Comedy's a Joke 

Profiling Sean Joseph Patrick Carney


SEAN JOSEPH PATRICK CARNEY wears a tower of hats. His publishing company Social Malpractice—best known for releasing the erotic fan-fiction collection Fucking James Franco—began as a vanity distribution node for Carney's English-to-American translations of classic critical-theory texts (re-skinning notoriously inaccessible writings in colloquial language, line by line). He teaches at the Pacific Northwest College of Art, runs the hilarious How Do I Make this a Performance? Tumblr (, and spent years writing about art under a Colbert-esque persona called Tanner Dobson ("a conservative artist in a liberal world"). Plus, he's designed shows like AbJackass, where he re-created stunts from the Jackass canon—breaking his tailbone while jumping through a wall from a speeding shopping cart, inviting audience members to wax his chest, and so on. Busy guy.


TRANSLATION: "[My translations of critical-theory texts are] about turning something that is ostensibly inaccessible into something that's accessible. I think at first it seems like a joke, but the amount of work that goes into [a line-by-line translation] is kind of preposterous. It's really a stupid endeavor. It takes so fuckin' long to do."


CONCRETE COMEDY: "Essentially, the idea of concrete comedy is that it's about doing rather than saying. So instead of going the route of, let's say, stand-up comedy, which is highly narrative based... you might make an object that's absurd, or you do a performance where the entire performance itself is the comedy. Like, you might do jokes in it, or you might be saying particular things that are funny in and of themselves, but the action itself is what is the comedy... I mean, Marcel Duchamp putting a urinal [in a gallery]. The thing was the first instance of concrete comedy in the visual art world. You know, just this physical manifestation of a joke. Like, a joke that isn't a transient thing in the middle of a narrative leading toward something, but in and of itself, it's a comic object. Even though I'm doing performance and it's time-based, I think about the performance in a sculptural sense, where there are different portions and each one kind of has its own title and that, to me, that section is an object. That object, that's the joke."


SEAN'S INTERNET IMPRESSION: "[My shows are] highly visual. The idea that I kind of came to a while ago was that I don't want them to be straight stand-up, I don't want them to look like performance art. I want them to look like you're scrolling through a batshit-crazy Tumblr that was really specifically put together. I mean, there's a lot of non sequiturs and bizarre things outta leftfield, but it's a cohesive infinite scroll. And so that's kind of the idea of the visual thing going along with it. A lot of times the image is the punchline to the joke."


COMEDY'S A JOKE: "I have a whole part [of my act] that's just jokes about music. Like, to tell one-liners about Pink, the Black Keys, Fugazi—the joke is spending the time to figure out, like, 30 jokes about bands. To me, that's the comic action, and then the jokes themselves are just sort of this supplementary material or something like that. But the comedy's also in the research. Like, sitting down and poring over all of this stuff and being like, 'What joke can I write about the Black Keys?' And then eventually coming to, 'The Black Keys are a good band. The Black Keys are actually a pretty great band, but when they're somebody's favorite band, I can't help but wonder if they'd like outer space better if it were whiter too.'"


LABOR LULZ: "[My recent Seattle show] ended with a piece called Seattle Spoken, which was the instrumental to Pearl Jam's 'Jeremy,' and then I just superimposed... the first paragraph of Seattle's Wikipedia page, and just sang in the exact delivery of Eddie Vedder... while the music video played in the background. I shot myself for all the scenes of Eddie Vedder, like, looking pensive. I think I was wearing four flannels over each other. The performance, the experience of it, is funny, but it's like, the joke is the action of having done that."


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