Fancy Feast for the Ears and Eyes: “How Was Your Week?” Live at The Bell House

We borrowed this photo from Questlove's Instagram. Thanks.

The third edition of How Was Your Week? Live, recorded last night at The Bell House in Gowanus, Brooklyn, will premiere as an episode of the show’s typical podcast format in the weeks to come. In the interest of not letting the proverbial Youtube cat video out of the bag, or spoiling the show for its brightly colored carousel of fans, I will here keep my spoilerish thoughts about last night’s festivities to a minimum. I tend to avoid writing straight up love letters and odes here at V1. Sardonic pays the bills. But in the case of this show, and what it says of the city, I think opening up a vein and letting the sun shine in is warranted.

HWYW? host Julie Klausner is a live presence at once derived from Broadway and the Bowery. With gusto and showomanship (because I can, OK?), Klausner will bust out not one but several medleys of show tunes and pop in a single evening, in between choreographed routines with backup dancers and interviews with comedians, actresses, and writers. She looks like a true blue New Yorker, at once of her generation and several preceding it. Klausner rocks a trademark shag cut of florid sangria red with controlled frenzy, and sports ensembles fit to cut glass at Studio 54 and Max’s Kansas City alike. One could easily squint and picture her belting out “sha-booms” onstage with the New York Dolls or Blondie at CB’s in ’76, or hosting a dance party from MTV’s mid-90s Spring Break escapades from beneath dark glasses and a hat large enough to shade her fair complexion. HWYW is a true variety show, with variety as the bombastic fuel. You know how Bob Dylan refers to himself ironically as a song-and-dance man? Well go drool in your steel crushed oats, Mr. Dylan, for there’s a new song-and-dance in town: one that doesn’t sound like a lawnmower chain being yanked, or move like a beach umbrella fumbling away from its owner down the shoreline.

Klausner’s guests for the evening could not hope to match her energy, but in their own right brought wry wit to the proceedings. They were the sorbet that follows your nachos: cleansing the palate so as to bring on more salsa. Martha Plimpton of stage (The Coast of Utopia, Pal Joey) and screen (particularly her epic turns in The Goonies, Parenthood, and 200 Cigarettes) showed why she should be getting cunning, menacing roles akin to Angela Lansbury’s whenever someone writes the next Manchurian Candidate (something cut from the same cloth, not a remake: they already did that). Buzzfeed editor Katie Notopoulos was an effervescent delight, walking the audience through a series of bodybuilding message boards and hilariously sad Kickstarter failures. Serving as something of a main event, comedian Jim Gaffigan displayed his unique ability to be spiritually electrifying while physically remaining entirely stationary.

In living color, the show moves with a kind of joie de vivre not seen since your favorite summer camp elective, or an English class in which you leaned forward because Ralph Ellison’s prose was exhilarating and your teacher – man, woman, or all points in between – was a full-on babe. Klausner’s impeccable selection of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists as her live house band and theme song scribes sharply compliments her frenetics, with the skronk of Leo’s guitar an ideal match for any Klausner-curated web curiosities. This particular evening was chock full of Klausner’s typical passions: the David Lynch nightmares that are the Twitter feeds of Mario Lopez and Pauley Perrette, the musical Rent, and a cavalcade of funny-looking dogs and cats.

Fans of the show will be pleased to know that the show was a loving tribute dedicated to the memory of Klausner’s dearly departed feline Smiley Muffin, and that the show was practically co-hosted in the most satisfying of ways by Klausner’s new fella Jimmy Jazz, the black-and-white sophisticate who appears to be wearing a fur tuxedo at all hours of the day. And while I won’t reveal the surprise, suffice to say that a mid-show recap monologue performed by one surprising special guest was not only a joy, but an act of downright redemption as self-parody.

With alarming frequency, the burgeoning industry of comedy podcasts – which at their best have been characterized by candor, silliness, and an outsider quality of work that doesn’t fit typical broadcast molds – have begun to feel a bit uniform in their own right, too often austere and self-conscious in a field where any given feature act starting one up has become par for the course. Generally speaking, the more the merrier: funny is funny. But to her credit, no one is doing radio that sounds (or indeed, looks) like Klausner’s. It would be nigh impossible to copy her delicate blend of thoughtful-brazen. Like the best rock stars of the 70s and 80s – from whom she garners much stylistically – she is utterly relatable in her weirdness.

How Was Your Week? Live is a cabaret for our time, and the Divine Ms. K a fearless master of ceremonies. What a pleasure it was to see – at the Bell House no less, where too often every crowd member looks the same – an audience in which none of us looked alike. Many were sharply dressed, albeit with eccentric accessories: Julie’s is a fan base that appreciates making an effort. Yet while we were all kinda freaks, I was taken with the lot of us as a true array of creeds and colors, shapes and sizes, cads and strumpets, b-girls and urbane fops. There was true variety in the crowd of this variety show. Such was the curious circus onstage.

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