omething very wrong happened on Sunday night during the MTV Movie Awards.
As Will Ferrell was accepting his Comedic Genius Award, another comedic genius named Aubrey Plaza rushed the stage — while, it should be noted, wearing no shoes and holding a cocktail — and attempted to wrestle the golden popcorn away from him. Ferrell seemed genuinely confused. “What’s happening?” he asked Plaza, refusing to let go of his award. “Are you okay?” Plaza eventually stumbled back to her seat, spilling her drink on the way.
That’s not the “very wrong” thing that happened. That was actually kinda awesome. The wrong thing happened later that night and into the next day. Across the Internet, the incident was repeatedly described as Plaza’s “Kanye Moment” — referring to Kanye West‘s douchey stage crash at the 2009 VMAs. “She Kanye’d his acceptance speech,” they wrote. “Aubrey Plaza Pulled a Kanye,” the blog headlines screamed. Even Plaza make the comparison, tweeting “Thanks for the advice @kanyewest went better than planned!”
I find this perplexing and sort of offensive. Other than walking onstage when she wasn’t supposed to be during an awards show, nothing that Plaza did was in any way Kanye West-esque. What she did was pull a Soy Bomb.
Remember Soy Bomb? Exactly 15 years ago, during a performance by Bob Dylan at the Grammy Awards, a shirtless man with “SOY BOMB” written across his torso did a spastic dance for almost a full minute before being removed from the stage. The whole thing was bizarre and inexplicable. Time Magazine asked the questions we all wondered: “What did it mean? Why did he do it? What was going on?”
Those are the same questions being asked today about Plaza. Nobody wondered why Kanye did it. It was obvious. He was being a tool. But with Plaza, it’s not as clear. Was she drunk? Was the whole staged? Was it just a clumsy attempt to promote her movie, or herself? Unlike Kanye (and very much like Soy Bomb) she said nothing, letting her weird behavior tell the story. And also, she had words scrawled across her chest. Why are we even having this discussion? OF COURSE she was doing a Soy Bomb!
Which led me to wonder, would the real Soy Bomb approve? I tracked down Michael Portnoy, the now 40-something New York artist who remains the defining standard of music award show stage crashing. These days, Portnoy is teaching an MFA class at Columbia University, called “Advanced Interruptics: The Science of the Attention Thief.” He has much to teach us. Let’s learn from the master.
Did you see Aubrey Plaza bum rush the stage on Sunday?
I read about it. It sounds okay. It’s missing a few elements for me.
You teach a class on this stuff, right?
I do. At Columbia.
I’ve heard good things. Run us through the basics of stage crashing.
Well, the ultimate goal is to craft an interruption as a self-enclosed mini-spectacle which satisfies the following requirements. Number one, the performance should be inscrutable. It doesn’t quite add up or make complete sense. Number two, be inventive. If you wanna jump on stage naked, fine, but you need to permute it a bit. Add something ridiculous to the equation. How about 100 animatronic penises all over your body which then jump off and scurry away like rabid slugs?
Does it have to be 100? How about a baker’s dozen animatronic penises?
Sure, that’s fine. Number three, it has to be entertaining and have a good sense of humor. Number four, it should be divisive. People should argue about it, but it can’t be too easily categorizable. Number five, and this is optional, the crasher should be hard to remove from the stage.
The “be inscrutable” rule seems to be the one that’s most often ignored.
And that’s the most important one. A lot of these stage crashers, it’s too obvious what they’re doing. When Kanye West came onstage and took the microphone away from that country singer, he was trying to argue that Beyoncé should’ve won. The message was too clear.
You want to keep them guessing?
Let the audience argue about it, come up with their own theories. “What was he trying to do? What was he trying to say?” A streaker is obvious. They just want attention. The elements of it should not quite add up.
The Soy Bomb thing made no sense.
And that’s how I meant it. I have this word on my chest, and it’s not clear whether it’s a political message or a vegetarian thing or if I’m some kind of terrorist. And then I’m doing this very strange contortive dance. Nothing makes sense.
You told the Daily News that it had something to do with commercialism’s intrusion on the art world, and how “all art should be soy bombs.” Were you full of shit?
So you didn’t know what Soy Bomb meant?
No, I’m still trying to figure it out. Fifteen years later, I’m still not sure. And that’s the problem with today’s stage crashers. They understand far too much why they’re doing what they’re doing.
Aubrey used body art in her stage crash. You don’t see a lot of that anymore.
Yeah, but it’s not my favorite.
You don’t approve? Even though you did it?
