On the “Haiku Tunnel” Film:
Kenneth Turan, LOS ANGELES TIMES [full review]:
Office temps are not ordinarily thought of as heroic figures in the James Bond mold. And transcribing and mailing “17 very important letters” in a timely and professional fashion may not sound like an exceptional challenge. The droll and disarming “Haiku Tunnel,” however, sees things just a little bit differently, and that is its charm.
A sly and captivating comedy of imaginative leaps and gently orchestrated pandemonium, “Haiku Tunnel” is built on the skills, sensibility and astute comic presence of co-director, co-writer (both with brother Jacob) and star Josh Kornbluth. He’s conveniently cast as a character named “Josh Kornbluth” who worked for a very powerful attorney once upon a time.
Introduced like 1950s TV’s Mr. Wizard, surprised while carefully threading a projector, the actor takes grave pains to tell us that while he perfectly understands the temptation “to think this is based on the real me, nothing could be further from the truth.” In an even more craven attempt to avoid being sued by that very powerful attorney, Kornbluth has even changed the story’s locale to “the best place on Earth, San Francisco.” “Haiku Tunnel” (named after a favorite clerical project, typing the endless specs for an engineering project in Hawaii) started as a stand-up monologue Kornbluth developed while living in the Bay Area, “one of thousands of aspiring novelists supporting themselves as temps.”
Kornbluth has a wry and telling eye for the minutiae of office life, for the emotional damage of realizing the boss spends more on business trips than your entire childhood cost, for the endless orientation lectures (yes, that’s Harry Shearer holding forth on clearing copy machine jams), even for how we fall in love with office supplies. Kornbluth’s “own personal weakness” is Uniball micro-pens: “They never explode in your pocket. They just expire one day and so gracefully. They’re like the Camille of pens.”
“Haiku Tunnel” is characterized by these amusing, open-ended riffs that can start anywhere, from how attorney names differ from secretary names or how exciting our hero found just showing up for temp work: “‘Hello, I’m from Uniforce.’ Just the name alone filled me with such pride.” Until he started to worry that there was a one-to-one ratio between agency and temp, making him literally the uni in Uniforce.
When Josh gets assigned to the law firm of Schuyler & Mitchell (S&M for short), his imagination goes into overdrive. He envisions head secretary Marlina D’Amore (Helen Shumaker) as a Darth Vader figure (a chill wind enters the soundtrack with her) and starts to think of his boss, attorney Bob Shelby (Warren Keith) as the Prince of Darkness, a notion that he finds a goad to work harder: “Just on the off chance he was Satan, you’d want to make a good impression.”
After a few days at S&M, however, Josh is faced with the great crisis of any temp’s life: the opportunity to “go perm” and have his psychotherapy covered by the film’s health plan. Also, his new status would improve his relationship with his trio of fellow office workers: the spirited Mindy (Amy Resnick), the chatty Clifford (Brian Thorstenson) and the distant DaVonne (June Lomena).
Once he makes his decision, however, Josh’s careful life crumbles and he ends up facing a variety of crises that start with those 17 un-mailed letters and end up involving high security office buildings patrolled by Rottweilers, the world’s oldest office mail boy, and a completely unexpected romance with a very confused Julie Faustino (Sarah Overman).
Coping with all of this brings out the best in Josh the office Galahad and Kornbluth the comic performer. With metal-rimmed glasses and long hair framing a balding scalp, he is a cherubic figure who creates complicity by combining smart timing, a self-possessed delivery and a face that’s adept at registering gravity, sadness, delight and more. Light on his feet in an array of Hawaiian shirts, Kornbluth can make anything killingly funny, even the specter of 17 letters, un-mailed but very, very important.
Mick LaSalle, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE:
[“Haiku Tunnel” is] a winning comedy about a would-be novelist who is living in a depressive funk and working as an office temporary worker. … [Josh Kornbluth] is likable, emotionally true and has no trouble carrying a movie. … He doesn’t just recognize the absurdities of office conversation. He knows how to satirize it in a way that the pain underneath also comes through. … “Haiku Tunnel” should be well received everywhere.
Owen Gleiberman, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY:
Remember the name Josh Kornbluth! “Haiku Tunnel” traces, in squirmingly funny detail, the drudge-slave hell of being a temp secretary.
