Andy Kaufman Reads Earnestly from The Great Gatsby and Enrages His Audience

In a 1980 appearance on David Letterman, a deadpan Andy Kaufman tells a sob story about his nonexistent family leaving him. He then “admonishes the audience for laughing,” writes William Hughes at the AV Club, and panhandles for their spare change. “The genius of the bit, as always, is that Kaufman never blinks. Even as he’s led away by the show’s staff, there’s nothing about his unemotional entreaties that suggests that what he’s doing isn’t anything but the sober-cold truth.”

He pulled a similar stunt the following year, in a guest appearance on a short-lived SNL knockoff called Fridays. After belligerently breaking character during a sketch, he appeared the following week to deliver an apology, which became a bitter, sad sack appeal for sympathy, while he stared blankly at the camera in what his writing partner Bob Zmuda called his “glazed-over hostage look.” Kaufman was “more of an antagonist of his audience than an ally,” Jake Rossen comments at Mental Floss.

Rather than punching up or down, he punched out, openly exploiting our trust and abusing our patience. Kaufman invited us to mock him, only to reroute our responses into empathy, anger, confusion, or boredom. “Many crowds had streamed into comedy clubs only to endure Kaufman napping in a sleeping bag,” writes Rossen, “or reading earnestly from The Great Gatsby, threatening to start all over again if they interrupted.” Once given a choice between him reading or playing a record, a nightclub chose the record. “It was the sound of Kaufman reading.”

Just what is the proper response to this? The emotional misdirection works so well because we know we should react a certain way, for example, to a broken man in great distress—whether he’s asking for spare change or looking for all the world like a kidnap victim. In his Gatsby reading, Kaufman pulls a different lever—drawing on our innate sense of decorum during a literary event, one conducted by a vaguely European-sounding man in a tuxedo, no less. He incites his audience by making them laugh at a situation they would, in its proper context, try to take seriously.

In the clip of Kaufman reading Gatsby at the top, he begins with a couple ruses and feints: playing a snippet of a record that makes us think we might be in for a Mighty Mouse-like routine, introducing himself as an actor who plays a screwball American comic named Andy Kaufman. Once he launches into Gatsby, however, and it becomes clear he isn’t going to stop, that the reading is the act, the audience becomes incensed, expressing a palpable sense of betrayal.

You came for comedy, he tells them in his Letterman and Fridays bits; I’m going to give you humanity. You came for comedy, he announces in the Gatsby reading; I’m going to give you culture, whether you want it or not. But it's not me who's misbehaving, he says (in diabolical versions of "stop hitting yourself"), it's you. In the clip above from Man on the Moon, Jim Carrey draws out the passive aggressive impulses inherent in these maneuvers, showing Andy breaking out Gatsby as an act of retaliation against a crowd who demands that he entertain them on their terms.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Andy Kaufman Creates Mayhem on Late Night TV: When Comedy Becomes Performance Art (1981)

While there are many styles of comedy, the contract between comedian and audience is a fairly standard one. The comedian endeavors to get laughs. The audience understands that sort of currency, and is eager to lavish it on deserving candidates.

The late Andy Kaufman wasn’t much interested in that sort of exchange.

His comedy was experimental to the point of performance art, and often felt experimental in a scientific sense as well. When he read long passages from The Great Gatsby to comedy club audiences, went after professional wrestlers twice his size, or insisted he’d found Jesus and gotten engaged to a Lawrence Welk Show singer, it was as if he was conducting a stress test. How much disorientation would an audience put up with?

He was a genuine weirdo. The genius kid who seems hellbent on winning the animosity of his classmates with his cryptic remarks and odd behavior.

Knowing young comedy fans who idolize prankster Sacha Baron Cohen’s shapeshifting stunts may find it hard to appreciate just how unsettling the off-kilter Kaufman could be.

Witness his 1981 guest spot on Fridays, a rival network’s short-lived attempt to duplicate Saturday Night Live’s success.

In the sketch above, Kaufman wanders pretty egregiously afield of expected conduct. In an era where guest stars appeared not infrequently bombed out of their gourds, it wasn’t entirely surprising that one might appear confused, or have trouble reading cue cards. But Kaufman seemed to be making a deliberate choice to scupper his career, or at the very least, the goodwill of Fridays’ cast and crew, by refusing to play along in a sketch about restaurant patrons sneaking off to the bathroom to get high.

“I can’t play stoned,” he breaks character to announce, mid-scene. Hmm. Seems like the kind of thing one might bring up during the table read. An a-hole would wait till dress rehearsal, when such a move would for sure inspire the enmity of cast and crew. Kaufman waited till the sketch was being taped in front of a live studio audience.

