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