David Germain, ASSOCIATED PRESS:
“Haiku Tunnel” [is] a clever, sometimes hilarious rumination on employment that will resonate with millions of minions tediously toiling in an office. … “Haiku Tunnel” uses its simple premise to make an entertaining, unpretentious statement about the pros and cons of committing, whether to a career, a relationship or simply cleaning up an unkempt apartment. … Be sure to visit “Haiku Tunnel” to see Kornbluth, a temp who’ll remain permanently etched in your mind.
Joe Morgenstern, WALL STREET JOURNAL:
“Haiku Tunnel” bills itself as “an office comedy,” but this winning little wisp of a film is actually about neurotic underachieving and the infantilization of workers, especially temps; it’s the office of a malign kindergarten. … The version of office work that’s offered up by “Haiku Tunnel” is as chilling as it is funny. There’s a whiff of Samuel Beckett — a sort of “Krapp’s Last Scotch Tape” — along with cheerful echoes of those charming old Robert Benchley one-reelers from the 1930s. … Surprisingly entertaining.
Peter Travers, ROLLING STONE:
“Haiku Tunnel” has nothing to do with Japan, poetry or even tunnels. It’s an office comedy that hits all the fun stops from giggles to guffaws. … Josh Kornbluth has adapted his stage monologue into a ragtag charmer that he co-directed with his brother Jacob and co-wrote with his brother and John Bellucci. Josh (think of a young Wallace Shawn) plays himself, an office temp who finds himself traumatized when he goes perm. Suddenly, the bosses, the secretaries, the copiers, the envelope moisteners, the bad lighting and the seventeen letters he forgets to mail all take on the menace of a Kafka nightmare. You will laugh.
J. Hoberman, THE VILLAGE VOICE:
It’s evident why [this movie] went over so well at Sundance. “Haiku Tunnel” is an indie inspirational. It’s unpretentiously low-tech and humorously offbeat. And against all odds, the filmmaker emerges as a star.
Jan Wahl, KRON-TV (San Francisco):
One of the most original movies I’ve seen in years! Funny, witty, terrific, clever — a great tale of the human comedy of errors. Really fun and wonderful. This is a really good film, different and unusual and wonderfully courageous. Four hats!
Jeffrey M. Anderson, SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER:
This movie didn’t just remind me of my own nightmare temp days from years ago, but it made me laugh uproariously. I’ve seen funny films this year, like “Rat Race” and “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,” but this is the first I’ve seen whose humor is true and comes from within. It’s a spectacular achievement and should not be missed.
Kevin Maynard, MR. SHOWBIZ:
We’ve seen a lot of movies (“Office Space,” “Clockwatchers”) attempt to capture the Kafka-esque banality that is corporate hell. But only “Haiku Tunnel” really thumbtacks it — from the unnerving hum of the fluorescent lighting to the dull, post-work patter. What’s more, it does so from a singular, office-minutiae-obsessed point of view. … This is satire on the giddy level of “The Simpsons” (a comparison made all the more evident by a snarky cameo from Harry Shearer as an orientation leader). … Anyone who’s ever filed, collated, or played Mixmaster DJ with the transcribing machine will find cathartic giggles in this breakout debut.
R.A. Bell, ORLANDO WEEKLY:
A latter-day Modern Times for the technological age! … In this insightful, class-conscious satire, Kornbluth is a delight in his cross between Buddha, Kafka and Dilbert. Anyone who has ever worked in clerical jobs — indeed, anyone who has ever worked any sort of mind-numbing job so prevalent in our service-based economy — will identify with and thoroughly enjoy this splendid comedy.
J. Lyle, AIN’T IT COOL NEWS:
The audience I was with loved every second of this film. Funnier than anything this summer. This is the kind of movie where you actually find yourself wishing that this was a character you knew in real life. … There is a warmth and innocence throughout that actually takes the viewer by surprise … which is a rare and welcome trait in any film. I urge everybody to seek this picture out, despite the bizarre title. You’ll find it well-worth the price of admission.