But then, Kaufman’s experiments needed an audience to succeed.

As with Sacha Baron Cohen’s elaborate ruses, it helped to limit the number of people who were in on the joke.

Actor Melanie Chartoff recalled how she and Kaufman’s other two scene partners, Mary Edith Burrell and Seinfeld’s Michael Richards, were tipped off fairly late in the process by producer/announcer Jack Burns, who was thrilled to snap up the live wire whose antics had permanently burned his bridges with Saturday Night Live:

Andy's gonna bust out of the show tonight," he gleamed. "He's gonna mess up and break the fourth wall from the top of the monologue. It's gonna be great. It's gonna kick our ratings through the ROOF!

And so it did, abetted by benighted crew members who sprang to provide back up, when a furious-seeming Burns stormed the set as if to kick the ornery guest star’s ass.

But the piece de resistance came the following week, when producer John Moffitt went on air to satisfy the public’s need to know, confessing that the stunt was indeed a fake and piously suggesting they should take it as a reminder of the “spontaneity of live television, something that rarely happens in this basically passive medium today.”

Then Kaufman—who genuinely hated that his sleight of hand had been revealed—turned on Moffitt for the halting, miserable, and seemingly forced 4 minute apology below.

When the live audience laughed delightedly, he lashed out, insisting that his previous week’s actions were about to cost him his gig on the hit sitcom Taxi, all future roles, a number of friendships, and his marriage.

Never mind that he was unmarried.

This comedian played a long game, and easy laughs were never the goal.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC this December for the 10th anniversary production of Greg Kotis’ apocalyptic holiday tale, The Truth About Santa, and the next monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Two Cats Keep Trying to Get Into a Japanese Art Museum … and Keep Getting Turned Away: Meet the Thwarted Felines, Ken-chan and Go-chan

Paging director Hayao Miyazaki.

A compelling subject for a feature length animation is hanging around the sliding glass doors of Hiroshima Prefecture’s Onomichi City Museum of Art.

In June of 2016, a black tomcat started showing up at the museum on the regular, for reasons unknown.

Those open to the sort of narrative whimsy at which Miyazaki excels might choose to believe that the beast was drawn by a cat-themed exhibit of work by noted wildlife photographer and filmmaker Mitsuaki Iwago, a portion of which would have been visible to him through the modern building’s large glass windows.

Whatever his reasons, the cat, Ken-chan, whose owners run a nearby restaurant, was refused entry by a white-gloved security guard and other staffers, whose efforts to send him on his way started blowing up the Internet shortly after his first appearance.

Eventually, Ken-chan started bringing back-up in the form of a well-mannered orange tomcat the museum staff dubbed Go-chan.

Their visits have proved to be a boon for both the small museum and the city they call home.

The New York Public Library has its lions.

Boston’s Public Garden has its ducks.

Onomichi and its small art museum have Ken-chan and Go-chan, whose Internet fame is quickly outpacing the supply of commemorative tote bags, below.

Tender hearted fans bombard the museum’s Twitter account with requests to grant the feline pair entry, but the museum brass is wisely prioritizing dramatic tension over consummation.

Meanwhile, officials in Zelenogradsk, a Russian resort town boasting both a cat museum and giant cat street monument have invited Ken-chan, Go-chan, and museum staff to be their guests in March, for a cat-centric holiday celebration.

For now, Ken-chan and Go-chan are sticking close to home, alternately entertaining and disappointing visitors who show up, camera in hand, hoping to catch them in the act.

Armchair travelers can enjoy a cat’s eye view tour of Onomichi, thanks to Google Street View-style 360-degree camera technology.

And photographer Iwago shares some pro advice for anyone seeking to capture feline subjects:

…male cats are easier to photograph. Male cats seem to have more latitude and leisure in their lives. Because females do things such as raise the kittens, they concentrate more on what goes on around them. Because males are out on patrol, it is more likely that you will encounter them. Because they have the free time, they’ll let you hang out and photograph them.

Depending on the cat, there are a number of ways to get a cat’s attention. For example, when it’s starting to get dark out, you need to use a lower shutter speed. However, this means that the cat will be blurry if it moves. To avoid this, in such situations, I say to the cat, ‘Stop, hold your breath!’ At that instant, when the cat is frozen, I snap the picture. When you speak out to a cat, they get the message. That said, you can also get shots of good cat body language by letting them roam freely. They don’t need to be looking at the camera.

