Friday, February 19, 1999
From guerrilla clowns to tourist bingo, Cacophony Society chapter plays jester to the court of Los Angeles


LOS ANGELES -- "The Rev." Al Ridenour preaches only one thing: "Life is as interesting or as dull as you make it." But little else is sacred to the throng of performance artists, anarchists, guerrilla clowns and rabble-rousers who make up the Cacophony Society's Los Angeles branch that Ridenour, 37, founded eight years ago.
They regularly gather together for events Ridenour plays hosts for, such as a protest against death at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, tourist bingo at Mann's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood or JFK assassination potlucks in Brentwood. "We appeal to an outsider element, people who are disenfranchised," said Ridenour, called "reverend" by his cacophonous flock.
He presides over the chaos from a clandestine hillside abode in Silver Lake, where even The Thomas Guide maps hold no sway. "We don't have any dogma or agenda, and we don't have a screening process to join," Ridenour added. While the Cacophony Society is anything but rigid, its potential targets are.
Any person or group that takes itself seriously may find itself on the receiving end of a satirical event. "Targets should be powerful, have some sway over our culture," Ridenour explained. "Underdogs are off-limits. We also try to bolster the eccentric and the odd." In the next few months, the society is planning a nationwide UFO hoax and scheming to plant dozens of the self-proclaimed cacophonists into an upcoming "The Price is Right" TV studio audience.
"We are a social club whose members want to be transgressive to the extreme," Ridenour explained. About four events a month are usually scheduled, and anywhere from five to 25 of a constantly churning core group show up for occasions. The Cacophony Society started in the early 1980s in San Francisco, metamorphosing out of the beatnik Suicide Club during the 1960s and '70s.
Soon, Cacophony groups appeared in Brooklyn, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles and Seattle. A few years ago, a group of cacophonists started the infamous "Burning Man" festival in the Nevada desert, an annual decadent party that climaxes with the burning of a huge wooden figure. Hollywood resident Mari Kono, 31, is part of the group because it gives her access to smart people who want to make new things happen.
"There are a lot of things, so much culture, you have access to in Los Angeles," Kono explained. She hosted a Valentine's Eve concept event last week in downtown Los Angeles, with an aphrodisiac bar, human sculptures, a black-light alley and a revirginification altar.
Adam Bregman is one the group's guerrilla clowns, who like to crash the door at social functions, trade conventions, restaurants, shopping malls and other places.

"You can get away with things dressed as a clown you couldn't get away with otherwise," he explained of their ambush tactics. "You can do things that are supposed to be funny but aren't."

Last holiday season, a group of cacophonists dressed up as cavemen and covered themselves in mud for a walk down Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. "We were chanting 'shop,' 'shop,' 'shop' and 'electricity sucks,'" Bregman said.

 "Mostly the security guards would kick us out of shops after a minute or so. But that day, Cartier was handing out these huge balloons with their name on them. So we took a bunch of them down to the corner and handed them out. People thought we were representing the store. The police questioned us, but I think they were afraid of putting us in the back of the car because they didn't want to get all that mud everywhere."

 The Cacophony clowns have also heckled a magician's convention in Hollywood -- it turned into a brawl -- and walked around the Miracle Mile district invading corporate offices.

 Another favorite is tourist bingo, with members meeting at Mann's Chinese, game cards in hand, to mark squares when they spot tourist stereotypes -- kids bugging their parents for souvenirs, for instance. "It's good for the soul to be assaulted by a gang of clowns," Bregman mused.

 Michael Perrick organizes the cacophonists who like to wear dog costumes. "One time we were all dressed as dogs and we hit the streets of Hollywood to find mail delivery people," Perrick said. BBC, the English television station, was making a documentary on the group at the time. Said Perrick: "I started rubbing on this mail woman's leg, she started laughing and got so excited she farted. The BBC taped it all." Later that day, the group encountered hostility and was thrown out of a dog show in Northridge. Ridenour has about 250 subscribers to his monthly newsletter of Cacophony Society events, called Tales from the Zone.

 The newsletter describes the group as "a loose network of humans devoted to the pursuit of experiences beyond the mainstream. We are the bug under the rug, the termites in society's crutches, the bad egg at the corporate picnic, the vital spirits of cultural fermentation. You may already be a member."

Even holidays aren't sacred when it comes to the cacophonists. Last New Year's Eve, the theme for the Cacophony party was "Curious George goes to Hell," and last Halloween the group opened a haunted house in Hollywood. "We wanted to get as far away from monster movie stereotypes as we could," Ridenour said. "[To] give people a chance to clean out their demons and show stuff that's really evil that you can't stand back from."

 With gallows humor in mind, the group created a museum of mental decay, a religious damage room, a war veteran's flashback room and a dysfunctional room wherein a grandmother screamed at a young mother, who then screamed at her infant son. They also fashioned a genetic laboratory where visitors pretend to give DNA samples.

Why go to so much trouble? "It gives me an outlet. This is stuff I used to do when I was a kid in the garage with my brother," Ridenour said. "Now I can get 20 to 30 people to show up and do them with me." Not that he doesn't have a day job. Ridenour crawls the streets of Los Angeles in search of the unique and the unusual and makes his living helping to pen "Best Of L.A." lists and other journalistic works for Los Angeles Magazine, New Times and LA Weekly.

 He is also a free-lance computer animator and quirky book writer, and he's working on a commissioned book of bizarre food rituals from various cultures. "L.A. is such an unreal city, that's why it's so fun to live here," Ridenour said. "But if you're trying to be satirical, people assume you're feeding them entertainment. It's hard to make a point, to shock people in Los Angeles." 

But they're always willing to try. Once, the group walked around the Universal City Walk made up as burn victims. "We were trying to make a point out of how tourists come to Los Angeles and see this as the real L.A., and it's not," Ridenour said. "But people kept asking us when the next 'Backdraft' show was."

To keep the group's antics fresh, Ridenour said, members must continue to become more outrageous. "We live in Hollywood -- the flashpoint of our TV-obsessed culture," Ridenour said with a Cheshire cat-like grin.

"Think of the possibilities." Others stay involved for more practical reasons. "A lot of people would go nuts without this group," said cacophonist Michael Perrick. "It keeps us sane."

FYI For more information on the Los Angeles branch of the Cacophony Society, send an e-mail to or call (213) 694-2478.