Joseph Keckler
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Joseph Keckler

New York City, New York, United States | SELF

New York City, New York, United States | SELF
Band Alternative Avant-garde


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



"Assorted Press Quotes"

"He is the real deal and I can't recommend anyone more." –
BlackBook Magazine

“The kind of gifted one-offs that people assume are everywhere in
New York but are actually as common as hens' teeth.”—Manhattan
Users Guide

"Think: David Sedaris meets Diamanda Galas." -- The Village Voice

“A tour de force of deconstruction.” – Citypaper, Baltimore

“Divine!” – Time Out New York

" Although this writer and performer can flip styles as though
responding to a switch, take on myriad voices, and draw on an
extensive musical repertoire, his vocal skills are just one aspect
of this gifted storyteller.... Keckler goes far beyond comic surface
impressions… he is poignantly earnest and disarmingly articulate." -

"Keckler's voice [has] extraordinary range, richness and malleability,
as he sings from low baritone to glass-shattering falsetto" -The Irish

“A dizzying display of physical, mental, and vocal skill.” —NY

"Renowned Performance Artist"—Next Magazine

"Operatic Sexpot" – Gay City News

“Joseph Keckler is an electrifying entertainer.” –
New York Press

“Cartoonish and not un-doll-like.”— New York Times

"He is mesmerizing on stage and an utter joy to watch. His intriguing
performance cannot be reduced to his looks or his charisma –
which are considerable – but the skill of his performance. Keckler
is a craftsman in the truest sense.....If
you listen closely, you can hear Keckler's words, his voice, his soul,
reaching for the sublime." – New York Cool - Various

"Keckler Live!"

Watching Joseph Keckler at the Transmodern Festival in Baltimore recently revived the joy of live performance. Keckler's set moved darkly through performance video, experimental animation, original piano compositions, lounge-y covers, and witty monologues. As an artist, he celebrates the banal indignities of office work, reminisces on spooky childhood stories, and reveals dozens of characters in minutes. I have seen the future; the future is Joseph Keckler. - Bammerflies (blog)

"Suddenly, Joseph Keckler"

Have you heard of Joseph Keckler? He's an amazing monologist/singer/performer who plays around New York. We last saw him last summer at the New Museum, and before that, last spring in the play You Will Experience Silence, and we saw him again last night at the Hell's Kitchen performance space Ars Noval. He did his show Talking Beasts. Why that title? Well, one of his monologues is about a guy who labors miserably in the bowels of a classical-music-publishing company and must listen to a coworker's parrot that sings "Queen of the Night."

Keckler also sings several songs himself, including the Velvet Underground's "Venus in Furs," in a huge, ferocious, operatic, often sinister voice that calls up both Antony Hegarty and Jim Morrison -- often, with scary, inky projections going on behind him, and accompanied by an amazing violinist and guitarist. There is a definitely a dark, scary, twisted side to Keckler's act. But then the show ends with his epic, beautiful monologue about the funeral of somebody's (probably his?) Aunt Marla from Kalamazoo, Michigan, a community-theater diva who was kind of her hometown's version of Judy Garland to all the repressed gays there.

Aunt Marla once played Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors, and to say any more about what stirring anthem from that musical Keckler brilliantly employs as part of the story would give away a big surprise that Keckler wants to keep for future performances. So we won't. But we will say we hope we see much more of Keckler in years to come. He proves that performance art can both push the scary boundaries and also warm the heart.
- Popnography

"Prime & Le Royale Reincarnating"

... I am looking forward to the “you don’t know me” benefit from Gigantic, Opium, and Bomb magazines at Bowery Electric Wednesday night (8pm). There will be short plays, long-haired bands, micro-readings, video installations, performances, and DJ Catherine Pierce of the Pierces. According to a release, it will attract a crowd of “writers, magazine editors, agents, book publishers, bloggers and new media types.” Of particular interest to me is the opera singer spoken-word performance artist Joseph Keckler. I caught his act the other night at Envoy gallery on Christie between Delancey and Broome. He is the real deal, and I cannot recommend anyone more. By the way, I caught several acts that night over at Envoy. The evening was a strong reminder that I am the “nightlife correspondent” for BlackBook, not the “club correspondent”—there’s more happening on a Saturday night than the usual cast and crews that are often so tedious. Envoy offers a mixed bag of brilliant performances and art. I enjoyed the change. - BlackBook Magazine

"No More Canned Music: Joseph Keckler spins another record in his Human Jukebox at La MaMa."