Even a cellphone camera is enough. However, if you don’t have a telephoto lens, you’re going to have to get close to the cat you’re photographing. Due to this, it might be good to use a single-lens reflex (SLR) camera if you are photographing outside. However, if you are photographing the cat you live at home with, a big camera may prove intimidating. To avoid this problem, it is necessary to regularly put your camera in a place that the cat can see. It is good to start snapping pictures only after your cat has gotten over its fear of cameras. If you use a flash to photograph cats indoors, their hair will look spiky and lose its softness. Therefore, I recommend avoiding a flash. I also recommend not using a tripod, considering the line of sight will become too high. When I am photographing cats, I kneel down so that I am at the same eye line as they are. It’s as if I’m crawling forward into battle.

Follow the Onomichi City Museum of Art on Twitter to keep up with Ken-chan and Go-chan.

via The Guardian/Hyperallergic

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC this December for the 10th anniversary production of Greg Kotis’ apocalyptic holiday tale, The Truth About Santa, and the next monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Pachelbel’s Chicken: Your Favorite Classical Pieces Played Masterfully on a Rubber Chicken

Music lovers bracing against the annual onslaught of the Singing Dogs’ "Jingle Bells" may find their savage beasts soothed somewhat by Eddy Chen’s performance of Pachelbel’s Canon, above.

Never mind that the instrument on which he plays four different tracks is a rubber chicken… or more accurately, as per Amazon, a Screaming Yellow Rubber Chicken Non Toxic Bite-resistant Squeaky Toy.

It retains its relaxing musicality. Chen, one half of Australian duo TwoSetViolin, plays that bird like the disciplined, classically-trained pro he is.

Classical chicken covers became a surprise hit for Chen and his partner, Brett Yang, veterans of the Sydney and Queensland Symphony Orchestras, whose virtually sold out world tour was the first of its kind to be entirely financed by Kickstarter donations.

The duo describes its mission as “upholding the integrity of classical music” while making it “relevant to the modern generation through fun, humour and simplicity,” noting, in a joint interview with

There are people out there who are ready to love classical music, and we have to actively find them. It is the way classical music has been presented so far that makes it so austere. We were lucky that we learned the instrument for 20 years; if we were not musicians, it would be very hard to get into.

Everyone has the potential to like it, but sometimes musicians alienate and scare potential listeners with our pride.

Back when classical music was new, it was not 'classical'; it was just music.

Today our (classical music audience) is very small, but there are many great musicians

 Granted, the standards for classical music are there for a good reason: people want the best art, and that is a standard we should uphold. At the same time, sometimes we see people breaking down and freaking out because of those standards. It is sad to think of all that lost potential and love for music. We feel we are losing audiences; we are losing people who used to love music.

The chicken definitely appeals to young listeners, though surely there’s no age limit for enjoying its take on Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie No.1...

Or Johann Strauss’ "The Blue Danube" Waltz, wherein Yang squeezes a chicken in each fist whilst Chen mans the violin…

Or the opening trumpet solo of Gustav Mahler 's Symphony No. 5

Or Beethoven’s "Für Elise," a favorite first classical piece for pianists and chicken players alike…

Others on TwoSetViolin’s classical chicken playlist include Handel’s "Hallelujah" chorus and the "Waltz of the Flowers" from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite.

Catch up with TwoSetViolin on the final leg of their American tour and subscribe to their YouTube channel for their insights into the classical musician's life and the importance of practice.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC this December for the 10th anniversary production of Greg Kotis’ apocalyptic holiday tale, The Truth About Santa, and the next monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Hear How Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” Would Sound If Sung by Johnny Cash, David Bowie, Janis Joplin, Frank Sinatra & 38 Other Artists

I consider Freddy Mercury and Michael Jackson as the greatest performers of all time. Their vocal abilities are what I look up to as a vocalist.  - Anthony Vincent

Anthony Vincent, the creator of Ten Second Songs, has a flowing mane, a lean physique, and the cocksure manner of a 20th century rock god.

He also spends hours in his home studio, peering at a computer monitor through reading glasses.

His latest effort, above, Queen’s "Bohemian Rhapsody" in the style of 42 other artists, could seem like a gimmick at first glance.

Consider, however, all the research, time, and musicianship that went into it.

The YouTube star disappeared from the internet for a month in order to tackle the beast that fans had long been begging him for.

He emerged from this self-imposed sabbatical refreshed, recommending that perhaps “everyone should start producing songs in multiple styles just so they too could take a vacation from social media.”

Good idea, though I doubt many of us can mimic the wide range of vocal styles the largely self taught Vincent does, from  Muse’s lead singer Matt Belamy’s fabled high notes to the late Joe Strummer’s extremely English punk attitude to Janis Joplin at her most unfettered.

