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Talk Hole — spring/summer 2018
From left: Eric wears denim jacket Levi’s, shirt Gucci, Steven wears wool vest Prada, jeans Levi’sPhotography Hart+ Lëshkina, styling Vittoria Cerciello

Talk Hole: why so serious?

Talk Hole — spring/summer 2018

‘Comedy is full of straight men who don’t feel like they have to seduce their audience’ — meet Talk Hole, the live comedy cabal breaking fresh ground in New York

Taken from the spring/summer 2018 issue of Dazed. You can buy a copy of our latest issue here

New York is the nightlife capital of the world. It has everything: circuit parties in abandoned cathedrals, sex-slave basement orgies in residential Brooklyn, impromptu fashion shows in smoke-filled restaurants, Real Housewives finale tapings on hotel rooftops, and enough drag queens to flood RuPaul's casting department for dozens of seasons of unmissable TV. But the hardest club to get into might actually be Talk Hole: an outsider comedy night in the cramped basement of an Asian-Italian fusion restaurant in Chinatown. “I usually can’t even see the full show because it’s so packed – I have to wait in the hall, says Jacqueline Novak, a rising comedian who’s appeared in projects for Netflix and HBO. Although there’s no cover and everyone is welcome, Talk Hole is usually crammed to the rafters – far too full to accommodate the swelling throngs of artists, curators and fashion types who flock to Asia Roma one Wednesday out of every month to see the show. “(Normally) there’s no overlap in comedy with art, fashion or any of these other worlds,” says Steven Phillips-Horst, who co-founded the night with friend Eric Schwartau. “There are certain layers to the comedy world.” There are the traditional stand-up clubs, like Carolines or the Comedy Cellar – which are meant to entertain the bridge-and-tunnel crowds – and there’s the alternative comedy scene, which is more cerebral but still predominantly heterosexual. “Those (produce) the future Aziz Ansaris of the world,” says Phillips-Horst.

“There are a lot of beanies,” Schwartau interjects. “I was unsatisfied with a lot of the comedy shows I was going to. I thought, ‘I could do this better.’ I don’t want to see straight males perform. I want people like (artist and comedian) Casey Jane Ellison. I want gay guys. I want it to be on my wavelength.” In fact, it was Ellison who took Phillips-Horst to his first open-mic night, setting him on this path. (“Casey has pushed a lot of attractive and hot people into comedy,” Schwartau opines. “She was an inspiration to me as well.”) “We see her as a mother figure,” Phillips-Horst states, emphatically. “A maternal figure, for sure. I see her as older than me. Although I’m not sure of the age difference.” If taking the stage for your first-ever stand-up routine sounds nerve-racking, it’s not. “The setting at an open-mic night is so overwhelmingly depressing,” says Phillips-Horst. “You’re like, ‘If I fail at this, and I can’t even find the confidence and the gumption that these losers have, then I am literally trash.’”

When the opportunity came to put on a show for the Nada Art Fair at Miami Beach in 2014, the idea for a comedy showcase started taking shape. “It was called ‘LOL Basel’,” Phillips-Horst recalls. A note-perfect pastiche of common-or-garden corporate events, the show featured comedians attempting to perform routines over a quiet PA at a loud seniors’ cantina called the Sandbar.

“They didn’t even fly us down,” Schwartau laughs. “I think they gave us one night at the Deauville, and it was disastrous.” The showcase featured one artist going on a rant about women, another refusing to stop performing the song “Margaritaville” for more than half an hour, and a Schwartau slideshow of his own nude selfies, which offended an elderly man to the extent that he tried to fight him. Fortunately, security intervened. “It was an amazing experience, because everything went wrong,” Phillips-Horst recalls. “It was the first time I felt comfortable performing. I was like, ‘This is a disaster, so nothing matters.’ When something pierces the veil of wanting to be perfect, you can breathe. Everything becomes more expressive and improvisational.” “I think we thrive in chaos,” says Schwartau. “Or we create it.” Phillips-Horst replies. Sitting side-by-side in a downtown brunch spot, the two comics possess a classic, competitive gay dynamic which they employ to exaggerated effect. Schwartau is deadpan, while Phillips-Horst is more animated and extravagant. When Schwartau orders a breakfast sandwich, Phillips-Horst encourages him to follow his destiny. “You’re kind of a ravenous, suburban American, and I’m kind of like, a thin girl from Europe,” he says, opting for an acai bowl.

Schwartau narrows his eyes. “...Right,” he answers dryly. It’s this dynamic, in part, that draws so many of downtown New York’s most influential young artists to their shows. “We have this anxiety to entertain,” says Schwartau of their relationship. “We challenge each other to make sure the audience is having a good time, so there’s kind of a desperate gay energy.” “What’s the problem with comedy, right?” Phillips-Horst volunteers, usurping the role of interviewer. “The problem with comedy is that it’s full of straight men who don’t feel like they have to seduce their audience. They don’t feel the burden to seduce. To me, that makes you funnier and more entertaining, and it’s more respectful of your audience’s intelligence and their sexuality. Women have the burden to seduce and they’ve always had it, and now we need to push that burden on to men. Rather than say, ‘Hey, women can be slobs’– which, sure, they can be – we need to be forcing men to be hot. That’s where progress lies.”