Steven Rosen, DENVER POST:
Some people, including me, are referring to the comedy “Haiku Tunnel” as the “Tao of Josh.” It stars heavy-set, funny-looking Josh Kornbluth as a neurotic romantic named Josh, who works (poorly) as a San Francisco legal secretary while trying to write a novel. Kornbluth, who co-wrote and co-directed “Haiku” with his brother Jacob, based the film on one of his performance monologues. Witty and original, with a sentimental but unflabby heart of gold. … I know it’s a curse to call nebbishy, confessional, funny guys like Kornbluth “the next Woody Allen,” but this has the spirit and zippy sight gags and one-liners of the Woodman’s early films.
On the “Red Diaper Baby” Monologue:
“Hilarious!” — New York Daily News
“Fresh, funny, smart and tender!” — Washington Post
“A treasure! You emerge from ‘Red Diaper Baby’ as you do from a finely wrought novel, reluctant to let go of characters who have come to feel like new friends.” — New York Newsday
On the “Red Diaper Baby” Book:
“These monologues have a performer’s personality even on the page. The read the way they play: with a delight in neurosis that turns it into intellectual slapstick.” — Pauline Kael
“Hysterically funny and absolutely fascinating…. Pithy, pure, and very funny stuff.” — Booklist
On “The Mathematics of Change”:
“Kornbluth is wonderful on childhood. … ‘The Mathematics of Change’ finds a comfortable balance between rollicking entertainment and pained self-examination.” — New York Times
“Josh Kornbluth ‘hits the wall’ as a freshman math student at Princeton. He makes a hilarious splat. … You may think it isn’t possible to laugh yourself silly at jokes about math. But you would be wrong.” — Washington Post
On “Ben Franklin: Unplugged”:
Kornbluth Breathes New Life into “Ben” – Pat Craig, Contra Costa Times, Thursday, October 21, 2004.
“Kornbluth has taken what was an entertaining monologue and turned it into a remarkable piece of theater that not only crackles with Kornbluth’s sharp and engaging humor, but creates a delightful emotional bond between him and his audience.”
“Those who have seen previous versions of the show will be surprised by this one, which is not only fleshed out, but is also some of the most sophisticated theatrical writing Kornbluth has done to date.”
“Through this wildly funny and quite touching tour, we meet Kornbluth’s mother and aunt, two old-school communists who gave the young man his political foundations. At first, he frets about how it would be possible for a young communist to represent the “First American” (as Franklin is frequently described) in any way. But through the power of some hilarious convolution, it turns out Ben and the commies may have a whole lot more in common than we ever dreamed.”
“In the end, it is Kornbluth who makes the show sing. He has a terrifically engaging stage personality, coupled with a writing style, occasionally reminiscent of some of Woody Allen’s early prose, that makes the evening a delight for anyone with a fondness for words or good theater.”
Ben is Back – Just at the Right Time – Robert Hurwitt, San Francisco Chronicle, Tuesday, November 2, 2004.
“The action dithers a bit early on but grows into an enchanting tale, divided between the story of Franklin and that of Kornbluth’s Josh as a lazy researcher getting drawn into the mystery of Franklin’s relationship with his son William. Arguments with his Stalinist mother feed into his quandary, as does a gig running around Manhattan dressed as Franklin for a series of MSNBC cable channel spots — which leads to a wonderful confrontation with a stunned right-wing militiaman in front of the United Nations.”
“The further Kornbluth gets into his subject, the more his mischievous wit reflects Franklin’s own. As I wrote when the piece first appeared, this ‘Ben’ is healthy, hilarious and wise.”
Read the full review.
Kornbluth’s Piercing, Gentle ‘Ben’ – Lloyd Rose, Washington Post, Thursday, May 11, 2000.
“Ben Franklin: Unplugged works on a lot of levels. Primarily its a detective story, as Kornbluth delves into the untold story of Franklin’s break with his loyalist son. It’s a revenge tale about Kornbluth getting his own back from a university that wouldn’t accept him as a student. It’s a show biz saga. Above all it’s a poignant and penetrating father-son saga that completes a trilogy that deserves to stand with the best of the Jewish father-son sagas in our theatre.”
Read the full review
Founding Fodder – Village Voice, January 13-19, 1999
“…because of William’s allegiance to the British (which included acts of loyalist terrorism), Ben permanently disowned him. Trying to understand the brutality of this rift is the heart of Josh Kornbluth’s immensely enjoyable new monologue, Ben Franklin: Unplugged (P.S. 122). It’s also a way for Kornbluth to examine the problematic relationship he has with his own parents: his unrepentantly Stalinist mother and, especially, his dead father.”
