Alchemy of Comedy…Stupid combines film, performance, photos, and print to extract connections between the medieval practice of alchemy and contemporary comedy. Analogous to the transmutations of alchemy, jokes are inventions in which two elements collide mutually exclusive elements—the narrative and
its counterpart, the punch line. Like alchemy, jokes ultimately rest on chance: the timing and context of delivery.
The project centers on a multi-channel film projected life-size on the gallery walls. Directed by Arceneaux, it features comedian David Alan Grier experimenting with the same routine in three locations. Like a scientist might consider the four basic elements of air, water, fire, and earth, the production mixes proportions of colors, music, audience, and wordplay. Harsh tones and lighting cyclically appear, local bands play in each venue, audience is variously collapsed with performer, and delivery changes each night. The jokes focus on the darker side of life: potential scares with cancer, Grier’s strained relationship with his father, and his dad’s wheelchair-bound experience.
Objects in the gallery expand on the idea of tragedy, an inherent notion of comedy and alchemy, which was applied to prolong life and cure disease. On the wall, a ten-foot photo transfer of a wheelchair is depicted with burning embers in its seat. Fire and death point back to alchemy, but also to Grier and his comedic “father,” Richard Pryor, who famously burned himself, spent time in a wheelchair, and died of a heart attack in 2005.
Pryor is again referenced in a series of twelve photographs of flames. Collectively titled Do you remember that joke? When you hold up a match and you go like this and say, “What’s this?” “Richard Pryor running down the street.”, the work references a once-popular joke that involved waving a lit match.
Alchemy of Comedy…Stupid demonstrates that shared qualities can cross disciplines and destabilize familiar notions of both comedy and alchemy. Ultimately, it proposes the expansive coherence of nonlinear logic and that, at the center of the comedic universe, lies a black sun.