Performa 11: At Perform Ha!, Intentionally Funny Performance Art

11/14/2011 1:01 PM |

Bedwyr Williams at Perform Ha!
  • Bedwyr Williams at last night’s Perform Ha!

Last night the second of Performa 11‘s three performance art comedy nights, Perform Ha!, took place at Ha! Comedy Club—where the final Performa Ha! will be on November 20 at 9pm. The evening featured three hilarious performers doing what varied between storytelling, conventional stand-up, and demented live-sampling beatboxing. Between sets, Mike Smith, and Title TK members Cory Arcangel Howie Chen and Alan Licht provided fragmented banter about John Cage, R. Kelly and other unrelated subjects.

The evening’s curator, Mark Beasley, appeared in a stylish suit jacket and scarf, but without pants, to introduce the evening’s participants and make the first of many comments about New York Times art critic Ken Johnson, who reviewed Perform Ha!‘s first presentation last Sunday. “We’re now 73 days into Performa,” he began, before going into a rambling story about the first time he met Ken “Psychedelic” Johnson in the 70s during “a Ritalin and rum binge.”

The evening’s first performer-comedian, Lumberob, launched right into frenzied beatboxing that mixed the usual percussive sounds with wild yelping rhythms and static-y distortions, all of which he looped and sampled using a set of pedal-operated sampling devices at the front of the stage. After a minute or two of this pretty enjoyable and explosive vocal performance he stopped, breathless, looking like a mad scientist. He told a few stories, which he interrupted with more beatboxing and while repeating many lines verbatim, like a skipping CD. In the first he recalled competing, as an adult, in a rollerskating race for children ten years old and up. Three hilariously reenacted turns into the race, with his daughter cheering him on, he manically announced: “I’m noticing I can catch these kids.” After launching his competitors into the race’s barricades and going through another beatboxing bout, Lumberod closed with a tangent-filled story about being nine years old and, with his 13-year-old babysitter, making his Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia dolls have sex. He assured us: “This is before any of us knew they were brother and sister.”

After a Title TK interlude—meaning more rambling banter—Dina Seiden took the stage to read one of the last porn letters she wrote before being fired from that exceptionally lucrative job. “I was 26 and making $40 an hour,” she recalled, “which was a lot for someone who Ken Johnson hates.” Explaining why she might have been fired, she recalled: “There was a lot of exposition in my stories. The porn didn’t start until the third page, which is the last page.” Seiden repeatedly interrupted her reading to call out critics who she felt had mischaracterized her work. The story she read, a hysterically disgusting account of watching a teenage boy humping his octogenarian grandmother, was full of unpleasantly evocative physical descriptions and analogies: a flaccid penis was likened to the grandmother’s Matzo balls; a concealed erection was like a Burmese political prisoner pressing against the bars of his jail cell. Seiden’s story was as hilarious as it was gross.

In the final act, accompanied to the microphone by the sounds of a church choir, Bedwyr Williams appeared in a priest costume and explained that when selecting his outfit for a performance he always chooses one in which, in the event of a disaster, he’ll look good for “the fireman, police officer or earthquake dog” that finds him. Like Seiden, Williams got a lot of laughs from his absurd metaphors. Before recounting the story of a less-than-successful performance for a would-be collector, he warned us: “Statistically, some of you will not like my performance. You don’t like performance, but you keep coming back, like a bored moth to a weird flame.” His story of performing for a dining room full of rich Londoners led to a repetition of that performance, in which he asked them all to imagine themselves as moles digging through a hill—because “hills are bollocks.” The Welsh artist juggled accents, from a vaguely German sermonizing voice, to all types of British inflections—most hilariously, when imagining the conversation between a wealthy couple upon discovering the handbag made from a turtle carcass one woman at his earlier performance was carrying. Occasionally he interrupted his story for funny non-sequiturs: “Imagine your own camera tripod being used against you as a weapon.”

Williams’ performance capped an evening of very funny stories that, except in the case of Lumberob’s manic beatboxing and jittery repeating of lines, were more stand-up than performance art, strictly speaking. But as Seiden repeatedly screeched, that distinction seems all but irrelevant and only reduces the performance’s possible meanings. All three were certainly concerned with something more than comedy, whether Lumberob’s improvised musical experiments, Seiden’s subversion of erotic epistolary, or Williams questioning performance art’s relationship to the art market and patronage by collectors—an especially apt topic this weekend. Joining Seiden and Lumberob in next week’s Perform Ha! lineup are Hennessey Youngman and Club Nutz, which should make for a very different evening.