Joseph Keckler´s human Jukebox and Cat Lady, currently at La MaMa, are not so much like walking down the boulevard of broken dreams, but like shuffling the kaleidoscopic bits and pieces of a very real dream world.

Keckler commands the stage with erotic bravado, launches into dramatic monologues and embodies so many different personae that you can’t help but wonder whether he’s possessed by spirits or if his body cannot help but channel all the of voices in his head. His showmanship is a blend of crooning—with a decidedly androgynous twist—and of performance art. He plays the game of seduction with his audience, but he knows the boundaries of his fictional world as well as the stage. He weaves together stories of love, intimacy, memory and death, all punctuated by his pulsating keyboard.

Mannequinish in a three-piece suit, Keckler seems somewhat wiry on stage until, that is, he belts out in his baritone voice as he skips around octaves and registers. Keckler exhibits his acting chops by switching personae and impersonating characters lying on opposite ends of the histrionics spectrum, from a vapid California broad to an imagined bespectacled teacher of music with a grating voice. “I think there’s something about characters and the desire to escape into them,” Keckler explains, adding, “my show is in the format of a narrator, narrating his own life. He continually slips into all these colorful characters and inhabits them fully, while he remains less defined.”
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Keckler has been around the performance art world for the last few years after he moved to New York from Michigan, establishing his reputation by working with the likes of John Moran and Penny Arcade, and this Saturday he’s going to make an early appearance at the Folly benefit, on the same bill with Rufus Wainwright.

For the La MaMa show, his solo New York debut, he presents two pieces for voice and piano, Human Jukebox and Cat Lady, which are both semi-autobiographical.

As Keckler notes, “I like to play with the tension between autobiography and fiction.” In Human Jukebox, he takes the crowd through a motley crew of characters and episodes blown out of proportion.

Human Jukebox opens with a scene of Keckler’s mother playing a guessing game with his father, “the sole patron of the human jukebox.”

Keckler’s detached portrayal of both characters—and his swift reflexes and ability to convince that he’s not merely turning his imagined parents into a caricature for the show—complicate the relationship between what’s real and what’s fictional.
The father goes on naming song titles and Keckler-as-mother never fails to sing the right tune, anything from Benny Mardones’ “Into the Night,” to any song from My Fair Lady, to Puccini’s aria, “Nessun Dorma.”

In Cat Lady, a separate piece, once again, a mother transfigures the banality of everydayness, essentially “alchemizing daily life into art,” by dramatizing a cast of felines in her own personal soap opera.

Keckler, like a “fly on her wall,” observes and rhapsodizes about the mother’s constant preoccupation with the furry protagonists of the drama.The narrator “likens her various creative strategies to those of Warhol, Simone Weil, Magritte and de Sade” and sustains an equal tone of mockery and sophistication throughout this short piece.

Keckler belongs to a tradition of performers who use nuanced humor and dispassionate parody to conceal their own suffering, their absurd and agonizing seriousness regarding their own material.

In this case, Keckler turns deathly serious incidents, like his mother’s battle with a brain aneurysm, into a wistful and tragicomic affair.

Sensual, cathartic, overwrought and deeply philosophical, his psychotic twists and turns can bring his audience either to tears (from laughter) or to a numbed silence. On stage, Keckler paradoxically looms like a fragile doll, but he’s at his game and he plays it well, managing to sync with people’s emotions with natural ease.
- New York Press

"Joseph Keckler" A multi-hyphenate finds a singular outlet in performance"

Francine is down. The zaftig woman who just a few moments ago was decrying the way her future looked--a long dark highway full of endless tollbooths and no exits--just chug-a-lugged her last tipple and passed out in a heap onstage at New York's Joe's Pub, the cabaret-like space attached to the Public Theater. Almost immediately a groovy gal in early '60s doo and mini-dress takes a place behind a microphone. The three-piece band onstage begins a stately introductory dirge. And then, Joseph Keckler, the New York performance artist presiding over his "Midnight Mass" the Saturday before Easter, opens his mouth and sings, in a robust baritone, the tale of "Poor Francine."

Dapper in a light suit with his long-ish hair tucked behind his ears, Keckler at first sounds like Leonard Cohen singing an operetta, before switching mid-verse to a less deep range to delivery sassily, "Don't worry Francine, I hear every word this skag says and I'll testify in a court" before switching back just as seamlessly to sing, "You'll find another man, Francine." The song is a mash note to her, the "drinkingnest gal that I've ever seen," a musical reminder to not let the fuckers get you down.

