Eric Bogosian


Highlights from New York City in the ’70s:
Robert Mapplethorpe
Multiple Personality Disorder
Japanese steel
Lebanese drug dealers
David Mamet

Actor and writer Eric Bogosian first bubbled up from the cultural stew that was late-’70s New York with the Ricky Paul Show, an act in which he played an obnoxious comedian/abhorrent lounge singer who wore a plaid suit and instigated physical confrontation with his audience. Antagonistic, aggressive, and rough around the edges, the Ricky Paul Show was the theatrical manifestation of punk.

Over the next couple of years, the “guys in Eric’s head” started multiplying, each clamoring for stage time of their own. Simultaneously, at the tail end of a “kind of Robert Mitchum way of relating to women,” Eric met his wife, director Jo Bonney, who would go on to become his closest and most essential collaborator, directing him in six one-man shows that revolutionized American theater. The “solos”—Men Inside; Funhouse; Drinking in America; Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll; Pounding Nails in the Floor with My Forehead; and Wake Up and Smell the Coffee—introduced theater audiences to Eric’s chameleonic, visceral acting style and his dark, hilarious, and radical writing.

Part Andy Kaufman, part Lenny Bruce, part good old-fashioned transformational character actor, Eric brought shock jocks, spaced-out drug dealers, Hollywood producers, New Age gurus, rock stars, homeless guys, and traveling salesmen to the stage, infusing each with his trademark fearless, acerbic, provocative, and insanely insightful wit. Chaotic, visceral, precise, and totally contemporary, his solos spawned a whole new genre of theater.

Eric has gone on to write multicharacter plays (Griller, Talk Radio, Humpty Dumpty, subUrbia), adapt two of those (Talk Radio and subUrbia) into films with Oliver Stone and Richard Linklater, respectively, and write screenplays, teleplays, and novels (Mall and Wasted Beauty). He also works constantly as an actor in film, theater, and TV, playing characters from Lebanese drug dealer/John Holmes buddy Eddie Nash (Wonderland) to world-conquering evil bad guy Travis Dane (Under Siege 2) to McCarthy-esque senator Larson Crockett (Witch Hunt) to Satan (Stephen Adly Guirgis’s play The Last Days of Judas Iscariot) for directors as diverse as Robert Altman, Lizzie Borden, Atom Egoyan, Woody Allen, Paul Schrader, and Oliver Stone.

This year, he has been added to the long list of great New York actors to star in the Law & Order franchise, as Captain Danny Ross on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Jo Bonney recently directed an updated production of subUrbia off-Broadway, and Talk Radio is currently being revived on Broadway.

We first met Eric when he acted off-Broadway in our play The Exonerated. We spoke with him on a late August afternoon in his office in Tribeca, surrounded by Futurist posters and minimalist furniture.

—Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen


ERIK JENSEN: In Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll, you have the homeless guy go into the audience and I kept thinking about the Futurists and their electrified theater seats. You’re implicating the audience in that moment; it’s not so comfortable for them.

ERIC BOGOSIAN: You have to remember what the ’70s looked like: Everybody had long hair. Everybody was kind of cool. And everybody was smoking weed, and everybody was kind of a feminist. But in fact everybody was the same bunch of assholes they always were. Men and women were supposedly in this new enlightened stage, the age of feminism, sexual freedom, all of that, and yet I looked around and saw everybody pretty much acting the way they always acted. My approach to that was to make extremely male, nasty guys. Now these days, it’s understood that when you make work like that, that it’s with an understanding that it’s meant to be—I don’t know—

JESSICA BLANK: Illuminating it.

EB: Yeah, or chipping away, or breaking stuff off and turning it upside down. But man, back then, I had stuff cancelled all the time—

JB: Really?

EB: It’d be like, (a) do you have any sense of humor, and (b) do you have a brain? I mean, I’m not advocating rape. Of course. But I am looking at it. This was a problem for people. Eventually that attitude became something that was easier and easier for people to lose. And in fact, went the other way, to the point where I’m not sure I buy every “devil’s advocate” kind of piece anymore. I think that’s why Chappelle had his meltdown, because I think he was making that work with the best of intentions, and he’s fucking hilariously funny, but he realized he was making people laugh who maybe didn’t have any enlightened aspects.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Jessica Blank has appeared in films including The Namesake, On the Road with Judas, and Undermind; her TV credits include Law & Order: Criminal Intent, The Bronx Is Burning, and Rescue Me. She is co-author (with Erik Jensen) of the play The Exonerated and the book Living Justice. Her novel, Almost Home, is forthcoming from Hyperion.

Erik Jensen has appeared in more than twenty-five feature films; his TV credits include CSI, Law & Order, Love Monkey, and Alias. He is currently playing legendary Yankee Thurman Munson in the miniseries The Bronx Is Burning.

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