How Alex Karpovksy Channels Kurt Vonnegut
“Slaughterhouse-Five is a pretty intense book for a teenager,” Alex Karpovsky says, “But it stayed with me for a long, long time.” Known most famously for his role as the cantankerous coffee-shop manager Ray on HBO’s GIRLS, the comedic actor (and filmmaker) Karpovsky is readying for a live reading of a Kurt Vonnegut short story; the featured reading in a Selected Shorts event at the Ace Hotel in Manhattan. The long-running program is celebrating its 30th Anniversary of pairing dynamic fiction with equally dynamic actors. In this case, the curation luckily pairs Karpovsky with the work one of his favorite all-time authors.
“We were both anthropology drop-outs,” he says, “So I always felt a connection with Vonnegut there… But the biggest influence was the sense of fun. I don’t want to say he’s [Vonnegut] a minimalist, but his writing is so exciting.”
While Ray on GIRLS might be quick to shut-you-down with rapid-fire encyclopedic knowledge on a given topic, Karpovsky’s literary knowledge is more organic and friendly. He doesn’t have all the Vonnegut novels memorized necessarily, and he mentions Stephen King, Philip K. Dick, and Etgar Keret in the same breath as Vonnegut. When asked if any of this kind of genre-bending writing influences the characters he plays, Karpovsky is quick to point out the similarities between Kurt Vonnegut and Vonnegut’s fictional sci-fi author, Kilgore Trout. “There’s a lot of things about Vonnegut that remind you of Kilgore Trout, or the other way around!”
“Who Am I This Time?” — Karpovsky’s selection for Selected Shorts — tells the story of a theatre director in a small town who always uses a shy hardware store clerk as the lead in every play. When his strange leading man meets a certain woman, a bizarre relationship dynamic is created: this new couple can only communicate through the words in a given script, meaning their relationship literally transforms according to drama. When asked if Vonnegut had any influence on his acting, Karpovsky has a very Vonnegut-esque answer:
“I feel like a lot of the guys I play are more interesting than me,” he says. “My characters I think are more complicated and dimensional than I am. There’s more bubbling up inside of them and I feel less real then them.” And as he reads “Who Am I This Time” to a giggling audience, the layering of characters and dimensions are both funny and jarring. While Vonnegut’s story plays with the notion of small-time actors exploring feelings for each other through theatre, Alex Karpovosky is a big time actor exploring his feelings for Vonnegut by reading in front of people. Multiple alternate dimensions seem to overlap as this happens; Karpovosky is Ray reading Vonnegut, but he’s also Vonnegut embodying the body of Alex Karpovsky.
And even though Karpovsky admits that “Ray is probably way more well-read on Vonnegut than I am,” in this universe, in this dimension, Alex Karpovsky as the Vonnegut fan is a strikingly honest, unpretentious reader who is, it seems, here to have some fun. Though, that all depends on who is he really is, this time.
Alex Karpovsky reading the Kurt Vonnegut story “Who Am I This Time?” will appear on a forthcoming installment of the Selected Shorts podcast. He’s joined by Heather Burns reading Aimee Bender and Dave Hill reading Dolan Morgan. For more info check out www.selectedshorts.org.