One of Talk Hole’s innate punchlines is its marketing, which skewers mainstream lifestyle brands, appropriating everything from artisanal doughnut shops to health beverages, Birchbox and the freelance services provider Fiverr. Lily Marotta, Phillips-Horst’s best friend and a Talk Hole fixture, finds this aspect particularly crucial. “They lampoon how ridiculous branding and advertising have become recently: pop-ups, lifestyle hotels, meal prep kits, co-working spaces... Our world is becoming one big Blue Apron box, and Eric and Steven are both the experts in and the sharpest critics of those trends.” This particular element has helped the pair win art-world credibility, with regular performance events for MoMA’s PS1 gallery. You’re likely to see artists from the DIS collective at their shows, and familiar faces from Vaquera and Hood by Air. Mykki Blanco and one-time GHE20G0TH1K DJ Physical Therapy have also been involved on different occasions. In other words, the show attracts a whole sphere of influential people who aren’t otherwise drawn to comedy. Maybe it’s because this kind of audience – young, queer and creative – has rarely been acknowledged by the comedy establishment. It’s shocking to consider that, until Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live, America’s most visible comedy platform, had only ever featured one openly gay cast member (Terry Sweeney in series 11).

“Talk Hole has almost never booked a straight, cis, man... ever,” Marotta brags. “They blur the constantly belaboured line between comedy and fashion,” says Ruby McCollister, a raspy-voiced, red-haired performer with a hysterical, theatrical presence. “And it’s a show that constantly promotes performers who intrinsically hold both worlds within their performances... whether they know it or not.” Perhaps the magic of Talk Hole is that its performers – many of whom feature on these pages – embody their identities so fully and confidently, they are able to be funny without making identity the focus. Karolena Theresa, who has performed at Schwartau and Phillips- Horst’s events, brilliantly articulates Talk Hole’s appeal. “I don’t always feel like I can 100-per-cent be myself,” she explains. “There are rooms where I have to be hyper-aware of what I’m saying and who is in the audience. I want to be vulnerable when it comes to making jokes about being a fat, Afro-Latina woman. But (at Talk Hole) you can look around and say, ‘I’m good: these are my people.’ Just because someone is laughing, it doesn’t mean that they get it. At Talk Hole, I have no doubt that everyone in the room gets it. It’s the flyest audience in New York.”

RUBY MCCOLLISTER

How do you self-identify?
I’m a red-headed entertainer, while also embodying the movie star you pretend to be in your bathroom.

Where did you grow up?
LA. My father ran the Coronet Theatre on La Cienega Boulevard until I was 12. I spent most of my time in the box office, or watching barely attended performances of the passion projects of staff writers from Frasier.

What is the funniest thing in the world right now?
I don’t know... the tampon industry? Give me something to talk about and I bet it will be the funniest goddamned thing in the world right now.

Do you have a dream role?
I’m very interested in starring in multiple biopics, cornering the market on famous redheads or people with charmingly fucked-up teeth.

What’s your latest obsession?
Feather dusters. When I use them I pretend they’re talking in French accents. It’s sort of like a grownup version of playing with a doll.

What’s your style philosophy?
Dress like a character actress on her way from an audition in 1980. And always remember what your mother said: ‘Buy your summer shoes in March.’

How were you discovered?
I haven’t been yet! Have I?

Ruby is also an actress and creator of the surreal YouTube series Zhe Zhe

CATHERINE COHEN

How do you self-identify?
As a hot person.

What was your biggest childhood trauma?
Boys never wanted to kiss me.

What is the funniest thing in the world right now?
My therapist just told me I look like Jared Leto.

How were you discovered?
While singing about my butthole at The Met on Valentine’s Day with Alan Cumming.

Do you have a dream role?
A woman who looks into her medicine cabinet mirror and says, ‘Hello, Stranger’.

What is your biggest fear?
Falling into a crevasse.

Who’s overrated?
Men.

Who’s next?
Me and my famously wide/flat ass.

What was the worst job you ever had, and why?
Working at a restaurant where my hot French boss told me I was ‘pretty funny for a girl’.

What’s your style philosophy?
Velvet in all seasons.

What’s your beauty secret?
I wash my hair like once a never.

Catherine hosts a cabaret showcase at Alan Cumming’s Club Cumming, and has appeared on TV in Difficult People and Comedy Central’s Someone’s in Here

ALEX SCHMIDT

How do you self-identify?
As a #RandomBi comedy artist inside the body of an Olympic gymnast.

What was your biggest childhood trauma?
Wetting the bed until I was 12, having 18 au-pairs, and watching Beauty and the Beast so many times I didn’t realise I was gay until I was 28.

