New York Times feature today describing an exhibit of his personal artifacts (complete with appearances by friends and family) that is a kind of meditation on his "art." There don't seem to be any quote marks in the minds of those who organized the show. Reporter writes:
If audiences became disgruntled by his failure to amuse, he might burst
into tears, his cries and shrieks becoming increasingly incoherent and
rhythmic until he suddenly started expertly accompanying his vocals on
conga drums. He often seemed like a straight man with no partner. His
ineffective jokes and weird stunts are seen as an offshoot of Conceptual
art, performance art and the interactive strategies of relational aesthetics.
When we tackle the sitcom next week, we will talk about the difficulty of defining comedy. Certainly one way of looking at laughter is as response to dissonance, something that is out of tune with our expectations and at the same time benign, not sudden death but sudden silly. I thought of Kaufman as a comic who exaggerated the unexpected, who bent it so far that sometimes the tension and confusion were so deep we lacked the confidence to laugh - and then the laughter came when he dialed it back to more conventional comedy and we were relieved. And certainly part of my pleasure in him was the idea - when he was reading from Gatsby is an example - that I got him while others didn't even if I wasn't sure what it was I got. Oh Robertson you old hipster, so eager to laugh at others for not getting the joke, not getting that in fact it is a joke even if it's not exactly funny, i.e., laugh worthy.
Comedy sans laughter? Too deep for the kids? Too deep for me!
Saturday, February 9, 2013
Andy Kaufman Died 29 Years Ago
J. Michael Robertson directs the journalism program in the Department of Media Studies at the University of San Francisco. He was an editor/staff writer at the San Francisco Chronicle, 1980-1991, and Atlanta Magazine, 1976-1980. He received a Ph.D. in English Literature from Duke University in 1972.
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