Comedy  |  Lists

5 Great Performance-Art Hoaxers

September 17, 2010  |  7:24pm
5 Great Performance-Art Hoaxers

Joaquin Phoenix’s foray into rap is arguably better as publicity stunt than convincing hoax, especially after the too-weird-to-be-true Letterman appearance. Now that Casey Affleck has officially revealed the whole thing as a lark, here’s a look at some artists who know (or knew) how to pull-off a believable ruse.

5. Sacha Baron Cohen

While his contrivances may have gotten a little tiresome in long form, his films and (especially) Da Ali G Show were peppered with great moments. When he legitimately catches his subjects unawares and exposes their prejudices, incivility and other shortcomings, the results can be hilarious and enlightening.

This interview with Andy Rooney has long been a personal favorite:

4. The Yes Men

The activist duo of Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, among other things, impersonate executives at companies or government organizations they dislike, set up fake websites and get invited to conferences, talk shows and interviews. The time it takes for their audiences to see their over-the-top satire for what it is never ceases to amaze me.

Check out the trailer for their 2009 film, The Yes Men Fix the World.

3. Improv Everywhere

You may remember the Grand Central Station freeze from a couple years ago. The group responsible, Improv Everywhere, has been causing scenes of “chaos and joy” since 2001.

Other “mission” highlights (see them all on the Improve Everywhere website) include the No Pants Subway Rides, McDonald’s Bathroom Attendant, Ben Folds Fake, Best Game Ever, and Spontaneous Musicals, one of which is embedded below.

2. Andy Kaufman

The legendary anti-comedian filled his short decade of performances with many memorable characters, stunts and pranks. Kaufman was so skilled at tricking audiences that many believed his death in 1984 was itself a hoax.

Phoenix’s appearance on Letterman prompted many to compare him to Kaufman. While the Oscar-nominated actor lacks the Kaufman’s history of performance art, his notorious late-night appearance does bear a striking similarity to the uncomfortableness of Kaufman’s appearances on Letterman’s earlier shows:

1. Orson Welles

To be fair, he’s more of a one-hit-wonder in the hoax department. But the legendary film director rose to fame as the director and narrator of the 1938 radio adaptation of H.G. Well’s The War of the Worlds, and it’s a performance that will be remembered for centuries. While the reports of panic caused by the simulated news-bulletin-style broadcast were exaggerated and the beginning of the show made its nature clear, the outrage it generated was nonetheless real. Even Adolf Hitler name-checked the show, citing it as evidence of “the decadence and corrupt condition of democracy.”

Listen to the first part of the broadcast:

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