Careful Movement, pr. 1977
Slavery, pr. 1977
Garden, pr. 1978
Heaven, Heaven, Heaven, pr. 1978
The Ricky Paul Show, pr. 1979
Sheer Heaven, pr. 1980
That Girl, pr. 1981
The New World, pr. 1981
Men Inside, pr. 1981
Voices of America, pr. 1982
Advocate, pr. 1983
FunHouse, pr. 1983
I Saw the Seven Angels, pr. 1984
Talk Radio, pr. 1984
Drinking in America, pr. 1986
Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll, pr., pb. 1990
Scenes from the New World, pb. 1993
The Essential Bogosian, pb. 1994
Pounding Nails in the Floor with My Forehead, pr., pb. 1994
subUrbia, pr. 1994
Thirty-one Ejaculations, pr. 1996
Griller, pr. 1998
Bitter Sauce, pr., pb. 1998
Wake Up and Smell the Coffee, pr. 2000
Humpty Dumpty, pr. 2002
Talk Radio, 1988 (with Oliver Stone)
Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll, 1991 (adaptation of his play)
subUrbia, 1996 (adaptation of his play)
High Incident, 1996
Notes from Underground, 1994 (novella and play)
Eric Bogosian (buh-GOHZH-yuhn) describes himself as is “a creator of monologues and solo shows,” a playwright, a screenwriter, an actor, a novelist, a solo performer, and “a candidate for intensive Prozac therapy.” Besides being one of the most talented, funny, versatile, and restlessly creative people in show business, Bogosian is also one of the United States’ fiercest and most trenchant social critics, a writer and performer often (and justly) compared to Lenny Bruce for the outrageous intensity and moral seriousness of his work.
Bogosian was born April 24, 1953, and raised in Woburn, Massachusetts, a Boston suburb he describes as “comatose, a dying factory city.” (Woburn is notorious as the site of the water pollution case dramatized by the 1998 film A Civil Action.) Bogosian’s interest in theater began at Woburn High School, where he acted in school plays. He started college at the University of Chicago in the fall of 1971 but had dropped out by the spring of 1973. After a stint as an assistant manager of a Gap store, Bogosian decided to give college another try. He recalls thinking that “since I was doing nothing with my life anyway, I might as well do nothing in college. And since (this was my reasoning) college was pointless, I might as well be doing something pointless I enjoyed.” He transferred to Oberlin College, where he majored in theater.
After graduating from Oberlin in 1975, Bogosian relocated to New York City, where he took a job as a director’s “gofer” at the Chelsea Westside Theater and began to immerse himself in the vibrant SoHo art scene. Bogosian next found work directing dance productions at The Kitchen, a venue for performance art, video art, and new music. In 1977, he debuted in Careful Moment, his one-man show at the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church that featured an array of colorful urban characters. In 1979, Bogosian invented a persona: Ricky Paul, an insufferable “comedian” who had, in his creator’s words, “nothing positive to say about anybody or anything and reveled in the paranoia and decay of the modern world.” As intended, The Ricky Paul Show provoked audiences, sometimes to the point of rioting, and Bogosian recalls that he “began to understand the power of the spoken word, especially when uttered in the face of the fragility of people’s beliefs.”
After several years of performing in various one-man shows, Bogosian wrote, directed, and performed in The New World, a three-act, avant-garde play involving “sixteen scenes and fifteen actors” that flopped, landed him in debt, and prompted a return to solo performances, which were inexpensive to mount. Bogosian wrote and performed Men Inside, a fast-paced, eclectic collection of short character sketches of American males that featured a sideshow barker, a querulous black boy, a menacing street punk, a discouraged yuppie, a lusty cowboy, and a tired working man. His next solo project, Voices of America, parodied the frenetic silliness of advertising discourse. With FunHouse, another wide-ranging set of character sketches, Bogosian presented disturbing but often hilarious portraits of twisted contemporaries: a rubber fetishist, a desperately aggressive insurance salesman, a ranting bowery bum, a military torture specialist, and a fascistic preacher. The show had a healthy run, and critics began to take notice.
Bogosian solidified his growing reputation by writing and starring in Talk Radio, a critically acclaimed Off-Broadway play that focuses on an angry, articulate late-night Cleveland “shock jock” named Barry Champlain who vents self-hatred by frequently humiliating his callers. After scraping by for most of a decade, Bogosian began to pull his family–he married theater director Jo Bonney in 1980, and they had two sons–out of poverty when he broke into the lucrative world of Hollywood acting by appearing in an episode of the television series Miami Vice. He has acted in several television shows and films since then.
On the artistic front, Bogosian scored a major breakthrough in 1986 when he opened his fourth solo show, Drinking in America, at the American Place Theater on West Forty-sixth Street in New York. Another maniacally intense portrait gallery of deranged, oblivious American males, the show proved to be a huge hit, running for sixteen weeks and garnering rave reviews. Cinemax produced a shortened version for television, and Vintage published a book version in 1987.
When Bogosian reprised Talk Radio for Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival the next year, the play caught the attention of film director Oliver Stone, who hired Bogosian to write the script for and star in a film version. Bogosian produced a brilliant script based mostly on his play but also on direct observations of Los Angeles radio talk show host Tom Leykis and on the tragic story of Alan Berg, an acerbic Denver radio personality assassinated by Aryan Nation thugs in 1984. The usually heavy-handed Stone exercised admirable restraint in shooting the film (set in Dallas instead of Cleveland), and Bogosian’s screen rendition of the monstrous but fascinating Barry Champlain was the performance of a lifetime. The film won awards and the respect of critics but was so intensely downbeat that it barely recouped its modest four-million-dollar production budget.
In 1990, Bogosian premiered Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll, his sixth solo show, at the Orpheum Theater on New York’s Second Avenue. Mostly consisting of frenetic impressions of street people, Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll was another tour de force of comedy, mimicry, and familiar urban horror that stunned audiences and impressed critics. A book version by HarperCollins quickly appeared, as did audio and film versions. In 1994, Bogosian unveiled two new major works: subUrbia, a play he wrote but did not appear in, and Pounding Nails in the Floor with My Forehead, his seventh solo performance. Both were well received, and film director Richard Linklater made subUrbia into a film in 1996. Bogosian has turned increasingly to acting, a career move ratified by the tepid reception of his eighth solo performance, Wake Up and Smell the Coffee. Bogosian published his first novel, a dark thriller titled Mall, in 2000. His play Humpty Dumpty, which premiered in 2002, is an ensemble piece billed as a contemporary psychological thriller. Though probably past his glory days as a solo performer, Bogosian continues to be a major force in American popular culture.