“Watching people struggle to create something on the spot is as much the joy as the joke.”—Todd Bieber
Chances are you’ve never heard of Del Close—and if you have, it’s probably a fair indication that you spend a lot of time watching, practicing, or thinking about improvisation. Not the kind where you have to quickly make up an excuse for your boss about why you’re late for work, or invent the name of a non-existent dive bar to throw your bestie off the scent of what you really did last night—no, we’re talking “improv,” the word bandied around to apply to a collection of theatrical training games that has become an entertainment form in its own right and made millionaires out of many of your comedy favorites. Some of them, including Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Mike Myers, John Belushi, and Chris Farley, studied, at one time or another, under a man named Del Close.
The first email I received about the new video for The Adventures of the Silver Spaceman (TAOTSS) from frontman Zachary James Ellis said something about a “yurt” with no cell service. When I caught up with Ellis via phone, he told me he was on a retreat, writing songs in Paonia, in western Colorado. With the Rockefeller tree about to be lit, tourist crowds reaching saturation levels, the L train acting like a jilted lover, and a drizzle erasing what few hours of daylight exist at this longitude, we could all be a little jealous.
Everyone has a St. Marks story — my first was smoking free hash after getting ripped off on bunk X. “And since the middle of the twentieth century, kids from all over the country, and the world, who wanted to be writers or artists or do drugs have come to St. Marks Place to find one another and themselves.” So says St. Marks Is Dead: The Many Lives of America’s Coolest Street, the dizzyingly fascinating mostly-oral history by Ada Calhoun, which launches Monday, Nov. 2, at Cooper Union with free beer from Brooklyn Brewery and a punk cover band—the St. Marks Zeroes—featuring Ad-Rock.
I was sitting in the Olive Tree Cafe, upstairs from the Comedy Cellar, flipping through Judah Friedlander’s new book. Largely single-panel cartoons, the book’s drawings run the gamut between The Far Side and The New Yorker, offering plenty of belly laughs and a few head scratchers. My favorites include one captioned, “Then one night, the dishes did Jeffrey,” a dark mass-jumper routine about a “building’s semi-annual suicide race,” and a sketch of where to meet women in Manhattan: yoga studios and $50 cupcake shops.
The Barnes & Noble at Union Square was packed to the gills last night, with a line already forming on 17th Street long before Patti Smith was due to appear.
Riding the escalator up, we saw kids crowding every floor, sitting amongst the stacks in the hopes of hearing Smith read, even if they couldn’t buy a copy of her new book to get a wristband and get into the seating area and be guaranteed a signature in Smith’s new book, M Train.
Most downtown Doc Marten stompers probably connote the name Richard Hell with his former bands—Television, the Heartbreakers, Richard Hell and the Voidoids—but for the last 30 years he’s mostly been writing. Hell essentially retired from music after 1984’s compilation album R.I.P., with the exception of 1992’s Dim Stars experiment with Thurston Moore et al., and he told us, “People have lots of reasons for going back on the road. It’s not tempted me for a long time.” Instead, he’s produced a stack of books, including the well-received autobiography, I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp, and the collection of poetry, prose, and essays (and lovingly-produced penis drawings) Hot and Cold. Hell’s latest is a collection of his nonfiction writings, Massive Pissed Love: Nonfiction 2001-2014. We caught up with Hell (see bottom for info about upcoming local appearances) to talk about the new book, analog versus ebooks, and people stealing his haircut.
Brooklyn-based publishing house Akashic Books has done their not-for-children viral children’s book Go the F*ck to Sleep one better: a specifically-for-children book that parents might want to read a hundred times over: What is Punk?. Written by Trampoline House founder Eric Morse in classically Suessical iambic, the book is lusciously illustrated with photographs of Play-Doh recreations of all mommy’s and daddy’s favorite punk heroes: the Ramones, Iggy and the Stooges—and Debbie Harry, David Byrne, David Johansen, Tom Verlaine, and Lou Reed all standing in front of CBGBs.
Calamity Chang, once a fixture at the old Galapagos with the Beatles Burlesque show she produced, rarely performs in Brooklyn these days. But she makes an exception for the New York Burlesque Festival, which will inundate the city with glitter this weekend for the 13th year in a row. “As for Brooklyn,” she told us, “well, let’s just say that burlesque died when the hipsters moved into Williamsburg. They are too sexually repressed to appreciate sexuality and too cool to appreciate camp.”
While New Yorkers can be blind to events in other cities, there are many reasons to sympathize with San Franciscans in Joshua Mohr’s new novel All This Life. Specifically, gentrification (the Mission is finally going the way of Williamsburg, in case you didn’t notice), addiction to tech, and a yearning for societal interaction that social media merely imitates.
On a Southwest flight to Las Vegas, I sat next to a spunky, petite woman from Baltimore who now lives in Brooklyn. Her small stature belies her strength—I’ve watched her do handstands and seen her lift a man heavier than her while wearing kitten heels. Trixie Little was on her way to compete—for the fifth time, much like Diana Nyad—for the title of Miss Exotic World, the queen of burlesque crowned annually at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender.
Last week I spent four days in Austin chasing some of the up-and-coming artists who identified “New York” and “Brooklyn” as their hometown. Or did you think one goes to South by Southwest to check out all those Nashville bands?