TV Eye

A Cut Above

Musician, political activist, and spoken-word performer Henry Rollins in Belgrade, Northern Ireland
Musician, political activist, and spoken-word performer Henry Rollins in Belgrade, Northern Ireland

Henry Rollins is really, really outraged, and he wants you to know it. The former frontman for Black Flag and now the Rollins Band has made a career out of being outraged, but like all smart artists who've reached the middle-age years, he's managed to expand his repertoire beyond his first venture (music), moving into publishing, producing, some acting, and the thing he does best: standing in front of audiences telling them why he's outraged.

Like another spoken-word performer, the late, great Spalding Gray, Rollins has the impressive ability to keep an audience riveted as he rants, sometimes at Mach speed, sometimes doused in self-effacement, but always full of an earnest energy that makes you want to listen and hose him down at the same time. It's a strange but arguably useful talent, particularly when he turns his attention to subjects that demand attention, as in the three-part series he appears in this month on IFC called Henry Rollins: Uncut.

Rollins travels to New Orleans, South Africa, and Northern Ireland to offer his take on the state of the world from these distinct vantage points. Unlike the first Uncut special (in which Rollins traveled to Israel), Rollins goes outside the intimate performance spaces to meet ordinary people who live and work in these three cities. Rollins does a lot of talking, but he also does a lot of listening – something that was lacking in the Israel special. It helps that he's chosen cities that have strong musical histories, which offers a softer transition from his first-person rants onstage to his role as a politically engaged observer. Rollins really wants to understand the world he's observing. He asks questions – lots of questions – and doesn't shrink from the disquieting answers, as when he talks to a mental-health worker in New Orleans and discovers that no provisions have been made to deal with the post-traumatic stress disorder that plagues the city following Hurricane Katrina.

Rollins makes no demands on viewers. He doesn't solicit donations or ask you to join a cause. That could be seen as a lost opportunity, given the platform his fame allows him, until one realizes that his mission goes beyond exposing and moves toward pushing viewers toward understanding. This is especially stunning in the Uncut episode in Northern Ireland. Not only does the episode cover familiar ground detailing the sectarian violence that plagued that region for more than 30 years (otherwise known as "the Troubles"), but the episode goes a step further by comparing that history to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. But even Rollins knows that telling you to act is not going to work. He lets the information do all the persuading. If you remain unmoved, then no one, famous or otherwise, can make a difference.

Henry Rollins: Uncut premieres Friday, Nov. 7, at 9:30pm on the IFC, with encores throughout the month. Check local listings.


What Else Is On?

Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim of the Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, which airs on the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim lineup, are coming to Austin. They perform live at the Fun Fun Fun Fest in Waterloo Park on Sunday, Nov. 9. For tickets and information, go to www.timanderic.com/live.html. Tim and Eric Awesome Show returns for a fourth season in January 2009.

Web sighting: The Rules of Man (www.therulesofman.tv): Okay, the look is on the rough side, and the scripts are a bit underdeveloped, but the performances make this Austin-made Web series thoroughly enjoyable. As the title implies, Rules shows a group of guys dealing with situations in which they must follow the unspoken rules all men abide by – as in the episode when Patrick (a very funny Jon Bean) discovers his ex is pregnant. Deciding he must be the father and flanked by the guys, he goes to his ex to declare he will do the right thing, marry her, and be the best baby daddy she could possibly hope for. Only two episodes are up, but I hope this team, lead by writer/creator Christopher Landa, will continue to find its footing.

As always, stay tuned.

E-mail Belinda Acosta at tveye@austinchronicle.com.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Henry Rollins, Henry Rollins: Uncut, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Good Job!, The Rules of Man, Jon Bean, Christopher Landa

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