It's an arresting display of vocal control and disarming wit, but Keckler is just warming up. He starts by recalling watching John Waters' Cry-Baby before moving through a pyrotechnic dissection on the dilution of Hairspray as it moved from the 1988 original movie through its 2002 Broadway musical and the eventual 2007 movie based on the musical, parsing its subtle changes and alterations before arriving at the observation that the weight-related self-loathing of John Travolta's Edna Turnblad is downright poisonous.

It's a tour de force of deconstruction, and a singular moment that brings all three of Keckler's strengths together into a Windsor knot of heady entertainment. A gifted musician/vocalist, writer, and actor, Keckler can work individually in each setting, but as a performance artist he can pull each of those talents into his multifaceted stage events.

"I see that as a kind of sermon about John Waters and values," Keckler laughs of his "Poor Francine" stand-alone piece the next day over brunch at an East Village cafe. "Values that matter. When Hairspray on Broadway came out, I understood, on the one hand, that commercialization is just another perversion for John Waters, and I appreciate that. But I was very hurt by Hairspray the musical. I was hurt and traumatized by it, and I needed my voice to be heard.

"And I just started ranting to people about it," he continues. "People would be, 'Oh, did you see Hairspray?' And I would start giving all these examples. Do you remember in the movie, Penny Pingleton says, 'I'm just a little nervous,' but in the musical they transferred that line to Tracy Turnblad--this is important because Tracy Turnblad should not be a little nervous. I remembered that movie neurotically, so I knew every little change that they made and I just started doing this rant and deconstruction of it. Eventually I just thought, I feel strongly about this, so I should write it."

That the personal is the political is the ideal kernel for material is a peek into Keckler's process. Keckler has a degree in painting but has always studied theater and classical music as well, and in college at the University of Michigan he started "writing autobiographical monologues that were kind of like short fictions, little slice of life things," he says. "They tended toward character portraits, but with a very strong narrative voice. The longer solo work that I've developed usually has a strong personal element, about somebody in my life, and often a family member. I have two shows about my mother and one about the funeral of my aunt, a community theater actress of Kalamazoo, and a couple of strange moments. One where everyone started clapping watching this video for [Little Shop of Horrors'] 'Suddenly Seymour' and another one where I was singing 'Ave Maria' at the funeral and I started noticing all these people that I recognize, and I came to realize they were all these patrons at the gay bar Brothers in Kalamazoo, where I'd gone as a teenager. So then I imagined my aunt as the Judy Garland of Kalamazoo."

During his "Midnight Mass" performance, Keckler moved seamlessly from musical numbers--original songs, such as the opening number about a man and his iguana, and ingenious covers, such as a scorching reading of the Velvet Underground's "Venus in Furs"--to spoken-word pieces to somewhat improvised character monologues and interactive pieces with text and film. It was a smorgasbord of Keckler's various performance contexts, and it'd be easy to see him as a young, male Ann Magnuson, a performance artist that helps calibrate Keckler's omnivorous approach. At Michigan, he studied under Holly Hughes, one of the NEA Four, the 1980s performance artists who had their funding vetoed by NEA chairman John Frohnmayer in 1990. And like that era of performance, Keckler combines traditional media--stage acting, classical voice, narrative writing--to create new story and character spaces onstage with a subversive glee.

But he also knows experiencing the work is totally dependent on seeing him, and recently, he started making more reproducible media. He's recording an album, working with fashion designer Gary Graham on a video project, and adapting short monologues and character collages for other video projects, and in August, he heads to the Yaddo retreat to work on his book. In 21st-century performance, the work needs to be able to travel without him.

"My mother used to read me this story about owl at home, about this owl who started running up and down the stairs to see if it could be at both places at once," Keckler smiles. "And he couldn't do it. So I don't want to feel like owl." - Baltimore Citypaper


Still working on that hot first release.



Joseph Keckler grew up in a small town in Southwestern Michigan. While in elementary school he was already obsessed with otherworldly blues greats such as Cab Calloway, Bessie Smith, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Joseph began studying classical piano at nine and as a teenager he aspired to become a blues singer. Discovering that he possessed a 4-octave voice, Joseph proceeded to train in opera for several years. He simultaneously began developing his own songs, experimental plays, and performance art pieces. He recorded this EP with frequent musical partner, classically-trained violinist Dan Bartfield and asked another frequent collaborator, eminent composer John Moran to produce a track (“Fiji Mermaid”).