I didn’t have much to work with at the Grammys. All I had was my body. I think writing on your body is a little played out, to tell you the truth. It’s a limited canvass. You can’t fit too many words there. I think it’d be more interesting to find some kind of frequency, like an RFID tag.
As in electromagnetic fields?
Yeah. Something that would contain like a microdot that you could focus in on that would have some whole tract written on it. There has to be a little more information.
I don’t understand the science of how that’d work. Maybe a sharpie would be easier.
With Aubrey, it was a self-promotional thing, right?
Yeah. She wrote the name of her upcoming film, The To Do List.
See, that’s disappointing. Now it’s too clear. She’s doing it to get attention for her movie. It makes too much sense.
Can’t a stage crash help your career? Did it help yours?
Not really. I mean, I got a few movie offers, which I turned down. Some radio stations asked me to do promotional shit, but I wasn’t interested. The only one I said yes to was Richard Branson.
Sir Richard Branson?
Yeah. This is a true story. It was just after it happened. He was giving a speech in San Francisco to hundreds of record industry guys in a hotel ballroom. And he wanted me to Soy Bomb him.
Did he want the same dance and everything?
Yeah, but not the same words on my chest. If I’m remembering correctly, I had “SO Y VIRGIN?” on my chest. And when I came in, he pulled up his shirt, and it said “Y NOT!”
What? I don’t understand.
It was their idea, not mine.
Did you at least get paid for it? What’s the going rate for Soy Bombing?
They flew me out there, business class, put me in a nice hotel, and I sat with Branson in a room with our shirts off waiting for the paint to dry. They had some partnership with Apple back then, so I asked to be paid with a top-of-the-line desktop Mac.
When you Soy Bombed Dylan, how much of it was choreographed? Did you know in advance it was going to be Dylan, or could it have been anyone?
I was hired to be a backup dancer for Dylan. Well, no, that’s not even right. I was hired to give Bob a good vibe.
A good vibe?
That was literally our job description. So that’s what I did. In my mind I gave him a good vibe.
Was that all the thought you put into it? Just give Bob some good mojo?
You have to think about how long you’ll be on stage. If you’ll only have a three-second window, you have to come up with something amazing. That’s not a long amount of time to make your point.
What’s your favorite music award show stage crash?
I have a soft spot for Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
At the 1998 Grammys?
Yeah. The same one I was at. He was just amazing. Because he’s nuts. What did he say?
“Wu-Tang is for the children.”
[Laughs.] Right, right. That was amazing. It was inscrutable, but I don’t know if it was willfully inscrutable.
How about your least favorite stage crash?
When you contacted me, I watched some of the top stage-crashing moments on YouTube, and I saw the one with Courtney Love interrupting Madonna at the 1995 MTV Awards or something. Did you see this one?
I did. It was excruciating.
I was hoping for something good, but it was a little too coherent in the end.
Well, Courtney pushed it to the degree where she actually made Madonna leave the interview. At one point, Courtney Love is crouching on the floor, and they’re talking about each other’s shoes. It gets quite strange, but it’s still a little too clear what she’s trying to do there.
My guess is Courtney was drunk.
That seems like a given.
There was speculation that Aubrey Plaza was drunk too.
Will Ferrell said she had “hot liquor breath.” Do you recommend liquid courage before attempting a stage crash?
Only if it’s mezcal.
Yeah. It’s very good. If you’re going to drink anything, I would drink mezcal. Other than that, I would say it’s not a necessary part.
So with Aubrey Plaza’s stage crash, what you’re saying is, it was a disappointment?
Unfortunately, yeah. It could’ve been so much better.
How would you have done it differently?
Yeah. Let’s say you were in the audience at Sunday’s MTV Movie Awards. Will Ferrell takes the stage. You’re going to stage crash him. How does it play out?
My ideal stage crash would involve a series of transformations. The first few seconds you’re up there, it looks like you’re drunk.
Okay, so far you’re following the Plaza script.
You seem totally wasted. You stumble around drooling.
But then you switch things up?
Right. Then you do some completely masterful feat of physicality. Something acrobatic. Like you jump in the air and do three flips or something. And you rip off your skin and you transform into some kind of beast.
Something fanged and fire-breathing?
Absolutely. But then you rip off your skin again and turn into an old lady. And then you tell the audience some beautiful story while you’re holding a centaur bow-and-arrow to make sure no one drags you away.
Wow. That’s poetry. Beautiful, stupid poetry.
That’s what I would’ve done. Just an endless transforming thing.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on MTVHive.com.)