Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight
April 21, 2004:
Make ’em laugh and cry
’80 performed “Love & Taxes” in New
Comic Josh Kornbluth ’80 uses his foibles in monologues
Josh Kornbluth ’80, a math whiz in high school, failed calculus
his freshman year at Princeton. Many years later he turned this
ego-shattering experience into a hilarious but touching monologue,
The Mathematics of Change, which he first performed in 1993.
“Setbacks and humor go together for me,” says the
Berkeley, California, performer, who’s proud to be in the
tradition of Jewish comics who seamlessly mesh humor and pathos.
Fortunately for Kornbluth’s career, he’s had no shortage
of setbacks. In his latest autobiographical monologue, Love &
Taxes — the tale of a tax delinquent — Kornbluth faces
a mounting pile of debt despite his work’s growing popularity.
At one point in the show, which a SF Weekly critic called “screamingly
funny,” Kornbluth finds himself hoping the movie project he’s
involved in will flop because its success would mean triumph for
his unscrupulous tax attorney.
Don’t assume that the lovable loser on stage is the real
Josh, though. “The character obviously draws on elements of
the offstage me,” he says, “but in a heightened and
very energetic way.” Occasionally, he stretches the truth
for dramatic reasons, and to protect the innocent.
A recurring subject in his work is his father, a Communist, whose
death 20 years ago sent Kornbluth searching for a creative outlet
to express his grief. But nothing he tried worked until he saw a
performance by monologuist Spalding Gray. “I was just blown
away,” says Kornbluth, in part by the form’s potential
to express a huge range of emotions and subjects. Despite having
no theater background, by 1991 Kornbluth had quit his day job as
a secretary. That work provided material for Haiku Tunnel, an early
monologue based on his “misadventures as a really, really
bad legal secretary,” he says.
In Love & Taxes, which he is performing around the U.S. (check
www.joshkornbluth.com for dates and locations), the politics major
connects his problems with larger issues, enabling audiences to
ponder American political and economic problems through the prism
of personal struggles. “After all these years of focusing
on my own navel,” says Kornbluth, “it’s actually
quite a relief to shift my attention to the world around me.”
By Marina Krakovsky
Marina Krakovsky is a freelance writer in San Mateo, California.