He also displays an impressive facility with a variety of arrangements and instruments, though a couple of off-handed comments in the Making Of video, below, may not endear him to drummers, despite his obvious respect for the essential role percussion plays in structuring his projects.

Various elements suggested which artist to pair with each bite-sized section of "Bohemian Rhapsody," including similarity of lyrics, notes, and arrangements. ("Mama mia" was a no brainer…as was “Mama, didn’t mean to make you cry.”)

By definition, the multi-style "Bohemian Rhapsody" required him to look beyond his own personal favorites for artists to highlight, a process he applies to all of his mash ups. As he said in a 2015 interview with Radio Metal:

Obviously I don’t listen to Enya in my free time, I don’t go and put on a Gregorian chant and listen to it to relax. If I’m going to put an artist in there, it’s because I have some kind of respect for them in some way… At first my intention was to promote my business and now my intentions are to show that there are different ways that a song can be heard and that there’s nothing wrong with liking different things. You shouldn’t be afraid of what you don’t understand. Just because someone is growling doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s just a way of expressing a song, there is really nothing else to it.

His "Bohemian Rhapsody" tribute is comprised of over 1800 carefully labelled tracks, an inspiring display of digital organization as well as technical prowess.

While some of Vincent’s chosen 42—David Bowie, Dream Theater—did cover "Bohemian Rhapsody" in its entirety, an unfortunate side effect of his impersonations are the way they whet our appetite for full covers we’ll never get to enjoy from the likes of Johnny Cash, Prince, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin….

Ultimately, no one can hold a candle to the original, but there’s no harm in trying.

Readers, do you have a favorite from the line up below? Anyone you wish you could add to the list?

01. Queen

02. Me

03. The Chordettes

04. Johnny Cash

05. David Bowie

06. Ozzy Osbourne

07. Frank Sinatra

08. Sam Cooke

09. Boyz II Men

10. Daft Punk

11. Janis Joplin

12. Scott Joplin (King Of Ragtime)

13. Skrillex

14. Hendrix (Michael Winslow Version)

15. Kenny G

16. Bobby McFerrin

17. Star Wars

18. N.W.A.

19. Kendrick Lamar

20. System Of A Down

21. Elvis Presley


23. Bad Religion

24. Bruno Mars

25. Death Grips

26. Chuck Berry

27. Michael jackson

28. The Clash

29. Ray Charles

30. Aretha Franklin

31. Soggy Bottom Boys

32. Death

33. ABBA

34. Ghost

35. Muse

36. Vitas

37. Medieval Music

38. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons

39. Tool

40. Prince

41. Nirvana

42. Dream Theater

via Consequence of Sound

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, November 12 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Lenny Bruce Archive: Brandeis Digitally Preserves the Legacy of the Pathbreaking Comedian

Edgy, smart, aggressive, unapologetically Jewish, Lenny Bruce mixed Yiddishisms, hipster slang, colorful terms for various sex acts, and social, political, and religious satire in a high-wire improvisatory act he thought of as “verbal jazz.” Marketed as a “sick comedian,” Bruce got his start playing strip clubs, and ended up—bitter, defeated, blacklisted, and addicted—ranting and reading court transcripts from his various obscenity trials. It was a sad end to a brilliant and too-short career.

When Bruce died of an overdose at 40, “his widow and their daughter,” Kitty, “started archiving all that he had left behind,” notes NPR. Now that archive resides at Brandeis University, acquired in 2014 by librarian for archives and special collections Sarah Schoemaker. An episode of The Kitchen Sisters Present podcast called “The Keepers” tells the story of that collection, kept for decades in Kitty’s attic, with backup copies in Michigan and L.A. in case of fire. “10 linear feet” of material, as Kitty Bruce remembers it.

The story of that archive involves not only Bruce’s daughter and Shoemaker but also one of Bruce’s biggest champions, Hugh Hefner, his daughter Christie, and his lawyer Martin Garbus. It also features Steve Krief, who wrote the first Ph.D. thesis on Bruce. When Krief visited Kitty in Pennsylvania, she told him “you know what I don’t know what I’m going to do with my father’s things. They’re going to get destroyed.” Krief advised her to call Hefner, who eventually made a donation to Brandeis to fund the archive.

Some of the material, the collection notes, “has been previously released in edited form. Most of these recordings are of Lenny Bruce’s stand-up comedy performances…. Some of the recordings are of a personal nature, such as the ‘phone letters’ and private conversations between Bruce and his friends and family.” At the collection’s site, you can hear frustratingly short, 10-second clips of several routines, but to hear the tapes in full, you need to contact the university and set up an in-person appointment. But the archive is fully open to the public, and Bruce’s considerable legacy is secure. Note: you can hear some longer recordings on this page: Click here and then scroll down.

