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Here’s What I Think We Should Do: Quit It With The Joaquin Phoenix Parodies Already

Here’s What I Think We Should Do: Quit It With The Joaquin Phoenix Parodies Already

Maybe motherhood has made me soft. Maybe I’m just getting old, I don’t know. But I think it’s time to quit with the Joaquin Phoenix parodies, people. I’m not sure how to articulate why I think this is important: I just have a bad feeling about the whole situation. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good parody. But there’s something about parodying this behavior, from this person, right now, that I’m concerned is going to lead to some kind of unspeakable tragedy in the near future if we don’t cut it out pronto.

If you didn’t catch Joaquin Phoenix’s appearance on Letterman last week, you can watch it here:

It has been suggested by credible sources that Phoenix’s “retirement” from acting and the subsequent bizarre media appearances are part of some kind of “project” in the works (possibly a mockumentary in the vein of This Is Spinal Tap) by Phoenix and his friend, Casey Affleck. Far be it from me to step on the toes of the entertainment writing industrial complex, but I am having a hard time finding the “anonymous tips” from “sources close to the actor” cited by these writers to be credible.

Here’s why. I’m not buying Joaquin Phoenix as a comedian. For starters, the dude cannot take a joke.

Am I the only one who remembers the Oscars from a few years back, the year after Jaime Foxx had won Best Actor for Ray, when Joaquin Phoenix had been nominated for Best Actor in Walk the Line. And Jon Stewart was hosting, and he made a joke that Walk the Line was Ray for white people. (Which? by the way–funny.) But when they panned to Joaquin Phoenix’s face in the wake of the joke, he looked crushed. I mean seriously crushed. He couldn’t hide it. It was just a joke, and not even directed at him specifically. I remember looking at him then and thinking something was wrong, and yeah, I’m not a psychiatrist, and yeah, this armchair diagnosis was done through a TV set, but whatever, I’m a human and I know disappointment when I see it.

Let’s not forget, either, that Joaquin is River Phoenix’s brother. Before he became Joaquin, he was known as “Leaf” Phoenix, and he’s the one who had to call 911 while his brother was dying in his arms. Listen people, that shit doesn’t wash away, even with a few Oscar nods. And Joaquin Phoenix has always demonstrated a sensitivity that is palpable, it is probably part of what makes him a good actor. But I don’t think it’s going to far to suggest that he might have a few demons that would scare the shit out of most of us. I think we should shoot for leaving those be for as long as possible.


As an amateur comedian, I do find it hard to resist the low-hanging fruit, don’t get me wrong. But something about these repetitive parodies rubs me the wrong way. Now, if I think about why they occur, I think it is this: if you watched the original Letterman skit, it begs for some kind of explanation. It is very difficult to believe that somebody who valued their career–whether it is as an actor or as a “hip hop artist” (WTF?)–would go on Letterman and act like that. So I think when you see the parodies, these are not simply a desire to cash in on the whole utter WTF aura surrounding this thing for comedy, but also part of our collective effort to understand what the hell is going on. Is Joaquin Phoneix on drugs? Is he depressed? Is this some kind of Andy Kaufman renaissance?

The thing is, parodies are best when they are very very close but take it just a little too far–just a little beyond the believable, so that you are still able to distinguish the parody from the real thing. Take Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin–she was uncanny, and when she said that she could see “Russia from her house,” as an example of her foreign policy qualifications it was totally believable, even if Palin never actually said those precise words. She was just an inch away from being frightening, and that is why she was so funny.

Joaquin Phoenix is a different story. First we had Alec Baldwin mocking him on The Conan O’Brien show. Ben Stiller (at the Oscars) and Jason Sudeikis (from Saturday Night Live) are not so much parodying as they are straight-up reenacting Phoenix’s Letterman appearance. If Phoenix really were doing some kind of weird Andy Kaufman thing, then Stiller and Sudeikis are straight-up stealing his act, since they don’t really add anything new. And if Phoenix is being sincere, well, then Stiller and Sudeikis are essentially making fun of somebody in the middle of a nervous breakdown. And that kind of sits badly with me. Like kicking puppies.

This is not the only time I’ve seen this kind of boyish desperation during one of Phoenix’s interviews. I’m not even a big fan of his, but I always remember him in interviews because he seems so fragile. Now, maybe it will turn out that I’m wrong, and that this whole thing has been a publicity stunt from the beginning, and to be honest, I hope that is what’s going on. But what I see is a fragile human, possibly struggling with depression and/or drug abuse, forced to go on a national TV show in order to meet the terms of his movie publicity contract. And the dude may be successful and famous, and therefore we may all feel like, “Oh boo fricken hoo” about him, but I’m telling you something’s not right. Something bad is going to happen. So LAY OFF.

Comments (20)

  1. Feb 24, 2009

    I haven’t followed this one closely (I am not much of a celebrity watcher), but I still agree with you. I felt the same way when Britney Spears was shaving her head.

    I had a family member who struggled with serious mental illness for years. It was not funny. If someone even might maybe be in that boat, they should be left alone.

