Cosmological jester or village idiot? A Billyburg street performer will take whatever he can get-as long as you're grooving along.
Tue Nov 27 2007
Photograph: Beth Levendis
The man in the gigantic striped pants wrestling a rubber snake on Bedford Avenue isn’t crazy—he just wants to spread the love. Specifically, the Summer of Love. Every Sunday, Matt Silver (a.k.a. the Cosmological Jester or the Village Idiot, depending on your take) can be found near the Bedford L station in Williamsburg, hopping around in a one-eared rabbit costume or grunting like a pirate in a three-cornered hat. He serenades passersby with a stringless guitar, challenges kids to hula hoop competitions, and cavorts like a madman with makeshift props (a busted umbrella, a paper heart on a stick, etc.). The 28-year-old performance artist likes the idea of a greater force telling him to act a fool, but he actually has a really down-to-earth motivation: to ignite “explosions of joy and wackiness” in the artistic nabe.
Five-year-old Morgan Russell and her mom, Dolly, grinned ear-to-ear watching Silver’s shtick last weekend. He handed Morgan his miniature guitar, and the pair danced. As the girl dropped money in Silver’s Curious George lunch box, Dolly exclaimed, “It’s raining today, but he’s the sunniest part of the city!”Not every reception is so warm. “Some people get angry,” says Silver. “One guy said he wanted to shoot me in the face!” Once, when asked by police if he needed to go to the hospital (read: loony bin), Silver had to get out of character to explain that he was sane.
On the surface, Silver’s act recalls ’60s radical acting group the Diggers. But unlike that troupe, he has no formal training and doesn’t incorporate drugs or politics into his work. Instead, he says he’s inspired by the humanitarian ideology of Patch Adams: “I have no idea why I’m doing what I’m doing, but if I keep focusing, it will become something.… I just love to make people dance and laugh.”
Originally from Jersey but now living in Bushwick, Silver picked Williamsburg because of its Haight-Ashbury-esque potential. “You got your vendors and musicians, but no performance artists,” says Silver. “So, now [the universe] is cosmologically hiring me.”