Read the full review
Kornbluth Evokes Spirit of Franklin – Robert Hurwitt, SF Examiner, Wednesday, May 27, 1998.
“JOSH KORNBLUTH looks like Benjamin Franklin. A lot. Especially with his long hair falling to his shoulders from his high, round, balding dome. Kornbluth looks even more like Franklin, as he demonstrates at the beginning of “Ben Franklin: Unplugged,” when he slides his round wire-rims down his nose and peers over them with widened eyes and arched brows. It’s a hilariously disarming, enchanting, and ingenious tale.”
Read the full review
On “Love & Taxes”:
Josh Kornbluth’s show offers the lighter side of ‘Love & Taxes’ – By Sasha Paulsen, Register Review Saturday, July 10, 2004.
” Richly witty and warmly ironic, Kornbluth’s story is probably one only he could tell, complete with his eye-rolling, hair-pulling antics; but it’s also everyman’s tale – the little guy in a maze of civilization, yearning inescapably for some of the benefits…”
Love and Taxes – By Marcus Crowder. The Sacramento Bee, Tuesday, April 26, 2005.
” He gives voice to numerous characters besides himself, but it’s more impersonation than inhabiting. We view them all through his generous but also satiric observations, which poke fun at everybody – especially himself. . . Kornbluth’s resourceful storytelling, masterful comic timing and peripatetic energy are undeniable.”
Read the full review
In Praise of Taxes – By Misha Berson, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Thursday, March 24, 2005.
“A sweet-faced, pear-shaped performer with the look of a young Zero Mostel and the comic imagination of a shrewd urban pixie….”
Read the full review
Taxing Problems Provide Inspiration for Solo Comedy – Marin Scope, Mill Valley Herald, Twin Cities Times, Ross Valley Reporter, San Rafael News Pointer, August 3 – August 9, 2004
“Josh Kornbluth is a father and a husband, but also an irreverent, outspoken observer of the chaotic and under-examined aspects of modernity. . . . He might not yet be a household name, but his popular Bay Area performances have him on the verge of fame.”
“One of the Year’s 10 Best!” (2003)
SF Chronicle and The Contra Costa Times.
A Crazed Comic Take Stock, Kisses His Assets Goodbye – Robert Hurwitt, SF Chronicle, Monday, June 30, 2003.
“Josh Kornbluth isn’t a loser but he plays one to hilarious effect… Developed by Kornbluth with Z Space founding Artistic Director David Dower, who staged the show, Love & Taxes is a dizzying maelstrom of tax problems that offers food for thought and a touching little love story as well.”
Read the full review
Love & Taxes – Jason Zinoman, New York Times Sunday, December 14, 2003.
“In previous autobiographical solo shows, Josh Kornbluth expressed anxieties about growing up with Communist parents (“Red Diaper Baby”) and flunking calculus at Princeton University (“The Mathematics of Change”). But the subject of his latest show, “Josh Kornbluth’s Love & Taxes,” which opened last week at the Bank Street Theater, inspires a more universal neurosis – the I.R.S. Mr. Kornbluth, who wrote the monologue with his director, David Dower, performs what could be described as a tax nightmare. After not paying the government for seven years, he amassed a $27,000 debt that ballooned to $80,000 because of penalties, interest payments and an expensive bill from a holistic tax attorney/therapist. This excerpt is taken from the beginning of the show, when Mr. Kornbluth describes his job at the time, working, ironically, for a tax attorney.”
Read the full review
Translating a Taxing Tale Into Masterful Monologue – June Bell, Forward Friday, November 21, 2003.
“A balding, middle-aged guy standing alone on a stage describing his financial troubles with two hefty volumes of the U.S. Tax Code as his only props doesn’t sound like a scintillating night at the theater. Yet Josh Kornbluth manages to weave his woes into an engrossing and humorous tale of redemption. Love & Taxes, Kornbluth’s one-man show based on his own experiences, chronicles how the erstwhile office temp fell in love while spiraling into a terrifying five-figure tax debt. Following its San Francisco premiere, “Love & Taxes” begins a run at New York City’s Bank Street Theater on December 4. ”
Read the full review
Kornbluth Returns with Comic Look at Love & Taxes – Andy Probst, American Theater Web, Tuesday, December 9, 2003
“A REMARKABLY FULL EVENING OF COMIC THEATER…It’s a rich comic brew that Kornbluth steeps with his unique brand of self-amusement and deprecation…Kornbluth’s rich writing is well-served by David Dower’s direction which gracefully moves the story forward to Kornbluth’s ultimate epiphany about and redemption from his tax problem.”
