August 24th, 2009
A few weeks ago an unfortunate incident occurred that resulted in me having a great fear that New York’s reputation as the leading open minded location that encourages performers to test boundaries and celebrate their uniqueness could very much be in jeopardy. Stand up comedians know that having as much stage time as possible is truly the only way to tighten and improve our craft. As a result, many of us decide “to do the funny” in local restaurant basements, bars and coffee shops to practice… basically, venues that aren’t as glamorous as the big clubs. Dress rehearsal. Sometimes you’re just working things out in front of other comedians and sometimes you have a little audience. I am not an advocate of profanity and sex jokes in the spirit of shock value. However, if the context is intelligent and a point is being made..I say go for it. Richard Pryor and George Carlin didn’t lose their credibility for choosing that direction. I was at a coffee shop in Park Slope in Brooklyn for an Open Mic and one comedian used a word that very much offended a father who was there with his teenage daughter. The word that enraged him: Blow Job. And yes it was used in a smart context of great length and wide girth. Too easy. My apologies. I am not here to dissect the First Amendment. But I do feel when choosing to see a live comedy performance in New York City, there is always a bit of the “Enter at your own risk" factor. If you fear edge,take your (I’m gonna go with sexually active) teenage daughter to a comedy show at an Olive Garden at a suburban strip mall.
Admitted, comics should “know” their audience. Perhaps it was poor judgment on the part of the comedian or an early show at this particular venue was not the right choice. Either way, it happened and it didn’t sit well with me because it tapped into a much broader concern that has been festering in me for some time: New York gentrification overpowering true artistry. Socio-economic and demographic shifts are unavoidable. I get that. But being a stiff buttoned up douche bag can be prevented.
I took an informal survey:
If one feels that they’re too edgy for New York, where would they go?”
David Koff – “Camden. Bring a gun”
Dan Verkman - “Fox News”
Michael Carlucci - “Marriage”
Right as it was seeming that NYC was “so over” its blissful romance with free creative expression...I was approached by Sue Maskaleris. There might be hope.
Sue is an award-winning composer, lyricist, arranger, producer, singer and pianist that I met while teaching a comedy improv workshop at Gilda’s Club in the summer of 2007. This nationwide community meeting center provides free support for people with cancer - along with their families and friends. We recently reconnected and have mutual admiration for each other’s talent.
She invited me to be in her "Babes in the Hood" cabaret show last night. The production was downstairs at a west village restaurant. The 50 seat hideaway oozed sex appeal and class. I guess its the Madonna Whore of performance space. The real deal: Full PA system, stocked bar, candles and red and black murals of performers past.
I love that I was invited to participate in this and not just because Sue felt that I fit “babe” status. I opened with a comedy set and was followed by three formally dressed young women who decked out songs with sophistication, passion and heart . Their performances took me back to seeing shows in New York as a kid and just being blown away by the sheer luminescent magnetism of this form of showbiz. And I was part of it. One difference. They were all in beautiful dresses and I was a bit more casual. Comedy and ball gowns generally don’t go hand in hand.
I loved the glam. The rawness. Most of all, I LOVED THE AUDIENCE. No tight assed investment banker daddy here. I’m sure our onlookers came from all walks of life but we FELT them. And they felt us. And not in a lawsuit kinda way. I imagined them as writers, critics and actors meeting there for a martini in the 1920’s and engaging in wisecracks, wordplay and witticisms. Bonus that there was a show. Of “babes” nonetheless.
Thank you Sue for reminding me that support for truthful expression is still available in my city. My home.