  2. Feb 24, 2009

    Very good post. It was almost painful to watch the Letterman appearance…he seemed very strange, and not in a good way. It was unsettling.

    Ginny Marie´s last blog post..Random Tuesday Thoughts: Tossed Laundry and Steam

  3. I completely agree with you. Watching the Letterman interview, I couldn’t help but squirm around on my couch becuase it was so uncomfortable to watch, and every time the audience laughed AT him, I’m sure I squirmed more and felt like in the next minute, I was going to be watching a dude going off on someone.

    foradifferentkindofgirl (fadkog)´s last blog post..as real as it may seem, it was only in my dreams

  4. Feb 24, 2009

    I agree that we’re all trying to make sense of it. And that he has always seemed fragile, like he had no armor whatsoever. He has always been an arresting figure to me. The Andy Kaufman thing is actually persuasive to me–simply for the reason that, as someone writing about the Casey Affleck project said, Phoenix is the last person on earth who would decide to make a documentary about himself. Or I guess it’s that I really HOPE it’s all a joke.

    becky´s last blog post..Spring, Sproing

  5. Heather
    Feb 24, 2009

    I’d have to say that I’d agree. I mean, I’m all for the celebrity roasts and just general poking fun at pop culture using the media but I did see him on Letterman that night and there was something rather irksome about it. He was TOO serious. He was TOO quiet. The impression of him that I’ve gotten from past interviews is that he is a rather..aloof? Sensitive? He seems like one of those people who really observes the situation and carefully weighs their answer before speaking. I felt like Letterman crossed a huge line with him. I feel bad for him. And that beard and glasses? Scares the crap out of me.

  6. Feb 24, 2009

    I’ve stayed away from this topic for just this reason. It’s not a “bit.” I can understand late-night talk show hosts and other actors/comedians trying to make hay out of this, because that’s what they do, but there’s something about this situation that feels extremely fragile.

  7. Feb 24, 2009

    Why does CommentLuv not always work for me? Odd.

    eliz´s last blog post..Routine matters

  8. Feb 24, 2009

    apparently he himself and affleck have told online journalists that this is a ‘performance’

  9. Feb 24, 2009

    If this is real, then I completely agree with you however, I thought that it was generally thought that this was all part of a documentary (or rather ‘mockumentary’) being made by Casey Affleck with Joaquin as the star? Casey was there when Joaquin did his rap-and-then-fall-off-the-stage thing with a huge camera. Maybe I got this wrong but if I didn’t then I don’t think you have to worry.

  10. Feb 24, 2009

    @Kate and @Crunchy, could be. I know many people have said this was true. I guess I’m just finding that hard to believe. Maybe he’s a better actor than |I thought. But that still makes the “parodies” people are doing nothing more than straight rip-offs. Clearly there is some kind of confusion, or else nobody would be doing the parodies.

  11. Feb 24, 2009

    i was JUST going to do this EXACT post. wow. this is really weird. i had the exact same thoughts- down to him being RP brother- someone who spiraled madly out of control with his fame. it’s really sad. i hope he gets help. they are an amazingly intelligent, sensitive and troubled family. reminds me of my family. (of origin- not kids and husband.)

  12. Feb 24, 2009

    he seems to have extreme social anxiety. i feel bad for the guy.

    jenni´s last blog post..Random Tuesday Thoughts

  13. Feb 24, 2009

    Very well articulated. I will stop making fun of him. Immediately.

  14. Feb 24, 2009

    @NGS, LOL

  15. Heather
    Feb 24, 2009

    After reading the rest of the comments, the more I read or think about it, it’s really rather cruel if it’s fake. He’s convinced a lot of people that he is in some sort of downward spiral of his mental state, invoking people to either feel horrendously bad for him or taking the piss out of him, or anyone for that matter, who is suffering from depression, aniexty, nervous breakdown, etc. If he turns around tomorrow and claims it was fake, well, that just leaves a bad taste in my mouth to be honest.

  16. Emily
    Feb 25, 2009

    I agree so hard. I have a horrible feeling about all of this.

  17. Denise
    Feb 25, 2009

    Yeah, something is truly not right there. He’s one of a few celebrities in which I have felt that I was literally eavesdropping on a breakdown.

  18. Feb 25, 2009

    Supposing he *IS* acting out this bizarre bit? I’ll admire his mad acting skillz. Because he’s doing a hell of a job impersonating somebody who’s about to lose his shit.

    And if he’s not acting? It is like watching Britney Spears shave her head and flash her girly bits. Scary. You’re right. This isn’t even low-hanging fruit.

    pamela´s last blog post..i typed the title and it made no sense so now you’re stuck with this

  19. Feb 26, 2009

    I have been intentionally avoiding his interviews and the parodies for just this reason. It’s not sitting well with me. He’s an amazing talent, and with amazing talent seems to come tremendous emotional burdens with or without watching your brother OD on drugs.

    Missives From Suburbia´s last blog post..Buy It

  20. Dec 6, 2010

    Yes “I’m Still Here” is pretty much established to be a mockumentary. That being stated, Joaquin Phoenix is known for various depressive episodes, alcoholism and panic attacks. Sounds like a history of mental illness imho.

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