I got there late - around 11 pm. I was meeting a friend at 2 am so I needed to kill a little time. 3 dollars ? Cheap beer ? At least 3 people wearing top hats ? I’m there.
It’s in the East Village, 8th and 1st Avenue. I know about it because a girl named Brooke took me there on a surprisingly tense date. That was two years ago. Brooke and I didn’t work out, but Penny and her open mic night are still going strong.
Penny (no last name) is a brave, compassionate soul who allows any one to wander in from cold and spend 7 minutes on stage. It’s a strict 7 minutes. You’ll be cut off mid-lyric. Penny seemed utterly delighted to have every single of the performers there. I was impressed by her spunk when I got there at 11 and was still impressed when I left at 1:30-ish and the night was still going strong.
I walk in and there’s a zaftig girl playing a catchy song called "I only use Facebook to stalk you". (I loved it. I’m still singing it.)
I sit next to a guy who is older than me so I assume he is a knowing and sophisticated sort of person. His head is so shiny. The man greets me and makes sporadic comments. I spend a little time during some one’s terrible comedy act (keep on keeping on) thinking of a hip way to ask him what kind of artist he is.
"What’s your jam ?" is too lame.
"So what do you do ?" Too corporate.
"Whattdya fiddle ?" Too hokey.
I settle for a smaller question: "So what are you going to do tonight ?"
"We’re gonna jam."
"Right on, sir."
There were a ton of acts. Some fantastic, some much less so. A beautiful Italian (who will act in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure next week !) tells the story of her arrival in New York. It makes me wonder at the necessity of quality writing to create meaningful performance pieces. I often wonder the same thing about songs. Some times it sounds so good that I don’t think the meaning of the words really matters. It’s about the feeling you get from the piece as a whole. Sometimes any way.
That might not be the case for comedians...
This one red-head sang with a voice so raspy and deep that I loved it. I don’t remember what the song was.
Penny calls another name, "B.B.Q. Hoar ! Is there a B.B.Q. Hoar here ?"
The bald guy next to me gets up. He is none other than B.B.Q. Hoar. Now that he is on stage, his slick head reminds me of Nosferatu. During his set, which is a meddly about the vague threat of a maniacal Robo-Cop (what if ?), his accompaniment’s super-sized chin waddle fascinates me. He repeats the refrain enough that by the end we are all really wondering, what if they re-made Robo-Cop ?
After BBQ sits down and we all wipe the sweat off our foreheads, a guy who looks like he has just been dumped gets on stage. He asks some one in the back to turn down the lights. (I was impressed by the technical savvy behind Penny’s night. These are theatre folk.) The dumped guy sang us a few Paul Simon songs in the dark. Sitting there, listening, I heard the lyric "like a window to your heart. Everyone can see you’re blown apart" made me hurt.
Before you dismiss this feeling, remember you’re reading those lyrics on a blog. In your office or on your bed or even on the train. You are staring at a screen. You are not surrounded by the smell of beer and perfume. You are probably alone or with one of my aunts (they’re the only ones who read this blog). That is a terrible context for feeling something.
You and I have both heard that song hundreds if not thousands of times in various, disjointed situations. I think they play it at the Gap.
Try to imagine how I was hearing it on Tuesday night : in the dark, in a basement in St. Mark’s, sitting on a stiff chair with twenty strangers and a clanging heater. The dumped guy’s soft voice made the meaning of those words new to me again.I felt deeply sad. So did every one else around me. We all feel sad for this guy, for Paul Simon, for anyone who has ever been dumped, for ourselves.
It reminded me that the context for words matters. The delivery, the atmosphere (I refuse to use the word meta, which people throw around for any kind of reference outside of a piece), everything going on around it, the space where you experience words affects how you will feel them. Penny (no last name) has created a wonderful, dank space where you can feel what a song, a joke or a poem really means.
Except for the occasional terrible Robo Cop-inspired electro. That shit was just weird.
Penny’s Open Mic
Every Tuesday + 9pm-2am
St. Mark’s Theatre
8th Street, East Side of 1st Avenue.