Sisyphus, Make Way for Corky’s New Philosophy of Failure

| Veda Lawrence |

The cast of the play dancing onstage.

Waiting for Guffman plays at the Trylon Cinema from Monday, June 19 through Tuesday, June 20. Visit for tickets and more information.

When Corky is recruiting Clifford, the camera pans to a rifle hanging on the wall. By the end of the credits, Chekhov rolls in his grave, bemoaning this blue-balling of the imperative. The rifle never shoots, the idea is never revisited. This instance is emblematic of Waiting for Guffman’s nihilistic narrative tendency. Sisyphus finds the ability to smile in the face of absurdity by recognizing the disconnect between his endeavor to find meaning in the inherent meaninglessness of the world. No member of this cast considers suicide even once, instead choosing to roll the boulder up the hill purely for the hell of it. Corky could care less about rebelling against the absurd, unless of course that would increase his chances of making it to Broadway. The entire film consists of people laying the groundwork for a success, and ultimately failing in a practical sense. And yet, none of that failure ever precludes them from continuing to try.

Corky, for one, is a case study in abject failure. His faith in the performance is ultimately misplaced, the production an economic flop, the dream of Guffman rolling the stone aside a mere fantasy. But it ultimately does not matter to Corky that his hopes were merely idols, for he had been placing faith in such Golden Calves from the very beginning. His entire off-off-off-off Broadway career was marked by failure, desolation, and dead-ends, but such setbacks never quelled Corky’s stalwart self-confidence or drive toward theatre. Instead, he persists in his endeavors, believing in each just as much as the last. He comes to Blaine having failed horrifically at his career yet pushes forward without ever stopping to consider whether he would fail again. After the production fails to transform into a Hamilton-like phenomenon (praise Sisyphus), he exuberantly picks up the boulder again, rolling it back up the hill to set up shop in New York City.

Corky in the production, wearing a helmet and looking off into the audience dramatically.

Corky never for a second pauses to consider the meaning of his endeavor. He simply continues. His previous failures are marketed as great successes, his career a mysterious and cosmopolitan one, replete with wisdom which he graciously pours out upon his community theatre as though this is the pinnacle of human achievement. The entire production gleefully pushes the boulder up the hill, without ever stopping to consider why they are so happy about it or whether their joy is warranted. In this way, the entire Blaine community theatre is blissfully ignorant of the futility of their burden yet take it on with ebullient glee. Unlike Camus, Corky would never consider suicide to be the most important philosophical question. He would say the preeminent question is whether his pants are quirky enough. He exists in a world devoid of meaning yet remains unphased by that fact.

I hate to say it, Chekhov, but the entire film is one great defiance of the worldly command that all pistols must be fired by the end of the second act. Because in the world of Blaine, the pistol never fires, Guffman never shows up, and Bonnie never appears. And yet the show goes on, enthusiasm and zest fills every character from the Dairy Queen employee turned inamorata to the travel agent plagued with an overlarge schlong to Corky himself. The thrill resides in the expectation, the antics that lead up to the eventual climax, which ultimately never comes. This subversion of tension forces the audience and the characters themselves to reconsider the entire point of the production—the fact that the experience itself must be a worthy endeavor in its own right.

Waiting for Guffman provides a thrilling reinterpretation of the Godot narrative, one in which anticlimax is secondary to the daily gusto for life which will supersede all failure. While Beckett may have envisioned a play in which “nothing happens. Twice,” Guest puts forward a more Seinfeldian vision of nothing. It doesn’t matter that the gun is never fired, what matters is the fact that the gun had flair and sparkle while it hung upon the wall. That, or the film is just a testament to the bullheaded tenacity of theatre kids whose passion outgrows their high school days.

Edited by Olga Tchepikova-Treon

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