The life you’re living is just a fake version of Kim Noble’s. His might be weirder. He might spend more time making fake vulvas out of shrink-wrapped chicken breasts, fuck more watermelons and spend more time sellotaping his scrotum to his thighs, or at least more time filming it all. He might even be lonelier, by conventional standards. But his obscene and joyous show speaks with such truth and clarity about how we live with one another, about privacy and longing, participation and social structures, that it strips whole swathes of the world bare. Prank-arsed Jackass shredded into Andy Kaufman’s wettest dreams, played low-down and dirty for a bullpit audience to gasp and guffaw, it’s nonetheless a deeply intelligent and visibly fearless work from an artist whose territory is the crunchpoint where the spanner meets the works.
Noble’s theme is loneliness, and despite the scrappy anarchy of his presentation, he covers a huge swathe of contemporary experience. Relationships, work, the internet, homes and communities, commerce and mortality are all subjected to his ‘projects’. Noble’s projects are more like experiments – stress testing everyday commonplaces and trying out combinations of action which shatter conventional concepts while retaining their own emotional logic. They may often seem despicable, but ultimately they’re also explicable, ingenious, even rigorous.
The show begins with projections of browser windows on a feckless late-night info binge. Sentences hover half-completed, until Google fills them in with one of its typically bizarre suggestions culled from the typically bizarre things people type into it. On the screen, Noble looks sweaty, lonely and sleep deprived in the glow of his laptop screen. But the point is well made: even at our most disconnected from the world, alone in front of our computers in the middle of the night, there are voices calling out to us. You are not the only one looking for extreme insertion dwarf porn. There’s some comfort in that.
That’s just the bit before the audience settles down, by the way. It hasn’t even started yet. And once it does, it never lets up. Noble has (infamously) been recording his neighbours scrapping and fucking, he’s made a bar chart out of it, and he’s joined in by blasting some high volume pornography back at the ceiling. It’s a hobby. But in this and his attempts to marginally improve the lives of his neighbours – washing their cars without their knowledge (dressed as a horse); offering awards to gloomy looking restaurant owners; paying money into his elderly neighbours bank account through details illegally stolen from her bin – he’s taking affirmative action in the face of the walls of conventionality (and brick) that divides him from others in his community.
Noble goes for a job at B&Q. He doesn’t get it because he fills in forms like a psychopath, but he makes his own uniform and starts turning up anyway. He’s pretty shit at the job, but he carries on attending for a couple of years, and when he eventually decides to leave, he attempts to arrange a trip to Nando’s to say goodbye. It’s utterly fucking hilarious, of course, and as with so many of Noble’s stunts you suspect the details have been heavily massaged, but it’s also absolutely brilliant. It challenges the very idea of the employment contract, of the definition of work and the invisibility of the minimum wage employee to the system to which s/he contributes. When he calls up HR to arrange his leaving do, they won’t even come to Nandos with him. After all he’s done for them!
His tussles with relationships are a similar blend of the shocking, exploitative, innocent and beautiful. He strikes them up online with fake profile pictures and continues them with ever-escalating technological innovations. He photoshops his chest into a credible pair of breasts for sexting, he creates electronic avatars using iTunes and Audacity so that he can finally speak to his horny male admirers. He alters his voice. They may be the tools of the prankster, but Noble’s using them to gradually, piece by piece, fill in the components required for an invented person to pass muster. Not just pass muster, but inspire dozens of presumably satisfying masturbatory exchanges with men he has never met. Each piece of the Golem is a way of reaching out, a ‘helping hand’, as the images he receives of ejaculations makes particularly explicit.
Then there is the material involving Noble’s father, who is rotting away under the fuckstorm of dementia in some care home. It is extraordinarily painful to watch, as it must have been to record. Noble’s father speaks with a disintegrated intelligence in one of the few spots where hope has genuinely run out. It makes Noble’s earlier attempts to lighten or at least colour the lives of men like Keith, the checkout man who Noble showers with awards and occasionally impersonates, seem all the more poignant.
And not just poignant, but absolutely fucking essential.
Of course there are problems and wrinkles here too. Noble’s work always attracts a certain amount of rubbernecking, of lists of the grotesque acts he commits laid out cold without context like the bodies of dead birds, and it’s something he positively encourages. Shock value is undoubtedly part of his methodology as well as his attraction, but it’s actually only interesting in so far as it shakes us out of our usual way of going about things and thinking about the world. Yes, shitting in churches is probably one of his less interesting projects, not that it’s completely uninteresting of course, and you sense Noble knows it because it’s now been self-referentially framed in an earlier recording of the show.
There are also, I suppose, some moral issues regarding privacy and the right to a quiet life without Noble knocking on your door and giving you awards. But what You’re Not Alone explains so eloquently, is that its title is both entirely true, in that no life is free of similar (if less outré) invasions, and an outright lie, in that alone is all of our destinations, and that if the worst thing that ever happens to you on your way there is that you have to mop up some shit or have an ex-comedian steal your books and fire rockets at them, then it’s probably worth the occasional inconvenience.
To keep on squeeing on, Noble’s show is also extremely smart in its use of form, and the games it plays with truth, evidence and credibility. It’s perfectly soundtracked and painted in constantly surprising and vivid imagery. It’s actually a total blast, and when a show that involves the sight of a dying man’s most personal of personal care can genuinely also be a total blast, something extremely rare and possibly quite valuable is taking place.
Kaufman is really the only fair comparison here. The two performers share a similar sense of comedy and of tragedy, and the closing stunt of You’re Not Alone is like Kaufman at his most group-hug generous. It’s not quite the 24 coaches, milk and cookies shtick that Kaufman pulled out in his ’79 Carnegie Hall show, but I don’t think anyone in that audience will forget it anytime soon.
The Exeunt interview with Kim Noble.
Tim Bano’s review of You’re Not Alone