Pain in the Wallet, Arrow in the Heart – AOL Digital Cities, Tuesday, December 9, 2003.
“Anyone who has ever wrestled with the long arm of the Internal Revenue Service may find kinship — and a generous helping of laughter — in Josh Kornbluth’s newest work, ‘Love and Taxes.'”
The Taxman Cometh – Barbara & Scott Siegel – theatermania.com, Thursday, December 11, 2003.
“Having grown up as the son of a communist (see Red Diaper Baby), Kornbluth did not give the U.S. government much credence. Failing to file tax returns for seven years, he found himself in serious trouble. Kornbluth sets his love story amidst mounting interest and penalties, with a tax advisor grabbing his greatest asset: his art. Meanwhile, his girlfriend won’t marry him as long as the government is holding a sword over his financial head. And a clock begins to tick over all of this travail when Josh’s girlfriend gets pregnant. Kornbluth tells his story in a genial, self-mocking style. He’s a very likeable guy, which helps him when his script goes through a dry patch on its way to an oasis of laughter. Happily, he finds comic watering holes often…Above all, he is endearing and natural on stage. Kornbluth’s story is as funny as it is poignant, because not only must he face the taxman, he must also come to terms with his late father’s teachings. This show is by no means a taxing experience. ”
An Unlikely and Refreshing Delight – Kessa De Santis – Electronic Link, Wednesday, December 11, 2003.
“Whatever the intangibles of the IRS code and the fickle soul of love, they come together in both comic and realist splendor here.”
Steven Winn’s piece about Love & Taxes , in the San Francisco Chronicle, Tuesday, September 2, 2003.
Josh Kornbluth works a neat, mind-teasing little twist on the autobiographical monologue form in “Love & Taxes.”
Read the full review
Josh Kornbluth Grows Up: And That Even Means Paying his Taxes. – Lisa Drostova, East Bay Express, September 3-9, 2003.
“…Kornbluth allows audiences who go for intelligent comedy that blends hilarious self-examination with wry insight into the state of American politics, and tales of the vagaries of love between proudly neurotic people, to rejoice and throw off the chains of their mindless Hollywood oppression. The man who found a way to turn failing a Princeton math class and forgetting to mail 85 important letters for his lawyer boss into off-Broadway fame and a couple of independent films is back with his most polished and far-reaching work yet, the stunningly funny ‘Love and Taxes.'”
Read the full review
Accounted For : Josh Kornbluth Leaves Us Helpless with Laughter and Pleasantly Lost – Michael Scott Moore, San Francsico Weekly, July 9, 2003.
“…John Cheever wrote a self-deprecating introduction to his collected stories that reminds me of Kornbluth’s show. Storytellers tend to be open books, he argues; they can’t hide their flaws or their lack of sophistication. Kornbluth understands this contention and plays with it. He seems to agree with Cheever that any honest accounting of a writer’s early work “will be a naked history of one’s struggle to receive an education in economics and love.” In Kornbluth’s case, though, it’s also screamingly funny.”
Read the full review
Comic Gold- ‘Taxes’ makes the best of a bad situation – Pat Craig, Contra Costa Times, Monday, June 30, 2003.
“Love and Taxes” is a thoroughly engaging and satisfying evening of theater that gives this Bay Area treasure a chance to shine brightly…wonderful work that is not to be missed.”
Read the full review
Fiscal Farce: Left-wing Artist Creates Fiscal Farce of IRS Encounter – Karen D’Souza, SJ Mercury News, Wednesday, March 3, 2004.
“…it’s not everyone who can turn revenue rulings and amended filings into the stuff of laughter. So if you want to find out how Kornbluth gets out from under a crushing pile of debt while staying true to his revolutionary values, you’ll have to pull up a chair at this fiscal tour-de-force.”
