Shakespeare said something about tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Yep, that’s Neal: “Lookit me, everybody! I’m a boring, pretentious old-fart littérateur! Harrumph! No, no, I’m a noisy, obnoxious rock’n’roller! Gabba gabba hey!”
Pollack sure knows how to add water to an empty bottle of Tussin and shake it up, thereby scraping up every last molecule of his one-trick-pony magic. Where real artists reïnvent themselves, Pollack simply paints his tired little gimmick a new color and pushes it back out there, foolishly confident that nobody will recognize it as the same old schtick in a different hat. Indeed, Real-Deal Neal has somehow consistently parlayed his far-reaching Genuine Suckiness into the self-aware Just-Pretend Suckiness of Pretend Pollack, by masquerading as a (terrible) pompous, intrepid journalist, as a (terrible) snarky, social-political-media pundit/critic/blogger, as a (terrible) rock’n’roll warhorse, and as a (terrible) performance artist. In the end, he’s a jack-of-no-trades: talentless, unoriginal, yet successful by way of his own incompetence. Pollack’s like Colin Quinn, a comedian whose inability to deliver a joke is far funnier than any contrived punch line. Or maybe more like the artificial fruit flavoring used in powdered drink mixes: striving to emulate cherry’s tastiness, and in turn packing so much fake-cherry power into every punch that the result is a headachey, super-sweet, meta cherry, twice as fake as real cherry is real, thus achieving a cherryesque flavor that no longer resembles imitation cherry because it’s cherrier than real cherry could ever be. The point is: Neal sucks.
No skilled satirist could ever pretend to suck as suckily as someone who sincerely sucks. And if Real-Deal Neal had any talent at all, Pretend Pollack would be just another funny parody, instead of the crowning achievement in ineptitude that he is. That’s why Neal Pollack (both the real, live man and pseudo-fakey alter egos) may be the Most Important Artist of Our Time. He is chock-full of raw substance—rotten substance, but substance nonetheless—in an age of slick style and pretty packaging. In this non-artistic renaissance where hit songs are crafted from samples of old hit songs and reality-TV people become famous for not being famous, Neal Pollack has become a champion of nontalent. Success by consistent failure! Huzzah! Each of Pretend Pollack’s incarnations is funny and sharp for about three pages until it winds up becoming—and then surpassing—the very thing he’s pretending to be. In his Anthology, Neal actually managed to out-bore boring clichés, which is really something special. Spinal Tap was a brilliant satire, and a very funny fake band, but the Neal Pollack Invasion is a truly terrible band. Total shit. And that’s why it’s worthy! Why pretend to be a crappy rock star when you can actually be the crappiest rock star?
Pollack blurs the line between art and artist, between ironic sincerity and sincere irony, and that’s what makes Pollack so Pollacky. Is he a talentless hack or is he just pretending to be? Is he a cantankerous asshole for real, or just kidding (but still for real)? If Randle Patrick McMurphy went to such great lengths pretending to be crazy, wasn’t he pretty much crazy, then? My head hurts trying to separate just-pretending-to-suck Neal from actually-sucks Neal and that sort of proves the point: don’t ever try to think about Neal Pollack. You might give yourself an aneurysm. That’s how George Plimpton died—with the galleys of Never Mind the Pollacks in his hands.
Ultimately, New York Times reviewer David Kamp was myopic in pointing out Pollack’s doughy, goateed appearance. Were he successful at all in his satire, one might assume that Real-Deal Neal is actually a very handsome man, a foppish dresser, and of impeccable personal hygiene, and only knowingly affecting a façade that says, “I’m the very pinnacle of shlubbery.” However, since we know that Pretend Pollack’s self-aware failure is, in actuality, Real-Deal Neal’s sincere failure, it’s likely that the sweaty, sloppy, boor that Neal appears to be is simply Pollack at his best. Way to turn that weakness into a strength, Neal. You’ve out-Pollacked us all! You’re so good at sucking, it’s like you’re not even trying to suck!
And therein lies the secret of Pollack’s power.
I thank you, Neal, for sucking so perfectly, and I hope you’ll continue to surprise us by sucking in wonderful new ways. Surely you have within you the potential to be a really rotten painter, a god-awful poet, or a shitty mime. Hell, you could probably be the worst mime in the long, storied history of mimery! Then, just to be a dick, you could release your pantomimes on CD. Imagine all the suckers who’d fork over 16 bucks to listen to a CD of you silently pretending to do things. Look at you, Neal, right now: sitting at your computer, wearing nothing but three-day-old, three-in-a-pack Hanes briefs with the elastic’s springiness long depleted, munching on a Suzy-Q for midday breakfast, leaning backward at 45 degrees, so the crumbs that fall on your chest can be collected and saved for later, silently wondering if that lukewarm wetness under your legs is currently pooling sweat or the unevaporated puddle of yesterday’s incontinence … Why, if that isn’t the worst pantomimed performance of “Man in a Box,” I don’t know what is. You’ve done it again, Pollack. Kudos! Hurrah!
Viva the Pollack.