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Artist Gets Laughs by Doing Simple Things the Hard Way

  • Peter Fedynsky

Artist Gets Laughs by Doing Simple Things the Hard Way

Artist Gets Laughs by Doing Simple Things the Hard Way

It is not easy finding a difficult way to perform a simple task. But New Yorker Joseph Herscher takes the trouble to do so, for the sake of making people laugh. A video of his latest outrageously complicated contraption is a big hit on YouTube.

It took a complicated series of preposterous and unexpected actions to set up this smashing punch line in a video called The Creamed Egg. Nearly two and a half minutes of mechanical zaniness included balls rolling down troughs, bouncing off the floor, tripping switches, engaging pulleys, lifting cups of water and other surprises along the way.

The Creamed Egg needed six months of trial and error to prepare. It took three days and 200 attempts to film a successful sequence. Above all it took patience, something artist Joseph Herscher describes as a belief in an end goal, in his case - making people laugh.

“And as long as I never let go of it, that vision, and I never stop believing that it’s going to pay off, then I can just keep on working forever," he said. "It’s the trial and error that’s time-consuming. So you know what trial and error means: trial means hope and error means reality.”

Herscher says he has gotten ideas from the drawings of farfetched machines by the late American cartoonist Rube Goldberg, whose name is associated in the United States with preposterous complexity. Herscher turns the implausible into reality, using familiar objects in unfamiliar ways. That, he says, makes people think about them not as a means to an end, but rather as potential forms of amusement.

“Parts of our lives are so mechanical that it’s sort of nice to stop and think about these parts and have a bit of fun with them," said Herscher. "I guess because I’ve been making these sorts of things my whole life, I’ve built up a library in my head of everyday objects and what you can do with them.”

And he continues to expand that library, for example, spending time in hardware stores to tinker with objects to learn how they roll, fall or collide.

Herscher earns a living in New York creating cell phone apps. He was born in the city, but raised in New Zealand. He began playing with contraptions at the age of five and says he got his sense of humor from his father. Both parents were performers.

“We’re human beings, we like to play, and I’m trying to inject playfulness into machines again," he said. "And not necessarily just trying to do the job as efficiently as possible, but actually playing around along the way and doing the job as inefficiently as possible.”

Joseph Herscher’s latest work, The Page Turner, has gotten more than four and a half million hits on YouTube. And probably even more laughs.

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