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Arts and Entertainment

R. Crumb Keeps on Truckin' at Royce Hall 10/29/09

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Robert Crumb's appearance Thursday night at Royce Hall in UCLA was like the artist's famous face-melting "Stoned Again" poster. A great start, but it ended badly. From the beginning, it was hard to guess which R. Crumb would show up on stage, the self-loathing, misogynistic misanthropic, insensitive curmudgeon or the boyishly endearing, insightful artist.

Robert Crumb immediately won the crowd over with his clever, open comments and the occasionally goofy, "Oh boy." He comes off exactly as you hope he would. He had a great rapport with the moderator, art historian and longtime friend Francoise Mouly. He spoke in great detail about his progress as an artist, his life in France, and especially about his latest work, a faithful rendering of The Book of Genesis. He spoke lovingly of his wife, artist Aline Kaminsky-Crumb and their daughter Sophie. It was all orange sunshine, flowers and lollipops, a good trip.

But the problem with psychedelics is that bad vibes spread like wildfire. It takes just one troublemaker to bring everyone down. Our personal lameass of the night was seated in the balcony and ruined the Q&A with self-promoting declarations and bizarre questions that just pissed Crumb off.

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Although Crumb repeatedly called for security, no one kicked the loudmouth out. I guess they didn't think they needed bouncers for a lecture. Which is too bad, because a a lone security guard and a microphone for questions could have averted the unpleasantness.

The mood turned dark as the crowd's seething hatred for the lone troublemaker spread outward. Soon anyone asking a question that was considered stupid suffered the wrath of Royce Hall. "Where'd you get Mister Natural?" shouted one hopeful. "Where did I GET him?" snapped Crumb back angrily. One guy rose to ask the stupid question, "How many more stupid questions are you people going to ask?"

At this point, the moderator should have returned to questioning Crumb herself and stopped the audience. Q&As can go on too long and deteriorate into anarchy. Soon Crumb was also irritated and rolling his eyes at the questions. It was a bad trip, baby.

It was kind of hard to believe that a man who spent his career publicly exhibiting his sexual fetishes, a man who could draw something like this, could find any question offensive. Still, you could see him grow increasingly annoyed in spite of a visible attempt to brave it out.

Any modicum of comfort and comraderie that had existed in the beginning crumbled, and mob mentality took over. Even people who had legitimate questions sensed the window was about to slam shut and started yelling at the stage, two, three, four voices at a time, lobbing questions like fireballs.

The last question of the evening, "What hat size do you wear?" prompted someone, (a Royce Hall employee? A friend of Crumb’s? Some guy who randomly sneaked up on stage?) to later grab the mike and publicly denounce her, stating, "Congratulations, that is the singularly stupidest question ever voiced in this hall.” An angry, desperate hailstorm of shouted questions and dissent barraged the stage. Finally an anguished Crumb said "Let's get outta here!" and comically sprinted off stage in disgust rather than enjoying a victorious standing ovation.

I guess if you're going to see a live appearance by someone who deliberately presents himself as the most irritable man in the world, you have to be prepared for the possibility that an unruly audience just might irritate him.