Do you have a dream role?
It’s a musical comedy/law drama in the style of ErinmBrockovich where I’m Siamese twins with Lily Marotta. We’re about to get throuple-married to Elizabeth Warren (Rachel Maddow is the preacher, Sally Field is our mom, my dad is John Candy and Lily’s dad is Kevin James) when we realise global warming has ruined our winter wedding by making it gorgeous outside. We cancel the ceremony and file a motion against Big Business with the blessing of President Quincy Jones. There’s a scary moment when Barbara Corcoran bitesa chunk out of Lily’s arm. But we power through and become the first throuple to win in the Supreme Court.

What was the worst job you ever had, and why?
Cannot answer for legal reasons. My best job was when I shot confetti out of a cannon during a Lil Kim concert.

If you could put a message into a hole, to be discovered centuries from now, what would it say?
If you’re gonna ride my ass, at least pull my hair.

Alex is also a sculptor and yoga teacher under her personal imprimatur, Body Confidence

COLE ESCOLA

How do you self-identify?
Useless.

What was your biggest childhood trauma?
When I visited my mom at rehab and learned the Beauty and the Beast kids’ meal toys didn’t include a Mrs Potts.

What is the funniest thing in the world right now?
Lily Marotta’s content.

How were you discovered?
I told everyone about me.

What is your biggest fear?
Choking to death on my gum from the impact of a car crash that I would have otherwise survived.

Who’s overrated?
Richard.

Who’s next?
Paula.

What’s your latest obsession?
I’ve gotten really into my balls lately.

What was the worst job you ever had, and why?
Any customer service, because there’s no amount of money that can make you care if some ugly stranger thinks their cake is too dry.

Who is the funniest person who ever lived?
Amy Sedaris.

What’s your style philosophy?
‘Is this OK?’

Cole is also an actor who has appeared on TV in Mozart in the Jungle and At Home With Amy Sedaris

KAROLENA THERESA

How do you self-identify?
As a Blatina Queen.

Where did you grow up?
Queens.

What was your biggest childhood trauma?
The birth of my older sister.

What is the funniest thing in the world right now?
Brooklyn comedy!

How were you discovered?
I’m still undiscovered. I did a play called Hidden Fences last year and that kind of changed things for me.

Do you have a dream role?
I want to play a funny detective (21 Jump Street, Lethal Weapon, Rush Hour).

Who’s next?
Comedy-wise? Arti Gollapudi – she nuts, but she’s next.

What’s your latest obsession?
My bedroom. I want it to be the lushest, most luxurious, sexual cloud. I don’t want to sleep, I want to float. I want to come home to comfort and candles.

What was the worst job you ever had, and why?
I have worked exclusively in fashion (not retail) since graduating from college. I won’t name names...

What’s your style philosophy?
When in doubt, get the titties out.

Karolena co-hosts comedy nights The Black Out and Big Mouths, which predominantly feature comedians from the LGBTQ and POC communities

LILY MAROTTA

How do you self-identify?
A mozzarella butch.

What was your biggest childhood trauma?
When I was young there was an elderly man who worked at my local Italian specialty store – he made the best focaccia and I really looked up to him. Then the store closed down and was replaced by a Paper Source and I never saw him again.

What is the funniest thing in the world right now?
My girlfriend wakes up at 7am to watch two full episodes of Criminal Minds before work.

How were you discovered?
I’m available to take meetings at whatever Dunkin’ Donuts is most convenient.

What was the worst job you ever had, and why?
Selling Christmas trees in SoHo, because I froze my ass off and my boss yelled at me in front of Catherine Keener.

What’s your style philosophy?
Maxxinista: A person who shops at the discount designer department store TJ Maxx. One who finds unique and original designer items at discount prices.

If you could put a message into a hole, to be discovered centuries from now, what would it say?
Steven’s pin number is 6969.

Lily starred in the web series Monica, about a young Monica Lewinsky moving to New York to ‘start over’ in the early 2000s. She co-hosts L-Word Trivia Night with Minnie Bennett

JACQUELINE NOVAK

How do you self-identify?
Hmm. As a young woman? A paranormal researcher?

What was your biggest childhood trauma?
One time a young neighbour friend got eaten by her garage door in my presence. More on that in my next book. Please get my first book, How to Weep in Public.

How were you discovered?
In stand-up you discover yourself.

Do you have a dream role?
Maybe someone in a Deadwood reboot.

What’s your latest obsession?
Outdated books on psychic phenomena.

What’s your style philosophy?
That you can have style and not apply it. Just because I’m dressed bad today doesn’t mean I don’t have style – check in with me next week.

What’s your beauty secret?
I’ve embraced the SPF dogma and think that layers of moisture-retaining products will keep me supple until death.

If you could put a message into a hole, to be discovered centuries from now, what would it say?
Hi, so we probably seem like we’re past people who aren’t real because we are in the past, but we really were real people.

Jacqueline is also a writer whose debut book, How to Weep in Public: Feeble Offerings on Depression From Someone Who Knows, is out now

Hair Blake Erik at Statement Artists, make-up Ingeborg using Bobbi Brown, set design Mila Taylor-Young at D+V, photography assistant Jason Acton, styling assistants Shant Alvandyan, Nick Centofani, set design assistant Kate Atkinson, Production Kendal Simon at D+V