|Photo by Paula Court|
Danny Hoch describes Jails, Hospitals & Hip Hop — 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 Award–winning 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. “It’s 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 isn’t traditional theatergoers, whom he describes as affluent, white and over 35. “I’m 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 it’s all talk . . . There’s a segregation even in who’s invited to theater. Theater’s not marketed to us, itnot about us, and we can’t 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 can’t 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. “It’s like a caste system,” he says.
And that’s 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 Harper’s 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 didn’t even have to be named Ramon. But when rehearsals began, Jerry Seinfeld and the show’s 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, you’re not going to see a lot of them — except on the bus — because you don’t have to . . . If you’re 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 Hoch’s 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 can’t, well, he wasn’t talking to you anyway.