Sold! The Tale of the Funny Auctioneer

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Do I hear...Brian Jaffe? Photos by Carol Rosegg.
Do I hear...Brian Jaffe? Photos by Carol Rosegg.
Do I hear…Brian Jaffe? Photos by Carol Rosegg.

You heard about that auction where a Cezanne or a Picasso or a Klimt was auctioned off for hundreds of millions of dollars, and you think to yourself: How exciting would it have been to be there?

Or you’re obsessed — obsessed — with Antiques Roadshow, and one of your favorite episodes is the one in which a man learns that his lifelong passion for 300-year-old Chinese rhinoceros horn cups has paid off — that at auction, his collection could be worth $1 million to $1.5 million — and you think to yourself: Can you just imagine what that auction would be like?

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Brian Jaffe could probably tell you. And he could probably make you laugh, too.

Jaffe wrote and stars in the Off-Broadway interactive spoof Going Once! Laughing Twice!!, now in an open run at St. Luke’s Theatre (308 W. 46th St.). Directed by Eric Parness, the show takes the audience behind the scenes at the wonderfully named Chump’s Auction House — “an unscrupulous world featuring an array of engaging scoundrels.” Once in the door, you’re handed bidding paddles and a “fortune in Chump Money” — but even that is not the key part of this pseudo-real entertainment. It isn’t even the fact that patrons keep the swag they win. It’s that they get to watch Jaffe do what he has been doing professionally since 1973:

Brian Jaffe Associates is a fundraising special events consulting company. Our goal is to guide nonprofit organizations to maximize their special event fundraising success.

Here’s a taste:

The name of Jaffe’s character? Freddie Kahn. Well done, sir.

The cast of Going Once! Laughing Twice!! includes Marlain Angelides, Elaine Baez, Breena Beck, Benjamin DeCamp Cole, Daniel Damiano, Wes Drummond, Winston Shaw, Susan Slatin and Scott Watson. It performs Thursdays at 7pm and Fridays at 8pm.

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And now, 5 questions Brian Jaffe has never been asked:

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With Elaine Baez.
With Elaine Baez.

What’s the most perceptive question anyone has asked you about your work?
“Why did you decide to work as a comic auctioneer instead of simply a stand-up comedian that you could obviously have chosen instead?”

What’s the most idiotic question anyone has asked you about your work?
“Did you take courses in comic auctioneering when you went to college?”

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What’s the weirdest question anyone has asked you about your work?
In order to answer this I had to draw from a very long list as I find that idiotic and weird often intersect. I chose this one: “Do you act the same way at home as you do on stage?” I did reply to this question as follows: “Yes, I do. But only when I stop tap dancing.”

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Auctioneers are peculiar creatures. Of these phrases — “fast-talking,” “audience-baiting,” “financially-incentivizing” — which is closest to your auctioneering persona? How do you describe what you do?
I certainly am a peculiar creature but don’t know if I truly qualify as an “auctioneer” anymore. I do “audience-bait” and perform in the style of an auctioneer but am I an auctioneer at this point? I have to say no. I think I’ve changed auctions into a huge hilarious game of Simon Sez. I am the leader of the game and initially can only get a few people to play. The rest observe. Gradually the observers relax, realize that the game is more fun to participate in than to simply watch, and most then join in the fun. And the more who join in, the more fun it becomes for them and for me as well.

Going Once! Laughing Twice!! features a mock-auction at a mock-auction house. As you wrote it and perform in it, is the play more satire, parody or farce? What’s the biggest challenge in making the play seem real, but at the same time funny?
As the writer of the show, I have difficulty selecting from the three choices, as I think the play has elements of all of them — satire, parody and farce. If I have to choose one, I’d say it’s primarily presented as farce, with aspects inspired from styles going as far back as commedia dell’arte. This leads in to your next question: Going Once! Laughing Twice!! is a theatrical event, a great big game, almost a party. I never gave much thought to making the play seem real. The greatest difficulty I ran into as I wrote it was sending up an industry that sends itself up better than I ever could. I suppose, in that sense, the play doesn’t just seem real but is, in fact, the only truly honest auction house in town. Of course I don’t mean the “real” ones are dishonest but perhaps just out of touch with how ridiculous it all seems. Email me for specific examples.

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Name three items in the world — paintings, cars, finger puppets, humans — you dream of auctioning off for real one day. What will you bring to that mythical auction that other auctioneers would not?
I can only think of two things that I’d like to auction off — that is, selecting from anything in the world. The first would be auctioning the opportunity for someone to start their own religion and the second is my cat’s collection of stuffed and mounted mouse heads. As to what I’d like to bring to my mythical auction, I’d like to bring tiny balls of fairy dust.