The Visible Man
|Photo by Paula Court|
Danny Hoch describes Jails, Hospitals & HipHop his latest one-man performance (winding up its run December 13 at Actors Gang Theater) as "a darker, more freaked-out show" than his Obie Awardwinning Some People, which played at Taper, Too in 1995. "[This one] takes you to these sad places right in the middle of hysterical laughter," Hoch explains. "Its what my director [Jo Bonney] refers to as the discomfort zone."
Hoch has a clear idea of who he wants to take into that zone and it isnt traditional theatergoers, whom he describes as affluent, white and over 35. "Im interested in my generation dominating my audience, because there is no theater for our generation," he says. (Hoch will turn 28 during his L.A. run.) "A lot of theaters across the country talk about reaching out to the audience of tomorrow, but its all talk . . . Theres a segregation even in whos invited to theater. Theaters not marketed to us, itnot about us, and we cant afford it."
In New York, Hoch says, "You have the democracy of the subways and the streets, which means that you have to interact with people." Hoch finds L.A. wanting for this kind of egalitarianism: "The majority of New Yorkers walk out of their houses to go to the store in their neighborhood to get something to eat," he argues, "which you cant do in a lot of L.A." In Los Angeles, Hoch has observed what he calls "an invisibility" of the minority of Angelenos who take the bus. "Its like a caste system," he says.
And thats not the only caste system at work in L.A., as Hoch knows from experience. He drew hate mail earlier this year when a now infamous monologue from Jails was excerpted in both The Village Voice and Harpers Magazine. In it, Hoch relates how he was offered the chance to play Ramon, the crazy "pool guy" in an episode of Seinfeld. Hoch accepted the role after being assured that he could play the part any way he pleased the character didnt even have to be named Ramon. But when rehearsals began, Jerry Seinfeld and the shows producers demanded a Spanish accent for Ramon. Hoch refused, offered alternatives, persisted in playing the role as a "non-culturally-specific character," and was quickly replaced.
"When you look at L.A., you see a city that revolves around the media," Hoch says. "When the media make Latinos and Asians invisible, youre not going to see a lot of them except on the bus because you dont have to . . . If youre driving your fucking car from your house in Toluca Lake to your job on the Fox lot, or in downtown, you may pass a whole bunch of people. But what reason would you have to get out of your car? And if you were controlling the media, why would you think asking Danny Hoch to do a phony Latino accent on Seinfeld would be an issue?"
Hoch describes himself as an urban griot in the ancient tradition of "shamans, teachers, preachers, actors and social critics, all in one." He is also an acrobat. There are times in Jails when Hochs urban griot seems as though balanced on one precarious point in the discomfort zone, defying gravity as well as traditional expectations of entertainment, daring you to "follow this flow." And if you cant, well, he wasnt talking to you anyway.
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