Joe The Awkward Comedian:
Since 2004 I have been performing in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and rural North Carolina as “Joe The Awkward Comedian.” I am interested in the curious bleed that has been occurring in New York recently between these two disciplines: performance art, and comedy. How does comedy, and a broader all-inclusive sense of humor, function within the often-insular self-serious art world? Can comedy propose grave questions about the art market, status, establishing one’s “brand,” and contemporary art’s meaning and purpose?
My work in the standup comedy field explores context and delivery, venue and audience, and disassembles notions of identity, creative ownership, and writer/performer. I currently reside in New York and engage artistically and professionally with both the gallery community and the alternative comedy scene. One aspect desired in this ongoing performance experiment is a mutability of persona: I write jokes, but the character—Joe The Awkward Comedian—can be embodied by anyone. For instance, I once bribed a homeless man to perform my jokes on stage by purchasing him a fifth of whiskey upon his request. I like investigating these types of collaborations within a form—standup—known primarily for individualism.
I am interested in the affect of formalized humor—put simply, “the way jokes sound”: how emphasis on a certain word can kill or save a joke. Having different people tell my jokes generates undiscovered nuances, and new forms of delivery. I also like confusing creative ownership, similar to how it was assumed Tony Clifton was Andy Kaufman in disguise—sometimes it was, but on other occasions the character was his collaborator Bob Zmuda; one never really knew. Such ambiguity shifts an uncomfortable portion of the responsibility for the joke, for the desired outcome of a laugh, onto the audience. Likewise, I am interested in “Joe The Awkward Comedian” being like a suit that different people try on.
Investigating unusual methods to document and capture live audience reception has become integral to my practice. Within this, there is further interruption between the performer/audience membrane: the performance is being documented, but in a manner that makes the audience self-conscious; this, in turn, affects the performance; a recursive loop forms: “I know I’m supposed to laugh, but being recorded makes me uncomfortable… Do I laugh?”
My comedic site-specific intervention examines these variables between audience and context. In this city-immersive experiment, my historical narrative has precedents in Marcel Duchamp’s implied investigations from the 1917 urinal: R. Mutt’s “fountain” used deadpan humor to show the creative act within pointing at something. Similarly, the-joke-as-told-by-Joe-The-Awkward-Comedian functions as an appropriated found object. My work, like Richard Prince’s ‘joke paintings,’ Mike Smith’s character videos, and “Nathan For You,” posits that within the interstice of high-brow art and low-brow comedy there is transformation. Different public venues—a grocery store, a comedy club, an art gallery—affect one’s understanding of performance. And the safe distance of video documentation—the authorial control and manipulation of video in general—allows art viewers and makers to be saved from the discomforting awkwardness, and unpredictable risk, involved with live comedy.
Works cataloged on this site aren’t meant to operate as individual static pieces; rather, each work serves as a brief stopping point – a momentary gesture on a larger intangible canvas.
Some of my visual-based creations have taken the form of “sculpturepaintings” – works mounted on the wall and composed of found objects, signs, and pictures. In many of these works, the found components are set in juxtaposition with other spontaneous sculptures and paintings made alone or in collaboration with friends. The transitory nature of the materials – a tattered red beach umbrella, a rusty basketball rim, a forlorn plastic rocking horse – situate themselves as a direct and meditative pause on the beauty of nature’s life cycles.
Primarily, I’m interested in the way time affects objects – the positive and negative aesthetics of time’s agency. My commitment has been towards relating the ephemeral nature of matter to the temporal ontology of art’s indefinite footprint. To this end, my practice in performance works to straddle this gap: illustrating the intrinsic linkage between process and product.