Read the full review
Kornbluth’s Latest Monologue – Chad Jones, Oakland Tribune
“ALTHOUGH Josh Kornbluth’s enjoyable new monologue, “Love & Taxes,” is a comedy, parts of it are as scary as any horror movie. Ever the good-natured chatterbox, Kornbluth rambles on about his past and his family. Then he starts talking about taxes, and before you know it, your chest constricts, your breathing becomes shallow, your pulse races and a scream begins forming in the back of your throat. When Kornbluth reveals that he once owed more than $27,000 in income taxes, it’s all you can do to not run shrieking from San Francisco’s Magic Theatre. Perhaps no monster is more frightening than the Internal Revenue Service, and Kornbluth’s story demonstrates exactly why that’s true.”
Read the full review
‘Love & Taxes’ Through August 3rd: In The Red – Anna Mantzaris, special to SF Gate
April 15 is not a date most folks look forward to, unless they have stock in Turbotax. For a while, writer/performer Josh Kornbluth was the exception. After seven years of not filing his taxes, he relished his newfound position “in the system,” not to mention those juicy little refunds he was entitled to after signing on the dotted line. This was before things got out of hand with a tax attorney, Hollywood called and he met a striking woman who couldn’t make left-hand turns. Kornbluth, who adapted his popular performances at San Francisco’s the Marsh into the Sundance hit film “Haiku Tunnel” with his brother Jacob, tells his story of how he went from black to red with the IRS in a compelling monologue. Directed by collaborator David Dower for the Z Space Studio, Kornbluth’s performance doesn’t rely merely on its fierce humor, but delves deeper as he reflects on his Communist father, living the life of an artist, falling in love with a fellow neurotic and a friendship that changed his life. Kornbluth is beyond endearing and one of the hardest-working performers around — you definitely owe it to yourself to see this one.
Josh Kornbluth: A Natural Raconteur – Suzanne Weiss, Culture Vulture
“If Josh Kornbluth weren’t so darn funny you might weep. For those who have yet to see the popular Bay Area performer, close your eyes and imagine a seriously balding Jewish Spalding Gray. Now conjure up an image of a younger Woody Allen – only more neurotic, if such a thing is possible. Mix them together and you begin to get the picture…”
Read the full review
On “Citizen Josh”:
PAT CRAIG: ONE HAND CLAPPING
‘Citizen Josh’ remains a pleasure to behold
Contra Costa Times
Article Launched:08/23/2007 03:05:58 AM PDT
IN MY LINE of work, it’s nearly impossible to check back in on a show in the midst of its run, just to see how it’s doing. Usually you see it when it’s opening night and never again, unless it has a major cast change or runs for years. That’s why it was so much fun going to Berkeley Rep the other night to watch “Citizen Josh,” Josh Kornbluth’s latest solo piece. I’d seen the monologue about Josh’s venture into the world of participatory democracy — initially to get playground equipment for a neighborhood park his son enjoyed playing in — and was delighted how he could digress and meander to the point where the piece eventually included sitting next to Al Gore in a meeting, and using his acting skills to create a senior thesis only 27 years overdue. When “Citizen Josh” opened last May, I was knocked out by it and wrote about how it was (and still is, for that matter) some of Josh’s best work to date. And time has improved it wonderfully. Those who work with Josh often comment on how much the performer likes to tinker with his material, tweaking a word here or a line there, sometimes even late in a run, when he gets a notion something else will sound better. And since it’s his own piece, he can pretty much change things at will, since any mistakes, as well as the praise, will be on his head. Josh opened his show in San Francisco, friendly territory for the man who has become a Bay Area institution over the past decade or so. But that was on the other side of the Bay from his beloved Berkeley, and being back in the East Bay seemed to add about a thousand watts to the Kornbluth grin. He seemed genuinely pleased to be playing for a hometown crowd that knew, firsthand, about the local spots he mentioned in his 90-minute piece, which plays on Berkeley Rep’s Thrust Stage through Sept. 2. So if you get a chance, you really should see Josh play a home game, where he has friends in the audience, and more likely than not his young son backstage keeping him company. The show is a delight, a smart and pleasantly circuitous tale that takes the audience through his undergrad days at Princeton, the tense days following the birth of his extremely premature younger brother, Sam, and his relationship with his family and neighbors. It’s like spending an evening with an old friend who has a huge knack for telling a story. His Berkeley appearance is probably the beginning of a long tour of the new piece. His show is produced by Berkeley-based Jonathan Reinis, former operator of San Francisco’s Theatre on the Square and a Tony Award-winner who, among other things, introduced Dame Edna to both San Francisco and Broadway.
