'Buddy Rivers Live' is a live networked performance, and an ongoing project. The first performance took place on 26 April 2008 at 55 Leroy Street, London SE1 and was simultaneously webcast.
The Leroy Club was a legendary venue in the 1950's comedy circuit, where many famous comedians started out. One of these was Buddy Rivers, who returned for this benefit gig to help save the venue. He hasn't done standup for years and fears he's lost his edge, so now uses computer programs and Internet searches to generate his jokes. How will the audience react?
The core of this project is a computer network generated comedian, who is capable of an endless generated network performance. His jokes and speech are all constructed or written on the fly - live - on the Internet. For the Leroy Street performance, his behaviour was structured - along loose lines, but within definite start and end points. His performance is driven largely by user interaction and user responses, and influenced by basic artificial intelligence.
In his attempt to become more ‘current’, Buddy tries to make his jokes more political, and his jokes are initially constructed from Yahoo searches on local social issues, such as 'gentification', and 'property developer greed' (the floor above the gallery space is occupied by a firm of property developers). This is a big move away from his traditional material, a bit like Bob Dylan going electric, and he worries how his fans will respond. As it becomes increasingly obvious the new material isn’t working - the jokes don't work- he instead tries Yahoo searches on more general subjects. As the heckling gets worse he gets increasingly irritated, and his jokes reflect his personal demons, constructed from Yahoo searches on: 'fear of failure', 'Little Britain', 'Lenny Henry', 'panic attacks', 'divorce', etc.
For some years now I have experimented with new media/ online stories, particularly with networked narratives and the idea of constructing stories from web searches. One of the main aims with Buddy Rivers is to construct a character who can be unleashed/ set free and say unpredictable things. The idea of an automated stand-up comedian appeals to me. I've wrapped a story around the core, Buddy's life story and career, which I intend to build on and take further. Buddy will be doing many more things in future.
Adding sound to this project takes my work into new areas. When a character can speak it feels (to me) like bringing them to life. To make Buddy speak I set up a text-to-speech synthesiser which runs on an Internet server, so each constructed joke is transformed into an mp3 file.
I've been keen for some time to make my work more physical, and not just online. When the opportunity came up of presenting the work at Leroy Street I considered how I could wrap a story around the venue. The gallery in 55 Leroy Street will only exist for a few months, and after that the building will be developed into luxury flats, like much of the local area.