Performa Film Program: Not Funny

Performa Film Program: Not Funny Comics on the Edge in the 1970s

Anthology Film Archives MAP
$9 / $7 students/seniors / $6 AFA Members

Inspired by Lenny Bruce’s incendiary attitude toward censors and middle-class values, some 1970s comedians brought obscenity to a whole new level. Albert Brooks pioneered a kind of anti-comedy in which the joke was frequently how bad the jokes were – in Audience Research, for example, he investigates why no one thinks his films are funny. And through a series of brilliant conceptual acts that toyed with character and expectation, Andy Kaufman pushed the audience to extreme new levels, paving the way for the “put-on” comedy style of Sacha Baron Cohen and others.

Albert Brooks
Albert Brooks’ Famous School for Comedians
1972, approx. 10 min, video

Albert Brooks
Audience Research
1976, 7 min, video

Andy Kaufman
Selected works
1975-82, approx. 45 min, video

Curated by Lana Wilson. With special thanks to Josh Kline (EAI), Jed Rapfogel (Anthology), RoseLee Goldberg, Mark Beasley, Michael Kaufman, and George Shaprio.

There are no advance sales for this event. Tickets may be purchased at Anthology Film Archives 30 minutes before showtime.

Part of the film series Not Funny: Stand-Up Comedy and Visual Artists.

About Not Funny

In the late 1960s, the one-liner style of conventional Borscht belt stand-up began to be supplanted by a radical new group of comics—performers who wrote their own material, often laced with daring social and political commentary, that  pushed the audience into uncharted territory, shaking up traditional ideas about what was funny, and about where entertainment ended and life began. Inspired by the provocative performances of Lenny Bruce, this new wave of comedians in the 1970s—including Richard Pryor and Andy Kaufman—shocked audiences with everything from obscenity, to brutal personal confession, to performance art-inspired antics that left some wondering what the joke was about. Even so, they gained enormous popular followings.

At the same time, another revolution was occurring in visual art, as performance and conceptual art began to gain traction and the first consumer video cameras made it possible for artists to record themselves, often in reaction to what they saw on television, sometimes delivering deadpan routines that felt like a deconstructed version of stand-up. Some artists, such as Michael Smith, moved towards crossing over from the visual art context into the comedy world, while others, like Eric Bogosian, trained as an actor, planted the “comedy routine” firmly in the art world, with late night stands at The Mudd Club, Artists Space, and The Kitchen.

Now, at a time when the internet has led to an explosion of stand-up comedy websites and video channels, this crossover between the art world and mainstream entertainment is once again more relevant than ever. Presented by the New York performance biennial Performa 11 in conjunction with a live contemporary comedy series called Performa Ha!, Not Funny will look at some of the key works produced during this remarkable era, both in the stand-up scene and the art world, and at the artists and comedians who are still influenced by this material today.

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