In 2003 the poet Kenneth Goldsmith published one of his most popular works, “Day,” in which he retyped, “word for word, letter for letter,” the September 1, 2000 edition of the New York Times. He has said that the book, eight hundred and thirty-six pages long, took him a full year to type. His 2013 book “Seven American Deaths and Disasters” transcribes radio and television accounts of 9/11, the Columbine shootings, the Challenger explosion, and the deaths of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, John Lennon, and Michael Jackson; last year he caused some controversy with his poem “The Body of Michael Brown,” an intentionally provocative rearrangement of Brown’s autopsy report, which he read at a conference. Goldsmith, who describes what he does as “uncreative writing,” believes it is the writer’s job not to create original work but to reassemble existing work in new contexts. Love him or hate him—and most people fall squarely at either extreme—there’s a certain power to his ethos: not only that a simple rearrangement can give new meaning to old work, but that oftentimes art might not look like art at all.
Blogologues, a found-text variety show now playing at the People’s Improv Theater (PIT), certainly has different ambitions than Goldsmith’s school of conceptual poetry. But it operates on similar formal principles and deals with similar concerns. The brainchild of comedians Alison Goldberg and Jen Jamula, who perform the show with Tommy Heleringer, Blogologues seeks to give life and music to the disembodied diatribes, confessions, and musings of the digital sphere. The trio enacts Tinder exchanges and Craigslist posts, fan fiction and Amazon reviews, tweetstorms and “About” pages. Some are straightforward monologic renderings, such as a Livejournal post about the R-rated scent of certain spring blossoms. Others are sketches, like the recurring “Real Tinder Messages,” and others are much more theatrical affairs, such as an operatic adaptation of this viral Twitter tale by @_blotty. Tonally, most of the material tends toward the sexual, though the show’s formal plasticity keeps the content refreshing. A few instances of audience participation add a layer of unpredictability, especially in one particularly nauseating scene about, er, cocktails with a special ingredient. Then there’s the grand finale, a musical number executed with such gusto that it’s easy to forget the words—which I am reluctant to spoil—were not penned by comedians.
Goldberg and Jamula project the credit for each sketch, including the occasional inter-scene tweet performed by Heleringer, on the back wall of the PIT’s otherwise bare Striker Stage. This serves as a constant reminder that they are here simply as interpreters—retweets are not endorsements!—and is also a sort of anchor, a way of enacting the parodied experience alongside the parody itself. Though theatre is a communal endeavor, one’s relationship with the Internet, at least as a consumer, is usually private: you scroll through tweets in the quiet of your own head, anonymously look up questions whose answers you should know, research choice fetishes with the screen dimmed. Writing and posting online is inherently performative—and Blogologues envisions a satisfying range of identities for its sources—but as readers we are our undecorated selves. And yet this is girded by the knowledge that we are not alone in the act, not exactly, that unseen masses are reading and thinking exactly as we are. Blogologues acknowledges the complexity of this relationship by smashing right through it; there’s no barrier between the public and private self, though certain scenes may make us yearn for one.
Of course, Blogologues is not (and shouldn’t be) a work of highbrow intellectual discourse. It’s silly, loud, colorful, wildly raunchy, probably embarrassing for the folks called onstage. Though certain spots lag (there are much, much funnier tweets than those performed as standup here) these moments are brief and rare—the ad before a YouTube video. And I do wonder how Blogologues might treat content beyond the narrow scope of sex, romance, and gross-out humor. Goldberg and Jamula bill a certain work of fan fiction in which Hitler falls in love with Jesus as “literally the most offensive thing we’ve ever found on the Internet.” Well, there are things that are offensive because they are funny, and things that are offensive because they are not funny at all. This example falls in the former camp—though I also think it’s irreverent enough to avoid offense—and Blogologues mostly avoids the latter altogether. Maybe this is for the best; let more serious theatre deconstruct more serious subjects. But Blogologues’ power is in the surprising faces and voices it gives to anonymous text. Most of that text is already funny in its own right. What if it weren’t?