Adrienne Truscott talks to editor Jamie Rosler at The Reviews Hub USA about her limited run performance of A One-Trick Pony, a new show tackling and wrestling (literally wrestling) the question of whose material is whose.
Thank you for sitting down with me again, especially now that I’m the enemy! You’re no stranger to critical responses of all stripes. Do you worry about how a misguided critique based on a misunderstanding of your work might affect how, and even if, your work is viewed?
I think smart critique is incredibly important to how the work is viewed, and I think oodles of works (especially from women, queer artists, artists of color, and goddess knows the intersection of all three) are often misinterpreted (a generous description) by reviewers, the overall body of which is still male-dominant. Depending on what waters you’re swimming in—museum/theater work, fringe festival models, etc.—the person coming to review can range from someone with a PhD who’s working professionally in a publication committed to and invested in the arts, to a young comedy fan who doesn’t go to the theater or write professionally [but] who got free tickets in exchange for writing about it. It’s a tricky one. In some ways the internet opens up possibilities for voices that are underrepresented in reviewing performance, but it also has meant that due to cuts in funding sometimes there are real newbies without a lot of background reviewing the work of an artist in a mainstream press [outlet]. In its best iteration a review helps an audience understand what they might be going to see without giving away what they are going to see, and offers something more and deeper than personal opinion.
Context is everything; I think part of Andy [Kaufman]’s brilliance was playing comedy clubs. If he had stayed in the weirdo confines of NYC performance art I don’t know that he would have been considered such a renegade because people did shit like what he was doing all the time in that world. By situating himself in comedy, it made his work seem even more boundary pushing. I still think he’s a genius either way, but context is relevant. I don’t know that he would have been recruited for a sitcom without being thought of as a comedian and seen in comedy clubs. And then, bless him, he fucked with the sitcom and the idea of a Comedy Special/Talk Show.
Which he couldn’t have done unless he made his way to the inside! That’s fun to think about. You talk about the pressure of “a second show” in A One Trick Pony, in relation to Asking For It, last performed at Joe’s Pub in December 2016. Since neither of these productions is in fact your first or second (or even most recently developed) show, is this is a commentary on the idea that “it takes ten years to become an overnight success?” Am I being too literal? Talk to me about your non-sophomore sophomore pressure!
That’s a great question! Yes, I had made tons of work of many genres before Asking For It, so yes to the ‘ten years’ idea, I suppose. But Asking For It was my first solo show, my first foray into stand-up, and because of the topic and my intentions with that I was REAL loud about it! Then its positive critical reception made it so that for some it was their first time encountering me as an artist. Because it was so experimental—political and yet a real mainstream provocation—I was also kind of misunderstood as an artist-activist, political/feminist art maker (all of which is true in ways as my identity, but that is not the only kind of performance I make). If they had ever done any research on me, they would know that I tend to cross or straddle genres, try out forms I have never tried, and am a bit of an absurdist prankster artist at heart—thus my love of Andy Kaufman’s work. I also think it touched such a nerve and represented such an outlet for some folks that people expected or wanted or prematurely imagined what to expect next from me. Whey I was making One-Trick Pony, after talking about rape on- and offstage for two years nonstop, I wanted to have a different kind of fun, where the show itself had less at stake. An absurdist romp with all the tropes of “comedy”—storytelling, sight gags, dick jokes, call backs, etc.—but still in my style. I also thought, “There’s a good chance this ‘second’ show is going to be really under a microscope, and perfectly situated as a fall from grace,” so I thought I’d beat them to it and make a show that behaves like a failure (very Andy Kaufman). But maybe at the time I succeeded too much at my failure because people thought it was kind of a failure! That said, the response has been equal parts painful and fun. Because I felt like I was navigating Kaufmanesque waters, sometimes after a bad review I would try to make the show ‘worse’ that night!
I love that. Also explored in this latest performance is the labeling of artists and their work. Our need to contextualize into boxes. Do you think that critics are more comfortable calling you a feminist performance artist than a comedian because of your sex or is it simply in relation to the context of your career at large?
I think I answered part of this in the previous answer, but of course that’s the question I’m asking and answering with One-Trick Pony, and I’m being a little hyperbolic. I am a feminist performance artist, but that comes with an amount of baggage and [through] a lens that doesn’t accompany comedian. I’ve also heard a friend of mine who’s a stand-up comic through and through (she’s never done anything else) introduced as having done “eight one-woman shows.” What exactly is a “one-woman-show?” Is it simply to grapple with the audacity of one woman taking up an hour of time and space?! Your rarely hear of a male artist’s show as a one-man show, unless it’s a one-man band!
Or if it lives strictly in the theatrical world, but not with stand-up comedy. When did you first encounter Andy Kaufman’s work, and how did that affect you at the time?
Saturday Night Live, Mighty Mouse! And then Taxi of course! When he started wrestling I was really captivated because the line was so unclear and he walked that WTF? knife’s edge so brilliantly. My best friend, Jane, and I wrote to him proposing a tag-team match—I think we were like 13 at the time! We never heard back from him and we were really bummed. When I saw him and Jerry [Lawler] on Letterman I really thought he’d lost it, but was still like….wait….is he….?
And since? As an adult I went to see a friend compete at the Andy Kaufman Awards show, at a comedy club (it was the year Reggie [Watts] won) and several of the people up for the award were folks I knew from the “downtown performance scene” more than [as] comedians. And it kind of hit me then how Andy had contextualized himself, and that saying you did comedy probably gave you a different kind of exposure. It was a cartoonishly clear light bulb moment, and I was like, Wait, maybe I’m a comedian? I went home and emailed my then-performing-partners The Wau Wau Sisters. We were doing super absurd, bonkers cabaret and circus but everything we did– the stakes were comedy and commentary, and I was practically in tears writing, “I think we might be comedians! I think we’re COMEDIANS!!!” Ha! What a ding-a-ling, but it’s true!
If you could give one piece of advice to all civilians in an art-viewing audience, what would it be?
To consider that an artist giving you a performance that you don’t fully get, one that doesn’t pander to your expectations, that leaves you enough room to make your own conclusions and associations, might be an act of mutual respect and might be one of the best gifts in the world.
One-Trick Pony (Or Andy Kaufman Is A Feminist Performance Artist and I’m a Comedian) can be seen at Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater, on August 4 and September 23, 2018 at 9:30 PM | Image: Allison Michael Orenstein