The

Mick

Sinclair

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Eric Bogosian

November

1985

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ERIC BOGOSIAN is an American male who inhabits other American males. At least he acts out characters which begin as stereotypical personality types and grow – when fully fleshed out and laid end to end (so to speak) during Bogosian's stage show – into an examination of Americans and Americanism, machismo, fear, power, the human condition, eggs over easy and a lot more besides.

"The American persona is well known throughout the world through TV and movies," Eric Bogosian explains to me. I don't think the characters I do are what average Americans are like but I'm playing around with the stereotypes we're all familiar with.

"Americans spend a lot of time watching themselves and dwelling on who they are. They're so media involved that they find it hard to be anything without at the same time keeping in mind the media image of what they are. Americans do live their lives that way in their little burrows.

"I always look for characters which are both specific and general at the same time. I've a character who's a Texan industrial ceramic tile salesman – that's specific but on the other hand he's a salesman, very American and macho. I don't do camp stuff like taking off JR or something like that."

10 years ago, Bogosian arrived in New York as a bright-eyed hopeful to attend acting school. He soon grew tired of "head shots and trying to get parts in commercials – there was very little acting ". All very un-FAME. Instead he fell in with friends on the performance art scene even though he didn't understand the theories behind it (who does?).

"All my friends were visual artists so I got into that for a few years. I'd do a show that had slides flashing and tapes running and at the end I'd do a character. People would come and endure all the intellectual bullshit to see the character of the end."

So he gathered his cast of characters and presented them in a show called Men Inside. It had NYC reviewers dribbling with enthusiastic adjectives. Even if they weren't quite sure exactly what to call it, Bogosian had an effect.

Simultaneously he was being fired up by the local musical action.

"James Chance was a big influence on me, the risks he would take with an audience. I liked the confrontational part of all that. I've always been influenced by rock and roll, the tenor of it, the beat of it. The whole punk movement influenced me. Nowadays I don't look to music, it's completely idiotic and I can't se anything in it."

After Men Inside, Bogosian would perform the 25 minute Voices Of America in which he mimicked the sounds coming out of NYC radio as the dial was scanned back and forth. In other spaces he had "research projects which were either too violent or pornographic – they wore really just for esoteric audiences. But I'm leaving that JG Ballard 'Crash!' phase of my career, all the shocking stuff isn't really that interesting anymore."

His current show is called Drinking In America. The press blurb yells: 'America's favourite pastime – getting high on liquor, drugs and power.'

"I'm very interested in power, the attraction of power and how it is used and manipulated. And how it works in my life and other people's lives. The show is about intoxication, it doesn't have to be through drink. It can be through a lot of things."

Bogosian's real edge comes in presenting the characters in such a way to provoke a response in the audience mind without ever defining precisely what that response should be.

"I'm not up there saying 'sit back folks, I'm going to tell you how to live your lives' What I'm saying is that here is a set of questions that run through my head on a day-to-day basis. I can't get to the end of the puzzle so maybe if we put them altogether some kind of pattern will evolve.

"It makes for an interesting evening of theatre. I don't go to the theatre to be taught. I'm aware of how messed up the world is and I assume everybody in the theatre is aware of it too. They don't need me to tell them Reagan should be assassinated.

"But it's not even Reagan, it's the people that put him in power that I'm interested in.

"My politics are simple, they're dumb actually. I think with extrapolation of knowledge and the application of basic humanity all the political options are very obvious. But a lot of the winos in my neighbourhood are also con men – so it isn't that easy."

The Bogosian characters begin on a list of possibles. "A jazz musician between sets," he says of the top of his bonce as an example. He'll then develop likely candidates through improvisation.

"I might have 25 guys who are potentially okay but I don't know how things will go when I start improvising. Sometimes the characters in improvisation say things and I think wow! I'd never have thought of that, that's perfect for the guy and if reflects a whole larger attitude.

"The different characters have to interlock with each other dynamically and build to a point. I generally end up with 12 guys in a show that will knock up against each other but it's hard structuring the guys so that the show seems over when it is over, that the meditation has been completed. There's a bunch of guys sifting in the folder right now, they just weren't good enough."

I look down at his folder and immediately remove my elbows from it.

'I'm always described as focusing on low life, the slime of human existence but it's not the case. In Drinking In America there is a junkie but also that Texan tile salesman – totally middle class. Another guy is a Yuppie type on the make, there's a Hollywood casting agent involved in the power tripping of bartering people like me in and out of movies. There's a wino and another guy who comes from the kind of place Bruce Springsteen comes from, where the kids hang around, drive cars all night, take drugs and drink.

"A couple are kind of close to me. One is me reading a journal extract from 10 years ago, another is close to me doing a voice over in a recording studio on a beer ad. Both are a little bit tof me which I don't usually do. I'm a pretty typical artsy fartsy kind of a person so I think I'm worth bringing into play otherwise you end up with a lot of pointing fingers at all these other types of people."

Lenny Bruce – a hip young gagslinger of the early 60s (and for too controversial and influential a figure to muse over here) – is often mentioned in relation to Bogosian. It's a common comparison although one which eludes me. But Eric turns his profile to the light and comments:

"He's always brought up because I think I look like him or I look like Dustin Hoffman looked playing Lenny Bruce in a movie (a damp squib of an affair called Lenny).

I like Lenny Bruce but I don't compare myself to him. He was a comedian. I'm not a comedian. I'd say that a comedian is a person who's first intention is to make people laugh. My first intention is to engage an audience with whatever is at my disposal. it may not be laughter, it may be dramatic, horror, maybe a physical thing – I do a lip synch heavy metal thing where the point is not what I say but what I'm doing – but you can't take a section of what I do and say this is what it's about'. The different bits work together, I see it as a play for one person."

 

 

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