On “Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?”:
From the New York Times:
SAN FRANCISCO — The comedian Josh Kornbluth says he never really considered himself Jewish until he sifted through a series of hypercolored portraits and emerged, as he puts it, one of Warhol’s Jews.
In 1980 Andy Warhol created a series of silk-screen prints called “10 Portraits of Jews of the 20th Century” depicting luminaries like Einstein, Kafka and Golda Meir. Critics were appalled and denounced the series as crassly exploitative; audiences responded far more favorably.
Recently the art historian Richard Meyer, a professor at the University of Southern California, wrote an essay about the exhibition’s lost history: Warhol’s artistic process, the hundreds of Jews whom he considered including, Anne Frank and Bob Dylan among them, and the Jewish cultural centers that were happy to play host to the show. The Jewish Museum in New York and the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco used Mr. Meyer’s essay as a springboard for a fresh exhibition of the portraits, which opened in Manhattan last spring and arrived here in October.
Then, Mr. Kornbluth walked through. He was having none of it.
“I defaced my catalog,” he said. “I put a Jewish beard and sidelocks and a yarmulke on him. I thought, if Warhol is going to Warholize the Jews, then I’m going to Jewify Warhol.”
Far from being dismayed, the museum here commissioned Mr. Kornbluth, well known in the San Francisco Bay Area for his irreverent monologues, to write one about his Warhol journey. Mr. Kornbluth, a son of atheist Marxists who grew up in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, decided to investigate his unease with the exhibition by exploring its history, the subjects and their creator.
“I began to look at the War-whole,” he said. One result, “Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?,” was staged at the museum over the past two weekends, and the final performance, sold out like the others, is on Thursday night.
In a way Mr. Kornbluth’s comic routine is an allegory for a museumgoer’s struggle to find meaning. Reject, then reconsider: curators say that process is critical to the museum experience. By presenting the monologue, they add, they are encouraging patrons to undergo a process similar to Mr. Kornbluth’s.
“Most of the time museums tell you, ‘This is a masterpiece, and if you can’t appreciate it, then it’s your failure,’ ” Mr. Meyer said. “It’s an experience we all have, when you go to an art exhibit, and the art doesn’t speak to you.”
He added, “We’re asking people not to give up on art that seems difficult or that they feel indifferent toward or that they think is meaningless.”
In the opening of his monologue Mr. Kornbluth protests, “I don’t get it.” He shakes his fists at the portraits, projected onto a row of screens behind him. “I don’t get the same feeling I get from the Rembrandt portraits at the Met. They’re resisting me, they’re pushing me away.”
He looks a bit closer. He studies the colors “potchkied” over the face of Louis Brandeis, the crude scribbles outlining Gertrude Stein’s features, the “blue eye shadow” layered over Golda Meir’s profile. Still, he says, “I get nothing.”
Critics of the 1980s exhibition found nothing to praise, either. But in his 2008 reconsideration of the portraits, Mr. Meyer emphasized that the show was received with enthusiasm outside New York. When Warhol visited Coral Gables, Fla., when the show opened there, nearly 1,000 people lined up for autographs.
In the monologue Mr. Kornbluth tries delving into the professional biographies of Warhol’s subjects in search of artistic substance: George Gershwin’s revolutionary mix of jazz, popular and classical music, the Marx Brothers’ films. Then he gets to the theologian and philosopher Martin Buber, “the one I know absolutely nothing about.”
Suddenly the comedian shifts to an anecdote about a gay Presbyterian minister named Chuck who gave the teenage Mr. Kornbluth a brief lesson on “I-It” and “I-Thou,” elements of Buber’s philosophy of human relationships.
“I-It” involves relating to a person as a functional object — “I objectify you,” as the Rev. Chuck put it; “I-Thou” involves relating to someone in a more engaged way. “When you feel ‘I-Thou,’ you connect to the eternal,” Mr. Kornbluth quotes Chuck as saying. “ ‘I-It’ is a monologue. ‘I-Thou’ is a dialogue.”