It’s a legacy that really should be better known. Bruce considered himself “a soldier fighting for the Constitution” and against government censorship. Without him, it’s hard to imagine the careers of George Carlin or Richard Pryor ever happening, and he even left his imprint on American literature, as Garbus tells it. At his obscenity trial in New York, for which he was given two years probation, a sentence only overturned after his death, Philip Roth sat in the courtroom. Roth later said that without Bruce, he couldn’t have written Portnoy’s Complaint.

“Lenny broke down so many barriers,” says Garbus, and though his humor may seem tame today—though his comedy still holds up—in the early 1960s few people dared to say the things he did, the way he did. Bruce railed against the hypocritical puritanism of American culture and paid a heavy price for telling truths we might take for granted now—and many we still don't want to hear. (See Dustin Hoffman doing one of Bruce’s more serious bits above in a clip from the 1974 Bob Fosse biopic Lenny.) Browse the contents of the Lenny Bruce Audio Files here and learn more about Bruce’s life and influence at his official website.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The 10 Commandments of Chindōgu, the Japanese Art of Creating Unusually Useless Inventions

Back in the 1990s I'd often run across volumes of the Unuseless Japanese Inventions series at bookstores. Each one features about a hundred ostensibly real Japanese devices, photographed and described with a disarming straightforwardness, that mash up other consumer products in outwardly bizarre ways: chopsticks whose attached miniature electric fan cools ramen noodles en route to the mouth; a plastic zebra crossing to unroll and lay across a street at the walker's convenience; an inverted umbrella attached to a portable tank for rainwater collection on the go. Such things, at once plausible and implausible, turn out to have their own word in the Japanese language: chindōgu (珍道具), or "curious tool."

"There's an essence to chindōgu that can't be ignored," writes Michael Richey at Tofugu, where you can view an extensive gallery of examples. "They need to be useful, but only just so. Something people could use, but probably won't because of shame," a famously powerful force in Japanese society.

They also adhere to a set of principles laid down by Kenji Kawakami, former editor of the country housewife-targeted magazine Mail Order Life, who first revealed chindōgu to Japan by showing off his prototypes in the back pages. These ten commandments of chindōgu are as follows:

  1. A Chindōgu Cannot be for Real Use — They must be, from a practical point of view, useless.
  2. A Chindōgu Must Exist — A Chindōgu must be something that you can actually hold, even if you aren’t going to use it.
  3. There must be the Spirit of Anarchy in Every Chindōgu — Chindōgu inventions represent the freedom to be (almost) useless and challenge the historical need for usefulness.
  4. Chindōgu Tools are for Everyday Life — Chindōgu must be useful (or useless) to everyone around the world for everyday life.
  5. Chindōgu are Not for Sale — Chindōgu cannot be sold, as this would go against the spirit of the art form.
  6. Humor is Not the Sole Reason for Creating a Chindōgu — Even if Chindōgu are inherently quirky and hilarious, the main reason they are created is for problem solving.
  7. Chindōgu are Not Propaganda — Chindōgu are, however, innocent and made with good intentions. They should only be created to be used (or not used).
  8. Chindōgu are Never Taboo — Chindōgu must adhere to society’s basic standards.
  9.  Chindōgu Cannot be Patented — Chindōgu cannot be copyrighted or patented, and are made to be shared with the rest of the world.
  10. Chindōgu Are Without Prejudice — Everyone should have an equal chance to enjoy every Chindōgu.

These principles resulted in the kind of inventions that drew great fascination and amusement in their home country — you can watch a short Japanese television broadcast showing Kawakami demonstrate a few chindōgu above — but not only there. The Unuseless Japanese Inventions books came out in the West at just the right time, a historical moment that saw Japan's image shift from that of a fearsome innovator and economic powerhouse to that of an inward-looking but often charming nation of obsessives and eccentrics. Of course such people, so Western thinking went, would come up with fashionable earrings that double as earplugs, a cup holder that slots into a jacket pocket, and shoes with toe-mounted brooms and dustpans.

Kawakami has continued to invent and exhibit chindōgu in recent years, and even now his work remains as analog as ever. "There’s always some process in analog products, and these processes themselves can be their purpose,” he told the Japan Times in a 2001 interview. "If you look at digital products, they all isolate people and leave them in their own small world, depriving them of the joy of communicating with others... I can’t deny that they make life more exciting and convenient, but they also make human relationships more shallow and superficial." Those wise words look wiser all the time — but then, you'd expect that degree of insight into 21st-century life from the man who may well have invented the selfie stick.

via Messy Nessy

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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