a scandalous “oooooh” from the crowd at that last one. Marlene insists she’s not so bothered by owls and appreciates them as the Athenian symbol of wisdom. Hmmm. Truth or lie? We’ll find out later.)

Second suspect Chris takes the audience back to his high school years in Bartonville, a small village in Illinois. Chris, 15 at the time, was a studious “do-gooder” who couldn’t believe his luck when Bob, an exceptionally handsome classmate, asked for assistance with his Spanish studies.

One day, Bob told Chris something that got his hopes up: “I found something really cool in a corn field and I want to show you.”

In that sort of small rural town in the 1980s, it would have been difficult for two teenage boys to talk openly about any romantic feelings they had for each other — but Chris thought this farmyard rendezvous might be a moment when they could share a special moment away from prying eyes.

In fact, Bob led Chris to a small cannabis plantation hidden among the maize crops. Chris says they started stuffing their pockets with as much as possible, but were startled to hear a man shout: “Hey, what the hell are you kids doing?” Chris says they then heard the noise of a shotgun firing and the two boys ran back to one of their homes and hid in the basement.

When the fear subsided, Bob fetched some paper to attempt to use to roll some joints. Chris says they thought they got so high that day, but it was just a placebo effect (they apparently tried to smoke the leaves, rather than the buds). In any case, it seemed enough of an excuse for the pair to seize the moment.

“That was my first kiss,” Chris tells the audience, to cheers.

Chris faces a sustained interrogation about his account. When pressed to recount the peck in more detail, he demurs. (“I’m blushing.”) If he was such a great Spanish student, how would he say he was ‘really high’? (“Estoy muy elevado.”) What happened the next day in class? (“We pretended like it never happened.”) There are many logistical queries about the paper and the puffs, and then: “Can you describe the hot guy a wee bit more?”

***

The final two stories are about medical maladies and police pressure.

Vipasha, a London law graduate, recalls how her new Birkenstocks cut her feet soon after she arrived in Argentina to work for a non-government organisation. She tried to shrug off the worsening pain until a friend noticed her “giant elephant feet” and dragged her to a Buenos Aires hospital. She lay on the examination table as the doctor prodded her (“everything hurts”). Finally, she says, the doctor pulled out a big red marker and drew a circle around each ankle. A nurse returned from another room with a tray holding a chainsaw. But the threatened amputation turned out to be some kind of sick joke. (Vipasha says it shows doctors can have a sense of humour; the audience demands specifics about the chainsaw.)

Craig, then, tells of an encounter with an Australian cop as he was driving his punk group home after a gig when he was 19. Suspect number four paints a picture of a car loaded up with musical equipment and band members, including a friend with a yellow mohawk and a pink-haired mate who was asleep in the back with drool running down the window. The police officer who pulled them over completed a series of checks before sending them on their way.

After dropping off one of the friends, Craig was intercepted by the same officer, who said he had forgotten to check the car registration last time. Unfortunately, it had expired. The man would allow Craig to drive to the nearby friend’s house, but not all the way home to his place. After a planning session at the friend’s house, a few coffees and a quick nap, they decided to risk encountering the cop a third time and used a very long route to drive home. (The Perfect Liars Club audience demands the names of some of the band’s songs and an impromptu singing performance to verify his sincerity. Oh, and how could he have napped after having three coffees?)

The citizen jury is allotted three minutes of thinking time and then they must vote on who is the liar. Chris, the kiss-and-tell participant, attracts the most doubters. “You’re all cynics,” he says after 25 people raise their hands. This result is closely followed by the seagull chaser, Marlene, with 22 sceptics. By comparison, Vipasha (eight) and Craig (seven) are judged to be the most trustworthy.

Finally, Chris steps forward to reveal himself as the deceiver-in-chief. He had made the whole story up: the supposed drugs discovery and the subsequent first kiss were a work of fiction. Because he was sprung, Chris is anointed the club’s “first official hopeless liar”.

Chris recants his story.

Chris recants his story.

Layla McCay, who plans to organise such events every month but with new stories, says she couldn’t be happier with the launch. She says the concept became a “huge underground hit” in the US and she believes there is adequate demand for English spoken word events in Tokyo.

“I think that it’s not so much the lying but trying to catch a liar that’s fun,” she tells me.
“It’s actually pretty rare to catch the liar. I would say that in Washington maybe about 15% of the time they caught the liar, so people did well tonight.
“Everyone was engaged. There was a great energy in the room. People had excellent questions. They were really shrewd.”