ABSTRACT

This scene occurs in Episode 2.13 of the American sitcom Friends (Warner Bros., 1994-2004). It takes place on a movie set, where aspiring actor Joey Tribiani (Matt LeBlanc) appears as an extra in a scene with martial arts star Jean-Claude Van Damme (played by himself). The scene’s success depends on the complicity of an audience that (1) is aware of certain acting traditions and skills; (2) is ready to link that awareness to popular, vernacular views of certain actors; and (3) is willing to have its expectations, appreciations and interpretations of acting explode in a carnival of signs. Ultimately, only if an audience is willing to engage in a cultist

manner with the text does it “work.” Within the narrative of the episode, both Tribiani and Van Damme are clichéd types of actors: namely, the bit/ repertory actor cast to inject realism into the story (an injury in this case), and the hero whose onscreen image pervades his off screen appeal (who remains “himself” in all situations) (Figure 9.1). Outside the narrative, but within the framework of understanding presented by the episode, Tribiani and Van Damme are parodies of two oppositional approaches to acting: namely, the hyper-Method actor (the actor who becomes the part) and the mega-celebrity star (the part who becomes the actor). Both approaches-“impersonation” and “personifi cation”—and their various manifestations (as “acting about acting,” “repertory acting” and the “cameo act”) will be at the center of this chapter’s consideration of their cult receptions.1