“That’s what I have to do with these portraits to get inside them,” Mr. Kornbluth tells the audience. “I need to get from ‘I-It’ to ‘I-Thou.’ ” He tries to create a dialogue between his own experience and that of the subjects, particularly on the wide-ranging iterations of Jewish identity.
The actress Sarah Bernhardt was born to a Jewish courtesan in Paris, but was baptized in a Roman Catholic church at 12 and educated in convents. Stein was an American who lived her adult life as a writer in France, where, historians suspect, she survived the Nazi occupation because of her connections to a Vichy figure. Kafka was born in Prague to a German Jewish family, and his attempts to relate to his conflicting heritage left him alienated, a theme that courses through his writing.
Mr. Kornbluth didn’t attend a synagogue and never had a bar mitzvah. His mother spoke Yiddish, but culturally his family members identified more as Americans than as Jews. His father rejected his Jewish faith and taught his children about Marx, Engels and class struggle.
Mr. Kornbluth began pondering the themes of rejection, marginalization and ideological struggle in his own life. “I’ve been doing a kind of Jewish 101 this last month,” he said. “I’d thought that because I’m not a religiously observant Jew, then I’m not a Jew.”
And there it was. He was relating to Warhol’s Jews. He had drawn himself into the art.
“Warhol was a door maker — that’s why there’s no depth,” Mr. Kornbluth said. “He put behind each door an icon, a superstar, so we’d want to go through. He created an ‘I-Wow.’ ”
And ultimately, Mr. Kornbluth said, the experience of thinking about the portraits gave him a greater appreciation of and curiosity about his Jewishness. The art validated him.
“What Andy Warhol has taught me is that I am a Jew,” Mr. Kornbluth concludes at the end of the show. For that, he says, he is in debt to the artist. “I guess you could say that I am a Warhol Jew,” he adds.
In an inspired bit of cross-disciplinary thinking, the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco commissioned monologist Josh Kornbluth to devise a performance based on Warhol’s Jews: Ten Portraits Reconsidered, the museum’s current exhibition of Andy Warhol’s famous 1980 portrait series depicting ten well-known Jewish luminaries. The celebrities depicted in the series include: Sarah Bernhardt, Louis Brandeis, Martin Buber, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, the Marx Brothers (considered as one subject rather than three) Golda Meir, George Gershwin, Franz Kafka, and Gertrude Stein. The resulting performance, Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?, provides an illuminating, touching and deeply personal journey into one monologist’s response to the portrait series. What I love best about Kornbluth’s monologue is its ability to reflect the personal feelings of the performer while at the same time echoing sensations that I myself experienced while wandering around the museum’s exhibition halls an hour before the show. Like Kornbluth, I felt confused and a bit put off by Warhol’s gaudy “flatnesses,” the famous faces masked by impenetrable wedges of color and scar-like outlines. Furthermore, I couldn’t understand why this 20th century Catholic master of commercial art would choose to make a study of ten Jews. Why not five Jews? Or ten scientologists?Stuffed like a knish with Jewish humor, Kornbluth’s monologue dives into the series, looking for a way to connect with the portraits and ultimately the artist behind them. The hour-long performance takes us from the nonplussed opening sentiment of “Warhol’s Jews. Hmm. I didn’t know he kept Jews,” to the ultimate realization that Warhol is kind of like a door leading us to “I and Thou” — the core philosophy of existence espoused by the Jewish thinker Martin Buber (who happens to be one of Warhol’s ten Jews.) As such, the monologue takes us from feeling distanced from the portraits to feeling a boundless relationship with them — and their famously enigmatic creator.The geniality and warmth of Kornbluth’s performance helps to draw us into his personal journey, which is woven together with anecdote from his past. Part sermon, part art lecture and part Borscht Belt standup routine, Kornbluth’s latest monologue is not only good for the Jews; it’s also good for the Contemporary Jewish Museum. By giving museum goers an intelligent and refreshingly different angle on the series, the museum helps us understand them better in a fun and non-didactic way that makes me want to re-visit the exhibition (and, by association, other shows at the museum) in the future. It would be great to see more museums looking for such ways to cross-fertilize and thus enrich their exhibitions.Kornbluth’s show plays until January 22. Warhol’s Jews runs until February 3. January 12, 2009 8:37 AM