Last night at Joe’s Pub, Catie Lazarus bestowed “Employee of the Month” honors — while taping her podcast of the same name — on humorist Simon Rich, musician Stephin Merritt, Mad magazine legend Al Jaffee, and Top Chef host Tom Colicchio, who was literally forced to admit that he preferred another restaurant’s grilled cheese to his own.
The series of quickie conversations ended up being a sort of talent show, as both Merritt and Colicchio performed songs (by Merritt’s own Magnetic Fields and by Simon & Garfunkel, respectively), Jaffee read some of his famous “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions,” and Rich (who revealed that his show “Man Seeking Woman” is due to premier on FXX in January) read from Simon’s Newspaper, his attempt at the tender age of five to be a serious journalist like his dad Frank Rich (sample foreign policy editorial: “Mikhail Gorbachev is a pretty good leader of France”). The paper went under, Rich said, because his mom didn’t have time to type it for him, and also because “as an investigative journalist I was hindered by the fact that I was not allowed to leave the apartment.”
Merritt, who plays BAM tonight, was his usual bubbly self (and by bubbly we mean the bubbles that come out of the La Brea Tar Pits). When Lazarus asked, “How today can a musician make a living without touring?”, he deadpanned, “The question is how today can a musician make a living even with touring.” After an awkward pause and some awkward laughter from the audience, he continued, “I look forward to hearing the answer, because the traditional methods of making a living is selling records (that’s gone), selling out to advertisers (that’s gone). If you get a song on a tv commercial you don’t get to buy a house now, you get to buy a Vespa or — those are probably a lot more expensive — a go kart.”
Rest assured, that isn’t keeping the Magnetic Fields from working on a new album — “or rather, I’m working on a new album,” Merritt specified. “No one else is working on it yet.”
Finally, Colicchio took the stage and recalled his days as a 13- or 14-year-old, working the grill at his hometown swim club. His boss paid him $275 a week under the table, and that wasn’t all: “I figured out pretty quickly that every time he picked me up [for work] he was pretty stoned. So about a week in I got the courage to say, ‘Hey, you want to share that?’ So it was the best job I ever had in my life.”
It was there, Colicchio said, that he perfected his grilled cheese method of buttering the griddle instead of the bread. A charming anecdote that T-Clicks likely regretted telling: upon the mention of grilled cheese, Lazarus dressed him in an “I’d Rather Be Reading Jane Austen” apron and then blindfolded him for a tasting of three grilled cheeses — one from a diner, another from Melt Shop, and the other from his own Wichcraft.
Colicchio was good-natured about the tasting, though at one point he told actor Josh Charles, a previous guest of the show who had roped Colicchio into it and was at the bar, “Hey Josh, this is when I kill you right about now.” Finally, Colicchio named the third sandwich as his favorite, since “the cheese was a little better.” And that sandwich was…. Melt Shop’s!
Awkward. But hey, the guy redeemed himself by closing the show with a not-at-all-cheesy rendition of “The Only Living Boy in New York.”