Five confrontational performers: From MoMA to basic cable

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Red Bastard comes to Boulder this weekend for some of the character's final shows before creator Eric Davis heads to Cirque du Soleil. A huge part of the Red Bastard show is engaging the audience in sometimes uncomfortable ways. Interacting with the audience in ways that range from challenging to threatening is one of the most compelling fields for performers, regardless of whether they're considered highbrow or lowbrow. Below see him in action, along with a handful of his colleagues known for their ability to make people squirm.

5. Tony Clifton

Andy Kaufman's alter ego, Tony Clifton, is one of the stranger facets of a strange comedic career. Clifton is a brazenly terrible cabaret singer who has a tendency to subvert whatever is happening with a studied ambivalence. Various people have played Clifton throughout his life, so his identity lives on even after Kaufman's death. His introduction to the mainstream in the 1970s made him particularly avant-garde.

4. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog

The most directly confrontational and meanest entrant on the list, Conan O'Brian's belittling hand puppet is hard to resist. He's also probably the least artful performer on this list, but they'd all object to being interpreted at all.

3. Red Bastard

Eric Davis's character is an odd sort of monstrosity, seen above accosting people on the street with a remarkable abandonment of normative behavior. Most of the people are laughing, but at least a couple seem genuinely afraid. There's something about his manner that allows him to act like some kind of highly intelligent animal, and people sort of treat him like they would a giant pigeon.

2. Borat

Let's not forget amidst the total inundation of dudes saying, "You like?" how incredibly risky Sacha Baron Cohen's comedy is. Borat was a great movie not because of the sex jokes and catch phrases but because he so expertly lambasted more or less every segment of American society, always directly to its face.

1. Marina Abramovic

(Video NSFW)

The only non-character on this list and the only one you can't characterize as funny in some way, Abramovic's confrontation most famously takes the form of agressive passivity. Her most famous work, Rhythm 0, detailed above, involved providing an audience with manipulative tools and a person, her, with which to do whatever they wanted without reaction for six hours. The abuse she underwent can be interpreted in a lot of different ways, but no matter how you view it, she exposed some deeply buried human instinct.

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Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


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