Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

April 21, 2004:

Josh Kornbluth ’80 performed “Love & Taxes” in New York. (Leialoha)

Make ’em laugh and cry
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.