February 12, 2009 at 04:49 PM EST

Finally, FINALLY, this “Joaquin Phoenix the eccentric rapper” thing is starting to make sense. It’s still impossible to determine whether it’s serious or a big put-on, but after his appearance on Letterman last night, at least it’s become entertaining. Walking out in a suit, shades, and the full hobo beard, Phoenix sat with Dave for about 10 minutes, chewing on a piece of gum and stumbling and fidgeting his way through an interview in which he failed to have more than two-word answers to the most basic of questions. Phoenix seemed genuinely befuddled that Dave asks about his beard, his decision to leave acting, and his latest movie, Two Lovers, and appears actually confused and hurt that Dave, and the crowd, refuse to buy into the insanity of it all. It’s humorous at first, and the audience laughs (nervously, at times) every step of the way, prompting Phoenix — again,surprised that he’s beingtaken as a joke — to ask Dave of his audience, “What do you gas them upwith?”

In the beginning, it seems Dave — certainly no stranger to the put-on game — must be in on it. But by the end, the routine takes on an air of brilliant squirm-inducing Andy Kaufman as Phoenix is no longer just confused but angry that he is being asked all these questions (on a late-night talk show, mind you) and being made fun of when he barely answers. Dave will have none of it, finally shooting out, “Yeah, I’ll come to your house and chew gun.” So Phoenix slaps the wad under Dave’s desk just before they kick out to a clip the actor-rapper refused to set up. At the end, Dave quips, “Joaquin, I’m sorry you couldn’t be here tonight.” For the record, I still think the whole thing has to be a joke. But whereas I found the rap performances to be simply unwatchable, after the Letterman appearance, I can definitely see how this could be a fun ride.

Anyone else entertained by Phoenix’s Letterman interview last night? Can this possibly be real and he’s at a point where the basic concept of a talk-show interview befuddles him? Does it matter either way so long as we’re entertained?

More Joaquin Phoenix:
Ken Tucker: Joaquin Phoenix on ‘David Letterman’ : Huh????
Joaquin Phoenix’s rap career: An elaborate hoax?
Joaquin Phoenix’s publicist says his music act is the real deal
Joaquin Phoenix’s rap career: To believe or not to believe?

addCredit(“John Paul Filo/CBS”)

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