Thursday, February 12, 2009

Joaquin Phoenix Channels Andy Kaufman

Two-time Academy Award nominee Joaquin Phoenix acted like a demented homeless man last night on David Letterman. Muttering in monosyllable, chewing gum and acting extremely disoriented, the Walk the Line star came onstage in full shaggy beard with a suit and loosely-knotted tie. The actor hid behind his shades, perhaps the better to conceal whatever he was really up to.

At first Letterman seemed in on the gag, but Dave's comments grew increasingly acerbic as the 10-minute interview wore on. "I'm sorry you couldn't be here tonight, Joaquin," Letterman said, concluding the interview.

Phoenix recently announced he would abandon acting to concentrate on his fledgling career as a rapper. Whatever.

But his appearance on Late Night with David Letterman had all the makings of an Andy Kaufman routine. Kaufman's schtick always involved making his audience uncomfortable, as they were never really sure if his dazed expression and deadpan delivery were a put-on or whether he was mentally deficient.

Kaufman took his secrets to the grave in 1984 when he died of complications related to a rare form of lung cancer. He was 35, a year older than Phoenix is now.

Maybe carrying on like a kook will help ol' Joaquin sell some rap records. His oddball performance last night made for memorable TV and, I suspect, that was his objective all along:

Here's Andy Kaufman, performing one of his better-known routines on the premiere episode of SNL in 1975:

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